How Trim’s ‘Soulfood’ Mixtapes Kept Grime On Its Toes

Words: Son Raw

Even as part of a crew, Trim stood alone. The Roll Deep veteran turned inscrutable poet has always marched to the beat of his own drum, zagging left when his peers zigged right, and defying industry expectations to pursue his muse down whatever strange path it led him. It’s not that Trim ignored grime’s conventions and competitive spirit—one need only listen to his war dubs for proof—but he’s always sought to make his mark on the genre on his own terms.

Nowhere is this truer than his Soulfood mixtapes, the 14-part, self-released, running diary of a series that comprises the bulk of his creative output to date. While his peers were busy hyping up ostensibly career-defining albums or chasing the latest fad, Trim worked tirelessly to perfect his craft, tackling one idea before moving on to the next, open to leftfield concepts as long as he could integrate them into his ever-expanding musical universe. Part of this was down to timing. In 2007, as the first Soulfood installments dropped, the wider UK music media was rapidly abandoning grime to focus on the next hot trend. With dubstep emerging out of the shadows to capture the wider public’s attention, and funky house shifting the energy in clubs in a more danceable direction, serious grime MCs found themselves on the outside looking in, particularly as pirate radio devoted more airtime to these new sounds.

Meanwhile, major labels were growing impatient with uncompromised MCing, and by the end of the decade, Rolex-themed electro bangers became a standard requirement for grime artists hoping for a marketing push, with 140BPM lyrics and beats being relegated to promotional mixtapes. Yet while most artists used their mix CDs in hope of landing a deal, that never seemed to be the case for Trim. Instead, the mixtape became the final product, one that suited his strengths like a glove. Loose enough to never feel forced, yet consistent enough to provide satisfying front-to-back listens, Soulfood has gone down as a premiere series of the era, alongside Ruff Sqwad’s Guns & Roses, Wiley’s Tunnel Vision, and Jme’s Boy Better Know editions.

Above all, Soulfood provided Trim with an open canvas on which to experiment. While barring side-by-side as part of Roll Deep came with competitive constraints, Trim’s solo output saw him slow down and make greater use of negative space over increasingly varied production. This made him the perfect mic-man for an era that saw the grime scene reconsider what dubstep had to offer, as his thunderous baritone felt tailor-made for tracks combining manic 8-bar energy with DMZ-style vastness.

Production-wise, the dancehall-adjacent Balistic Beats and future bass music iconoclast Scratcha DVA were particularly rewarding sonic foils, versed in grime’s orthodoxy but willing to break the rules when necessary, but Trim was also willing to build on that foundation while going further afield. Whether including indie-electro duo Radioclit’s chopped and screwed edit of the Roll Deep classic “When I’m Ere” on Volume 1, shelling on Skream’s thunderous low-end on Volume 4’s “Phonecall” or even flipping Canadian pop-rock classic “Criminal Mind” with “Rapid” on Volume 8, Soulfood highlights just how expansive Trim’s musical outlook could be, and that’s not even touching on the plethora of hip-hop tempo flows he peppered throughout each tape. While most artists swung for the rafters on pop-minded singles and missed, Trim was busy inviting seemingly every other form of music onto his playground.

Lyrically, Soulfood is an opportunity to witness Trim grow before our eyes. Whether reacting to external shocks like Bashy’s stint in prison and his conflict with Flow Dan and Roll Deep, or his own internal doubts and concerns, he’s never afraid to share his feelings across each tape. In contrast to most grime acts of the era however, Trim seems only occasionally concerned with reaching others—mostly when clashing. Otherwise, Soulfood’s bars most often sound like an internal monologue, Trim speaking with himself, leaving the listener eavesdropping on an intensely private conversation. Alongside these clashes and self-reflections, Soulfood also acted as an outlet for Trim’s singles for non-DJing grime listeners who were rapidly abandoning vinyl in the late-00s. Highlights include “The Bits”, a meditative, half step excursion over a Dusk & Blackdown riddim; “Woteva”, in which he demolishes TRC’s Butterz-released “Oo AA Ee” ahead of a proper collaboration with the label on “I Am”; and an early version of “Confidence Boost”, whose acapella intro would take on a second life thanks to James Blake in the mid-2010s.

Never one to go the conventional route, Trim continued releasing Soulfood installments well into the mid-2010s, before becoming even more elusive after the release of 1-800-Dinosaur, a not-quite-debut album assembled from acapellas by a team of producers chosen by James Blake. Despite his increasingly long absences from the music scene, Trim’s influence is everywhere, from the slower, conversational flows favoured in UK rap to Black British artists’ increasing refusal to be limited to a single expected tempo. With that in mind, the Soulfood series is a potent reminder that Trim remains a danger on the mic whenever he deems to touch it, and that his growth from Roll Deep crew member to experimental sheller didn’t need a commercial album to validate it.

Posted on June 17, 2021