Ruff Sqwad’s Return Shows Grime Still Has Much To Offer 💯

Words: Son Raw

Over 20 years into grime bum-rushing UK music with a young generation of emcees emphatically demanding the respect and attention their music deserves, the scene-turned-genre has grown into an unavoidable titan in the British music landscape. Historically, it’s as important as jungle, acid house, Brit-pop or punk ever were, and despite ebbs and flows in its popularity, it remains the shorthand for creativity and excellence in British rhyming—a movement that can stand toe-to-toe with anything born from America or Jamaica.

But while grime’s style, attitude and history are all celebrated, far too few of its innovators see continued success. For every Dizzee Rascal or Kano, there are dozens of incredible emcees whose pirate radio contributions form a cornerstone of the genre, despite their minimal presence on streaming platforms today. This goes double for crews, with groups of teenage friends often growing apart and going solo, robbing current listeners of their combined talent. That’s why Ruff Sqwad’s recent return is so important: not only is the music great, the reunited group is proof that a genre born out of teenage enthusiasm can grow into a force for good, well into adulthood.

First, some caveats: Ruff Sqwad is now a trio consisting of Prince Rapid, David Is A King (Dirty Danger) and Slix. That’s a far cry from the sprawling group of teenagers that originally formed the collective, but it’s a great move practically speaking: herding so many members was a challenge when they were kids, let alone when everyone is an adult with real life responsibilities. Additionally, this new slimmed-down lineup ensures everyone involved is committed to the cause and aligned on a direction. Far too many grime crews were divided by the temptations of crossover attempts or solo careers: Ruff Sqwad’s current incarnation is lean, mean, and focused.

This renewed dedication to Ruff Sqwad as a group, and grime as a genre, was on full display at the TRENCH x Adidas Originals event last fall, as well as at the premiere of East London filmmaker Dumas Haddad’s short film accompanying their new project, Flee FM. In both cases, it would have been easy to rely on simple nostalgia to carry the proceedings, given the multitude of fans that came through to make it clear how much grime’s history impacted their lives. Instead, however, both events emphasised how much this history impacts music today, like a classic Avirex bomber complementing a fresh new tracksuit. Given the energy level in the crowds, it’s easy to forget that Ruff Sqwad was an underground group that never made moves on the charts, but years removed from their peers’ Rolex sweeps, few people care about old pop novelties, while an entire generation carries a torch for the energy of classic pirate radio sets.

This same energy animates Flee FM, the reunited Ruff Sqwad’s comeback project. Not quite an album nor an EP, Flee FM sees the trio deliver a compact 20-minute ersatz set: a high-definition recreation of the late-night radio sessions that have earned them such goodwill. In lesser hands, this could be a disaster—a fruitless attempt at recapturing youthful energy, decades after the fact. Thankfully, Flee FM gets the details right without losing the looseness and energy that separates a great set from a regular track: the ad-libs land, everyone sounds like they’re in the same room, and the beat switches come fast and furious. Notably, the bars are boastful but avoid any gunman tropes, but that’s hardly an issue: after all, Ruff Sqwad were never Slew Dem, and their all-time classics sound like they were made by kids excited about girls and creps, rather than any sort of gangsterism. As adults, they pull off a careful balance: never preachy without drawing for pointless controversy.

Beyond providing great music for younger listeners who couldn’t previously listen to Ruff Sqwad on streaming, the group is also making waves in philanthropy through their Ruff Sqwad Arts Foundation, a charity set up to help young people reach their full potential. Grime famously provided an outlet for youths to explore their creativity, but crucially, these opportunities were all self-created, with heavy resistance from law enforcement and OFCOM. The RSAF is an opportunity to circumvent such barriers, meeting kids on their own terms and providing access to the equipment and mentorship that grime’s first generation often lacked. This willingness to give back and focus to ensure that their efforts make a practical impact is yet another reason Ruff Sqwad’s return should be celebrated. They’re not just survivors—Ruff Sqwad are thriving, and setting up the next generation for success.

All of which makes us wonder what’s in store for the future. Personally, I’d love to see classic mixtapes like Guns N’ Roses Vol. 1-2 uploaded to streaming. Like Boy In Da Corner or Playtime Is Over, these tapes are a foundational part of grime’s history that sound even better today than when they dropped. The Flee FM concept also merits further exploration. How about an hour-long set in this format, perhaps with a few features from their peers? Whatever moves they make however, this reinvigorated Ruff Sqwad is building on a rock-solid foundation and well-deserved goodwill from the generation of fans and artists they inspired.

Posted on March 12, 2024