HAS THE UK FINALLY FOUND ITS VOICE IN GRIME?

Grime has come at the right time. To compare the two is quite unfair… given the amount of time both have been around for… one begat the other. - TY 

With the Americans dominating Hip-Hop sales, many UK MCs have struggled to make a living off the back of their music. It’s not that there isn’t a demand for Hip-Hop in Britain, especially when it was only a few months ago that Jay-Z headlined Glastonbury, but while comparing Jigga to the average UK Hip-Hop or Grime artist, one has a $150 million contract and the other struggles to even get a deal, you can guess which has which. In fact only a very small number of UK acts that even have record deal.


Let’s look at some examples…

In the past few years there have been some success stories with Plan B and Kano signing to record label 679/Warner. Kano comes from a Grime background but went with a more commercial Hip-Hop route for his second album and later left the label after its release.

Due to Plan B’s acoustic guitar songs, he had gained quite a lot of fans from the NME crowd and is still with 679 but we still wait for the second album. Garage / Pop act The Streets who were also signed to 679 tried to set up a separate Hip-Hop/Grime record label called The Beats signing acts like Professor Green, The Mitchell Brothers and Example but Mike Skinner’s empire didn’t really last that long as he soon had the label disbanded after a few years. So the track record for UK artists with record labels doesn’t look so impressive. Even Def Jam had tried their hand in UK Hip-Hop music with their Def Jam UK music label by signing veteran MC Skinnyman and rapper / producer Taz. Their deals didn’t last that long either as Taz disappeared off the face of the earth while Skinny ended up in jail and later selling his classic debut album ‘Council Estate of Mind’ with Low Life Records. Def Jam UK now is just a label that promotes Neyo, Rihanna and co to the British public and although former Def Jam president Jay-z did sign Grime / Hip-Hop act Lady Sovereign, she’s no longer on the roster (according to the Def Jam website anyway). Low Life records went on to become one of the most popular independent UK Hip-Hop record labels but its own life was ended when founder and artist Braintax retired from Hip-Hop.

UK Hip-Hop has been around for a long time but as an underground scene that doesn’t show too much hope of actually breaking into the mainstream. Grime on the other hand hasn’t been around that long and isn’t exactly a success story as of yet but seems to be getting somewhere with the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Wiley having massive chart hits. Two artists mentioned earlier have recently turned their attention onto Grime music. Skinnyman is putting out his new album titled ‘Council Estate of Grime’ and Kano recently went back to where he started and released his third album ‘140 Grime St’.

Sway who started off battling with in the Hip-Hop scene, ended up taking Grime influences into his music and became a huge success. According to Sway,

“when I was coming out of that scene, I was like young, I was only like 16/17, so I hadn’t really developed my sound, you know the nostalgic feeling that a lot of the older rappers had, I didn’t have because I wasn’t around during the times like during the golden era as they like to call it, so I was able to like evolve and combine the Grime sound along with the UK Hip-Hop sound and make my own sound. Ya know I was able to move on, whereas a lot of the other guys don’t get me wrong they are incredible artists but a lot of them stuck to that whole 1996 US Hip-Hop feel. I just feel that they haven’t been able to give commercial appeal and commercial success that they can have if maybe they opened their minds a bit and do more experimental stuff”

One of the main positives that Grime has is that it’s definitely a sound that the Americans can’t call their own. The majority of UK Hip-Hop to an extent does have its own sound but just like Sway said, the majority of it still isn’t that far removed from the Hip-Hop songs coming out of the states in the 90s. Maybe it’s the lack of originality that has stopped UK Hip-Hoppers getting their own recognition outside of the States. On the other side of the argument though, maybe sounding similar to the Americans is what has kept the scene going that long. I think it’s fair to say that there is a backpacker stereotype and distinct sound coming from a large proportion of the UK Hip-Hop scene and when Low Life records packed it in, it seemed like the end of an era for that sound. There are however some exceptions to the stereotype, UK Hip-Hop legends Roots Manuva, Black Twang and Rodney P all have their own distinct sound and that’s probably the reason why they have been around for quite some time. I’m not arguing that UK Hip-Hop will just faze out into nothing and with

According to veteran UK Hip-Hop artist TY, “Grime has come at the right time. To compare the two is quite unfair… given the amount of time both have been around for… one begat the other. So I’m happy to see the Grime guys do well in their given style. You probably noticed that most of the Grime guys want the same level of superstardom that American rappers have presently and it’s plain to see that’s where their respect or aspirations lie. The UK has a habit of picking up particular street cultures and then throwing them back down. I think the Grime guys are experiencing the pick up point of this trend. They have to learn to not tear down bridges on their way up. Because the turnaround time up top for black street culture is short (in the UK)”

Critics of TY’s statement could easily argue that it’s unfair to say that Grime acts are the only ones looking to match the level of superstardom that American rappers have as maybe it’s the same for a lot of the Hip-Hop MCs also. Hip-Hop was one of the main genres that Grime came out of but the UK’s own version of Hip-Hop wasn’t necessarily an inspiration to a lot of the Grime music around now.

As said earlier UK Hip-Hop has been around a long time and when looking at the length of time Garage was around for, of course there’s going to be doubters of Grime music. Music changes through time whether it’s Rock to Punk or whether it be Garage to Grime, there will always be elements of that music around in some form regardless of what it is called five or ten years down the line or what genres it merges with.

The Grime scene changes far more quickly than the more stagnant UK Hip-Hop but whether or not it is successful and remains its own genre is something we will need to wait and find out.

Ultimately music doesn’t need to be successful to be good and there’s plenty of quality Hip-Hop and Grime albums out there. Maybe we shouldn’t be focusing on who the labels are supporting or what genre we group our music in but us as fans should just listen to it and enjoy it.

Words: Matt Agnew

3 Comments

  1. Flo Rida – Fresh I Stay Pt. 2 (Feat. Lil’ Wayne) – So hoooottttt

  2. Em says:

    Grime has been totally commercialised (sp?) over the past 2 years. Take a look at channel AKA and you’ll see the amount of crap they put on it. I am not from England but I have a lot of support for the grime scene. I think I often prefer it to the classic American Hip Hop. Grime is very rough around the edges and quite fast-paced and agressive and I personally think these people end up showing that they have a lot more talented than the others from across the pond. I think the reason grime – that hasn’t ended up turning into pop music – hasn’t reached the mainstream is because the people that listen to mainstream rap music usually end up turning into vegetables.

  3. Em says:

    Oh and I just wanted to add: I’m glad Kano’s brought back his old stuff, Dizzee Rascal’s album ‘Boy In Da Corner’ was 100% better than the stuff he’s put out now, Wiley hardly raps anymore (it’s all commercial) and Lady Sovereign’s old stuff was hard-hitting. Now it’s too pop-ish. But she’s less famous than she was a few years ago and that’s because grime was so much better back in the day.

    Alright, enough from me!

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