This article originally featured in our ‘Home’ issue.


Words: Chantelle Fiddy
Photography: Hyperfrank
Graphic Design: Kwimoh

It’s not new, but it’s ever-ready. Despite what you’ve heard, if you’re looking for the most lyrically dexterous, performance-hungry, stylistically savage verbalist, it’s still a grime MC. Whether you’re soundtracking a life of frustration or looking for that ultimate ‘get up and go gym’ push—still, look no further than a grime DJ or producer.

“The riddim track, a culmination of jittery, unpredictable, recondite beats and demonic bass, a somewhat unexplainable backing track, is cued up and dropped with a no-nonsense flair at raves like Eskimo Dance and Sidewinder. There now roams this autonomous, professedly rule-free musical ideology… Regardless of their assumed ethnicity, the emcees begin to play a colourless game as Cockney linguists. Accents become exaggerated and switch between this month’s favoured Jamaican patois and street slang… It’s true to itself in every way.” Chantelle Fiddy, Tank Magazine, 2004

Once the UK bad boy, grime today finds itself off the hook and with a more suburban following—a similar pattern witnessed in the ‘90s jungle and UK hip-hop movements. Out of the limelight, it has gone full circle, gestating once again in more likely underground surrounds. Alongside some old faces, there are new champions pushing innovation and the sound to a still tuned-in supporter base; TRENCH and Polymerzine Club (for the authentic written), Phase Transition (soundsystem-quality livestreams), Keep Hush UK (delivering pop-up raves to their members when allowed), and Girls Of Grime (a collective of women taking grime into new spaces).

With a slew of generation-spanning artists still flying the flag, building and pushing things forward, if you’re looking in the right places—media influence largely replaced by individual curation—minus its striking newness, what made grime stand out then still applies now. The sound beds in their organic nature are still anti-establishment, tunes are often non-conforming (fuck the chorus, just spray ffs), and the lyrical content is still off the wall. Underrated DJs like Slimzee and Grandmixxer can—given the stage to do so—spin most of the biggest technical deck wizards out there, irrespective of genre.

Over the last 20 years, the story of grime and its becoming has been told many times over, the origins long debated like the seminal figures, records, BPM and key moments.

When tunes like ‘I Luv U’, ‘Pulse X’, ‘Eskimo’, ‘Woah’, ‘Know We’ and ‘Oh No (Sentimental Things)’ were played, asked to describe the sound in relation to the usual UK garage records, the most apt response from journalists and DJs seemed to be ‘it sounds grimey’. And that’s literally where the term began. It previously represented a sound, now it’s a cultural movement...” Chantelle Fiddy’s World Of Grime, 2005

With all due respect, there aren’t enough words or pages here to work through the ages; we’ve seen waves, troughs, good, bad, saviours, fillers and killers. Whether a listener or not, you can’t deny the rich history or how grime redefined London and British identity, both at home and abroad. With hindsight, to bear witness to this scene’s emergence, to have been able to walk alongside it then and reflect on it now, was—and still is—a privilege.

Two decades into this gunfinger-wielding sorcery, we’ve seen breakout stars (Kano, Dizzee, Skepta and TRENCH cover star, Lady Leshurr), Glastonbury headliners (Stormzy), millionaires made, chart-topping music released, global influence cemented and achievements that—let’s be honest—have gone wildly beyond all expectation. As well as being a sound, grime today represents a much wider culture of success and possibility. Doors have been kicked down. The industry revolutionised. Things will never be the same again.

Similarly, when looking back to the early-00s is to look back to a time that won’t come again. Life then was to be experienced in a primarily physical fashion: you belonged to a tribe and you repped that tribe. It was an all-encompassing experience. You listened to the same music, adhered to a style, a language; if you were into (then-unnamed) dubstep and grime, Thursday might be a link-up at FWD>> to hear the latest never-heard-before dubplates and specials from Slimzee, Digital Mystikz or Skream, wondering which of your mates might pass through (just don’t smoke one of DJ Tubby’s pure spliffs). No doubt on Friday you were warming up to your favourite pirate radio show on Rinse or Deja before hitting the club for some more reload business. Saturdays were reserved for trips to the local record shop—Rhythm Division, Big Apple or Uptown perhaps—where hearing and buying new music were just one of the perks; here, networks and friendships were forged.

If you’d managed to acquire some equipment and could press vinyl—we’re talking a mere £500 for 500 units, according to old adverts; try quadrupling that figure today—there was decent money to be made shotting the records from the back of your car boot (Wiley reckons he made a million). As the sound, output and interest grew, an underground industry had to be created; replicating some of the existing models found in both drum and bass and UK garage, new technology also gave way to new practice. The mentality was very much if it didn’t exist, create it. The result? Total disruption of existing systems.

“We’ve ended up creating a monster that’s stomping its way out of a cage living its own life. We’re trying to promote the streets because for too long the industry’s looked at us but won’t do nothing about it. It’s about us people at a street level forming a united front and getting this thing rolling ‘cause we can make this what we want it to be.” Capo (Lord Of The Decks), Deuce, 2003

Early foundations were built on passion, a genuine swell of action occurring across all divisions. People made their own jobs. This was the birth of the DIY photographer, videographer, promoter, marketeer, distributor, PR, A&R, label, station, channel, buoyed by the most exciting music we’d ever heard. It always comes back to the sound.

Back in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, jungle had lost its way and UK garage was having a hard time; a victim of the major-label grab, the nail in the coffin was when Victoria Beckham recorded the 2-stepper “Out Of Your Mind” with Dane Bowers. Seemingly a pattern within underground genres, new ideas can run dry. Thus, grime was born. A middle finger to the expensive studios they couldn’t afford to hire, games consoles (namely PlayStation and the ‘game’ Music 2000, which a lot of the early beats were made on) led the way in democratising music.

Sonic clues as to what was to come could be felt with the arrival of So Solid, signed by visionary A&Rs Shabz and Glyn Aikins to then indie label Relentless Records. A 30-strong crew mobbing the music industry, it awoke something in the streets. Not long after, having been sent to cover the Pay As U Go Cartel “Champagne Dance” video shoot for Touch Magazine, my focus as a newly graduated journalist was sealed; London, grime and the myriad of diversity that came with it gave me a sense of belonging and purpose I hadn’t felt before. And I wasn’t alone.

Fiddy x Lady Sov // Fiddy x Crazy Titch


Grime was also one of the first genres to seed itself online and benefit largely from the emergence of a global community on the internet (chat forums, mp3 file sharing, MySpace and record pools being leading examples). But amid all the excitement, we weren’t to predict the consequences of the web and the rapid move to a smartphone takeover. The result? A total decline of subculture as we knew it.

Gravity Global’s James Gill explains it well in his 2017 study into The Death Of Subculture: “Everything exists in a multi-dimensional and infinitely overlapping polyverse. Today, experimentation and combination appear to exist for its own sake: the results only valuable in the short term with ‘scenes’ germination, growing and dying off in six-month periods. Every possible subcultural expression is explored as an exercise in itself—a means with no end, with no deeper meaning… The tools of subculture—music, clothing—are now serving individuality.”

Like other new genres of the time, grime at its onset was able to bubble and flourish at its own pace, many of the key players taking 10 or more years perfecting their craft, before hitting a tipping point and maintaining (as we see today in Ghetts, Jme, Wretch 32 and so many others). There’s a history, rich in archivable materials too, from scene-specific magazines like RWD and Deuce to i-D and The New Yorker cuttings, the many recordings of spontaneous back-to-back sets (a go-to for any true grime head), club night flyers and grainy video tapes. UK drill—by way of comparison, as a relatively new genre—exists largely online, many of the key players yet to even get close to perfecting a stage show with no practice hours or musical come-up (as per the ‘scenes’ that came with hip-hop or grime). New grime acts suffer in the same way.

While the DIY attitude is still prevalent, the majority of solutions are sought digitally and in a solo nature. Some artists, who only release digitally, will be all-too familiar with the stagnant repetition in this approach and experience that’s distinctly lacking any real connection. There’s no denying streaming services, and low-cost self-distribution models have made music more accessible, but consumer trend suggests a growing hunger for the physical and a return to that tribal feeling. Having so greatly devalued music over the last decade, stalwarts like Jme and newer grime acts like Jammz, Mez and SBK are leading the charge, investing in product (CDs, vinyl, merchandise) and, in turn, the future of grime itself.

“There’s been a few generations of grime now, but for it to develop further it has to recruit the youth. People will always want the sound of grime. The main difference now is the UK is a big melting pot of sounds and youngers want to vocal it all: Afrobeats, grime, rap and drill. In 2021, grime takes a bit more searching out. Ghetts made a great album and I love how Manga is just minding his business, creating amazing grime projects, not being swayed. But will we see them at festivals alongside Russ Millions and Tion Wayne? I don’t know, but we should.” Scratch DVA, 2021

Where the past brought grime sub-shoots like R&G (rhythm and grime) led by Terror Danjah, and grindie (indie-rock-meets-grime) courtesy of Statik, today we still find the purist alongside the fusion. Having repped the scene since day dot—with a mixtape to prove it—over the last few years, Scratcha has built a reputation drawing on Gqom, a potent strain of South African dance music, whereas the crew behind popular London event Boxed nod to techno. Butterz, a seminal label ten years deep in the game, recently dropped the 140bpm ‘Brime’ 6-tracker, a project exploring the relationship between grime and Brazil’s Baile Funk. With grime widely championed as an off-shoot of rap, it’s a timely reminder that the genre is a direct cousin of dance music.

“Grime isn’t a BPM; it’s how you perform it…” Mez, 2021

But what do the next 20 years of grime look like? There’s a need for self-critiquing within the scene itself. There’s much to consider. Where is THE flagship label that invests consistently in this grime generation? Why, still, isn’t grime recognised as a genre by digital service providers? Will any new sound surpass the greatness of a gliding square? Do gatekeepers do more damage than good? Why do artists continue to use grime as a springboard? Do (white) journalists focus too much on grime as a class movement over it being a Black one? How do we get over the stagnant image presented of grime today? Perhaps the most important question of them all is: how the fuck do we save subculture?


Posted on March 21, 2022