Words: Yemi Abiade

When you think about grime music’s surge into the mainstream over the last few years and its acceptance as a worldwide musical force, it’s telling how much the genre has achieved since its early 2000s inception in the hoods of London’s East End. What was an incredibly incendiary, underground movement formed by teenagers, young adults, and your future favourite MCs and DJs has taken its whole existence to transcend its roots and while mainstream recognition has had its ebbs and flows, it is obvious that grime is finally here to stay.

One milestone in the journey, and possibly the most important, lies on the date of May 26th, 2003, where British music was served its first hellacious dose of an emergent new sound. A dose served by the scene’s golden boy, Dizzee Rascal, and his debut single “I Luv U”. Shot out from the cannons of the hood and straight into the UK Top 40, the track signified the new path black British music was taking: a strong swerve away from the halcyon, champagne-guzzling days of UK garage and towards something darker, colder and representative of an entire generation of black Britons. Unless you were one of the MCs, DJs or pirate radio savants in the know, “I Luv U”’s arrival was a stiff uppercut to the formulaic make-up of British music and, as it celebrates its 15-year anniversary, it’s important to recognise the sheer significance of both track and artist.

Dizzee’s trajectory up to that point was modest; a hyper-confident drum and bass DJ with a bad attitude in the early 2000s, Dylan Mills’ early years were marked by misbehaviour and constant change—he swapped schools numerous times for bad behaviour in his teens—before being introduced to music production software Cubase in school and finding his passion. With it, he was able to find a spot among grime’s future greats, spitting bars from the choppy heights of East London tower-blocks and separating himself from the rest both as an MC and a producer. “I Luv U”, crafted by Dizzee himself at the tender age of 16, is screeching, claustrophobic and bass heavy, like the walls of a building tumbling down to the ground, bouncing off each of his bars with the same amount of devastation.

In amongst the revved-up kicks, biting snares and haunting synths, Dizzee’s tales of teenage pregnancy, underage sex and substituting relationships at a whim (“Switch your girl with Michelle/Switch Michelle with Chantelle/Switch Chantelle for Shenelle”) are potent, sharp and confident. Upon listen, it’s evident that a sonic revolution is being exhibited, one shrouded in mystery but altogether too enticing to turn away from, which typifies the appeal of grime in its early days. On a deeper level, “I Luv U” served as the soundtrack talking to the reality Dizzee faced from his mum’s house on the infamous Crossways Estate in Bow E3, amplified by the track’s rampant soundscapes, that meant he was able to project his picture of London not only to his grime brethren, but to the masses who were not at all clued-up on a sound with no name. A voice speaking to the reality that most teenagers have and continue to face, making the track a transient ode to the angst of young people.

Speaking with Dan Hancox for his book Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime, Dizzee discusses the making of the track: “I was always fucking about with some weird noise. All the samples were just lined up on the keyboard, I never used an MPC, so each key is a different sample. Those times I would usually start with the drums.‘I Luv U’, I definitely started with the drums and then built around it.” Dizzee was as DIY as any grime artist, but with enough confidence and swagger to translate such simplicity beyond grime’s confines. If Skepta’s infamous bars from his legendary 2008 Westwood set (“They don’t know how to make a tune for the mainstream, radio, roadman and stage show at the same time”) speak to a single track, “I Luv U” is a worthy selection, fitting each lane like a glove.

The track made Dizzee a superstar, and he is rightly credited as grime’s first breakout talent, able to carry the flag into the uncharted territory of British pop music without ever losing his aura amongst his target audience: youngsters who, like him, lived for the rave and the cypher. He became the future of UK music by force, with a futuristic sound that could not be duplicated, and its arrival opened up avenues previously closed to people from his environment. “I Luv U” marks stage one of grime’s ascent into the mainstream milieu. Not only is it an underground classic, it is a mainstream classic, shifting the psyche of the industry which has taken years to fully catch up to, understand and embrace.

Suddenly, young black Britons had crafted a musical culture speaking to the harshness of their everyday, and Raskit was the shepherd leading the flock. Diz has gone on to establish himself as a successful musician, but his trajectory was allowed for by the sheer impact of “I Luv U”. It is as worthy an introduction to a new artist, sound and culture as anything by the Sex Pistols, The Beatles or Sugarhill Gang in their respective fields, breaking down the doors for future hits such as Skepta’s “Shutdown” and somewhat levelling the playing field for contemporaries like Wiley and Kano, and later Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk. But above all else, to celebrate “I Luv U” is to celebrate grime in its purest form and the blazing new trail that an under-privileged section of society were about to inject into British music on a larger scale.

Posted on May 25, 2018