How Invasion Alert Put West Midlands Grime On The Map 📍

It’s around 1am on a cold November night in 2019. At Brixton Jamm, UK rap pensioners Pete & Bas leave the stage after a typically raucous set and, depressingly, half the crowd exit with them. Onstage comes the man Jaykae described last year as “the best MC, technically, I’ve ever met”, Invasion Alert veteran Sox. Despite being one of the most talented MCs in the game, the “Birmingham to Ibiza” rhymer has never gotten the credit or widespread support he deserves and, arguably, neither have his crew.

Invasion Alert formed in 2008 after founding member Vader became frustrated by the lack of grime crews in the West Midlands. They started gaining prominence soon after—becoming a huge draw in the underground music scene—however, in wider conversations about the modern pioneers of grime music, the crew are often overlooked. May 7 marked ten years since the release of Invasion’s iconic debut SBTV cypher, which featured Jaykae, Sox, Villain, the late Depzman, and more. Around the same time, Invasion members were dropping their own classic freestyles, from Sox’s Flush Raw to Depz’s Warm Up Sessions. As people continue to re-ignite tired conversations about the state of the grime scene, it’s about time we gave props to one of the most underrated crews in the game.

When the likes of Skepta, Stormzy and Meridian Dan catapulted grime into mainstream culture in the early-mid-2010s, Brum MCs helped to spearhead the movement. Jaykae and Sox shone on Skepta’s all-star remix of “That’s Not Me”, while Dapz On The Map gained traction for his melodic stylings on tracks like “Froggy”, while barrers like Hitman and Villain stayed more under the radar, shelling on Rinse FM and Lord Of The Mics. Whatever path they took, Invasion Alert members were killing it individually.

The same can be said for their group efforts. Because of the crew’s size and informal nature, only a handful of cyphers and freestyles are available online, but quality makes up for quantity here. Their 2015 Grime Show set was vigorous and charismatic, while their appearance with StayFresh on MistaJam’s #SixtyMinutesLive series on 1Xtra underlined the immense talent on show in Birmingham. However, Invasion Alert’s greatest legacy is their two explosive SBTV cyphers, set up of course by the legendary Jamal Edwards.

True to form, Edwards played an important role in giving Invasion a wider platform. To celebrate SBTV’s 1500th video upload, the channel’s founder travelled to Birmingham in spring 2012 to film an exclusive cypher. The video blew up, and today it has well over a million views. Concept Child’s intense, string-dominated production rings in the background against a sequence of diverse flows and potent lyricism from Birmingham’s finest. Anyone who can resist screaming along with Tazzle’s “Round ‘ere” scheme or screwing up their face like a prune after Jaykae’s “Put him in an armbar, UFC” line deserves a medal.

The crew’s much-anticipated follow-up SBTV cypher arguably hit new levels. This is partly thanks to the inclusion of Sox, whose bar “I ain’t been in London putting in work/I’ve been chilling in Birmingham, pushing Invasion” line sums up the collective’s Brum-centric attitude. “Right now, it’s emotional/Each of my bars are quotable,” spits Jaykae in one of the video’s highlights, before stepping aside for heavy schemes from the likes of D2 and Hitman. Watching today, the sight of Joshua Ribera, aka Depz, spitting classic flows like “You can’t test who, test me?/2Real, that’s Depz G” is poignant, after his tragic death in 2013.

Looking back at those iconic performances, it’s natural to wonder what happened to Invasion Alert. Only a couple of years after their second SBTV cypher, the crew had fallen away from the limelight, struggling to recover from the departure of key members and the horrific death of leading MC Depz. In October 2015, Jaykae tweeted that he’d left the group, a decision some people connected with the criticism he got from Vader and Hitman for his LOTM performance against Kozzie. It’s widely thought that Jaykae and Sox carried the group for large periods, particularly when Vader suffered from a brain haemorrhage—a fact referenced in Jaykae’s “Toothache” lyric, “I was the guy that stood up and took charge when Vades had a brain haemorrhage.” It’s hardly surprising that when Invasion’s star figures moved onto solo pursuits, the collective suffered.

But we shouldn’t focus too much on the decline of Invasion Alert. Ultimately, their music still had an indelible impact on the UK’s grime scene. A decade after the release of a truly significant freestyle, it’s time we gave them the credit they deserve for their craftsmanship and commitment to the grime scene in Birmingham and beyond. It wouldn’t be what it is today without them.

Posted on May 18, 2022