Grime originated from East London in the early 2000s and since then it hasn’t migrated very far. There are alcoves of grime in Japan and there’s some heavily grime influenced hip hop in Ireland (check out God Knows + MynameisjOhn). Besides this,Grime hasn’t moved far from its pirate station roots in East London. This is quite surprising considering the early appeal of the genre.
In 2003, Dizzee Rascal’s album Boy in the Corner won the Mercury Prize and the genre looked set to explode worldwide. However, one tends to forget the winners of the Mercury Prize in the late 90s/early 00s went nowhere. The prize itself does wondrous things for the winner in terms of exposure but only for a very short time. Does anyone really remember who won the Mercury Prize in 1997? Or 2009 for that matter? But more to the point, grime as a genre did not benefit from winning. In fact, the mid 2000s were a dreadful time for the grime scene.
The next time after this that grime reached a pinnacle was 2008, when “Wearing my Rolex” by Wiley was released and reached number 2 in the UK charts. One aspect that is noticeable in this track is that is doesn’t sound like a grime track. It’s an electronic dance track, the synth is clean and the bass is near invisible. Wiley is an incredibly interesting character in the grime scene. He’s credited as the “inventor” of grime in many circles, his track “Eskimo” from 2002 is one of the earliest grime tracks (along with Danny Weed’s Creeper from the same year). “Wot Do U Call It” by Wiley discusses the etymology of the genre, Urban, Garage and 2-step are the misrepresented phrases that were used to describe grime in the early days. Wiley himself called it “his sound, that Eski sound”.
In order for Wiley to break through to the mainstream, he had to disregard his sound and create a sound that was more acceptable in the ears of the main music buying public. His number one song from 2012, “Heatwave” has a female vocal hook, banging bass drums and sounds absolutely nothing like a grime track.
These days, grime appears to making another attempt at the mainstream. “Rari Workout” by Lethal Bizzle and “German Whip” by Meridian Dan both were on the cusp of getting into the top 10 of the UK charts last year. Skepta, a long time grime MC, has released a number of tracks in the past year that have gotten radio play across the world. His track “Shutdown” was performed on Jools Holland earlier this year and Drake brought Skepta out on stage at his Wireless set to perform it with him.
Will newer grime artists need to disregard their roots, as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley did before them, in order to fully capture the imagination of the mainstream? Or perhaps, we as a society are more accepting of dirty bass lines, they will succeed with mean hooks and filthy synths.
Words by Adam Turner