How ‘Mellow Grime’ Edits Are Pushing UK Music Forward ⏩

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Ciesay

These days, this writer can’t browse TikTok without seeing a slew of familiar moments from years gone by. Namely, the many freestyles, cyphers and battles from grime’s first legendary era. Except, rather than hearing hard-hitting, generational production coating each MC’s bars, a warm, altogether different bed of sound is in its stead, completely reworking the lyrics and, indeed, the moment.

The edit is nothing new in music, long employed by producers to inject new sonic flavours into a well-known song. In recent years, collectives like Soulection and producers like Kaytranada have made it an art form. But for nearly a decade, grime’s vast musical tapestry has been reimagined by a host of beatmakers determined to test the capabilities of the genre. From the soulful to the hard-hitting, this growing subsection of the sound—known as mellow grime—incorporates everything from R&B to drill in its makeup, and has seemingly ramped up in the last couple of years, serving to give those old enough to remember grime’s classics another way of appreciating them, while introducing it to new ears. But all phases start somewhere.

All roads in this journey begin with KwolleM, the East London producer responsible for ushering in what is now mellow grime—a term coined by the man himself. Inspired by the likes of The Alchemist, Knxlewdge and Nujabes, he combined modern UK genres with smoother sounds to soften the palette and present an alternative to the crud. Debuting a rework of Skepta’s “Bad Boy” in 2015, KwolleM’s edit replaced the track’s original, electro-pop riddled exoskeleton with a warm, piano-led soundscape, made piercingly beautiful by a muffled blues vocal by American singer Dorothy Moore.

This reimagination, so soulful it wouldn’t stick out in Motown’s prime, opened the floodgates for just how grime MCs and lyrics could be interpreted and made fresh, speaking to the adaptiveness of the genre and the creativity of KwolleM himself. He would follow “Bad Boy” up with edits of Boy Better Know’s “Too Many Man”, Dizzee Rascal’s “Stand Up Tall”, AJ Tracey’s “Wifey Riddim”, flipping things again on his own project, 2020’s c2c, and again in 2023 with his Melo project, which saw him collabore with new-age MCs like SL, Novelist and Joe James.

Though KwolleM is very much still a fixture, a wave of producers have followed in his footsteps, using their extensive knowledge of modern-day Black British music to flip grime on its head further, almost doing the work of historians. Take WIZE, who has been recreating classical moments since first releasing edits in 2020. One of which was replayed by this writer so much it went triple platinum in his yard: his effortless, drill-flavoured take on Wiley and Skepta’s infamous back and forth in The Movement Documentary. Several edits later, WIZE is one of the biggest names in the space.

One of the newer players in the field is Ryder, who released 48 Hours—a joint EP with Skepta on the latter’s Big Smoke Records last November. In it were a number of guitar-led, airy, brooding remixes of Skep’s “Bullet From A Gun”, “Konnichiwa” and “Text You Back”. Installing his own flavour into mellow grime, Ryder has the potential to hold a lane all on his own as the young prince of the sub-genre.

Meanwhile, oakland, who dropped the first two volumes of his refix series in 2023, keeps it super chill with his brand of mellow hype, reworking Meridian Crew’s legendary Practice Hours freestyle on “nike air dunks”, in addition to the Adenuga brothers’ bedroom freestyle from 2006’s Making Records DVD. Elsewhere, the likes of Wilfried, douvelle19, BexBlu, Dylzoo and 808Mystic are applying their own touches, contributing a rich collection of production for fans to feast on—moments by MCs such as Jaykae, Ghetts, Devlin, Scorcher, Ears and Newham Generals, among others, in a new dimension of musical bliss. The fact that many of them reuse freestyles from the DVDs, clashes and moments most of us remember is a masterstroke, taking us back to that time, the feelings of watching or listening for the first time. It instantly makes us wish we could get them back.

There’s an indescribable feeling connected to these refixes—closely linked to nostalgia—that invigorates the soul, an appreciation of what came before and how disparate sounds and influences could mesh so well together and conjure up tracks with tremendous replay value. These edits, by their very nature, are distinctively British in form and execution, taking the pure essence of MCing—especially in a genre as unique as grime—and presenting an update with mass appeal. And it does have mass appeal.

These beatmakers are earning hundreds of thousands of views and plays on streaming platforms and social media and, with critical plaudits coming out in droves for KwolleM’s aforementioned Melo project, there’s a desire for more mellow grime in the scene, especially at a time when fans are seeking something different from the status quo. These edits offer a serious alternative, futuristic while being guided by the past and it's impossible to predict where it goes next. But until we know, may the mellow wave continue.

Posted on February 01, 2024