Aitch, Grime & UK Music’s Widening Generation Gap

Words: Yemi Abiade

Knee-deep in the midst of a promo campaign to promote new single “Rain” with AJ Tracey, newcomer Aitch appeared to further the gap between his generation and his older counterparts with a statement that reverberated around the timeline. This past weekend, during an interview with Capital Xtra’s Robert Bruce, and on the conversation of grime, the 20-year-old rapper said: “No one, I promise you, no one younger than me is bothered about grime. Me and my era, we’re the last ones left when it comes to being bothered about grime. Man that are four years younger than me probably don’t even know what grime is.”

Whether informative or malicious, this monologue rustled up feathers, with many calling him out on his comments. Many were quick to criticise, as is the nature these days. They highlighted the fact that Aitch got his foot in the door of the music industry by starting out as a grime emcee, before embarking on a to-date successful pop-rap career. Others called him out for being disrespectful to a genre that without it, would’ve made his position to make music impossible. Both of these points are valid and speak to the reality of not only Aitch, but of an entire generation of UK acts. But both points fail to highlight the wider context of Aitch’s comments amidst the backdrop of the fast-developing UK scene.

It is undeniable that since grime’s re-emergence into the mainstream circa 2014-16, the genre has been overtaken as a viable musical option for new artists, by the likes of drill, Afroswing, Afro-pop and pop-rap. Grime, quite frankly, isn’t as profitable a genre today as those previously mentioned, therefore these sounds are oversaturated by a new era of artists chasing the bag and what is current. As a result, it falls by the wayside, but names like Big Zuu, Jaykae, Mez and more make sure it still has representation among younger ages.

“This tension between young and old will remain, but all it takes is responsibility and patience to start building blocks.”

While Manchester-born Aitch got his start in grime, he has become known to a completely new audience and is catering to that audience. In a market that rewards more accessible, radio-friendly sounds with more wins, Aitch’s audience—those his age and younger—are unlikely to find grime if they’re not looking for it. That generation is more accustomed to Not3s than they are Novelist.

Aitch making a song with, for example, Ten Dixon—one of the top boys in grime’s new school—probably isn’t streaming as well as a catchy song with a fellow pop-rap peer, and this is the context in which he makes music. However, his perceived lack of respect for grime is most likely the main point of contention, because it comes across provocative. Grime stars going pop is a broken record at this point, but the majority of the older generation respected the movement enough to not make seemingly distasteful remarks. Aitch is currently flying high, but he must recognise the doors grime opened for him and his like, because it facilitated his come-up personally and, more broadly, it made him making music possible. Statements like his can hurt the scene, especially in a post-Dizzee-Rascal age; they suggest grime is indeed dead, and it creates the wrong impression of the scene as a stepping stone or, even worse, an afterthought in the minds of UK music’s new musical class.

Concurrently, the golden days of grime are lost on a generation of fans who weren’t around to fully live it. That appreciation is lacking and with that, the generational gap between the olders and youngers widens. We saw the same happen in the States when gangsta rap OG Ice T failed to understand Soulja Boy’s 2007 takeover, lamenting the “death of hip-hop”. It’s a position that both sides seem to eternally find themselves in: the older era trying to maintain the status quo while the youngers carve out their own path, irrespective of how their counterparts feel or where they’re taking music more generally. Disco heads are probably still raging that hip-hop took over New York’s streets in the late ‘70s. The youngers don’t like being lectured about what was, instead striving to build what will be, and there will be miscommunications as a result of that. It’s these miscommunications that produce comments like Aitch’s on Capital Xtra.

When the OGs proceed to criticise the newbies for their statements, they come across salty. What they have to understand is that music is relative to one’s experience, determined by friends, family and other environmental factors. Aitch may well have genuinely felt he had outgrown grime, and so his audience will not be receptive to it. What point is there trying to convince a 19-year-old of the greatness of pirate radio circa 2003 if they’re only trying to hear the latest NSG song? This doesn’t mean that the youngers should feel obliged to take shots at the genre, but there needs to be effort from both sides to understand each other in order for the generational gap to close, for wounds to heal, and healthy dialogue to be established.

This isn’t to say all of the old generation are salty. Lethal Bizzle, a grime legend, sympathised with Aitch but lamented that “there are certain things that should be left not said,” suggesting his perceived disrespectful comments could have been avoided. Wiley, taking a break from his wind-up-auto-pilot mode, also chimed in: “It isn’t up to Aitch whether people like grime or not. Whatever age you are, you’re allowed to like whatever you want.” Bridges aren’t completely burned between Aitch and his older cohorts then. But, ultimately, the youngers should respect the groundwork put in by artists from previous eras and how that links to their own existence, while the olders need to allow the youngers to make mistakes and become the artists they want to be. And when they say seemingly outlandish things, they need to be there to guide them. That, in essence, is what strengthens not only grime, but UK music at large.

This tension between young and old will remain, but all it takes is responsibility and patience to start building blocks. As Aitch continues to navigate the scene, it will be up to him whether he will take stock of what got him to prominence in the first place. The old heads will be watching closely.

Posted on March 13, 2020