What UK Music Can Learn From Grime’s War Dub Season 🔥

Words: Yemi Abiade

Last year, I pondered the lack of competition in the UK music scene, of the safeness through which today’s popular rappers go about cultivating friendships through their music rather than going for the neck of their peers. And while Christmas is traditionally a time for rest and relaxation, the grime gods had other plans as war dub season descended upon us.

Over the Christmas period, Wiley and UK music’s unsung hero, Dot Rotten, went from trading insults on Twitter over JAY1’s alleged finesse of one of Dot’s instrumentals, to a full-blown war—a rehash of their beef from the early 2010s—with Dot sending for the whole of BBK in the process. Eight Rotten dubs later, Wiley decided that instead of replying to him on wax, he would direct his energies to his open contempt for Ed Sheeran and Stormzy, who he felt slighted him on his supposed homage track “Wiley Flow”.

In between all of this, Birmingham enforcer Jaykae had bars for both Dot and Wiley, while Stormzy finally took Eskiboy to task over his previous comments about him and Sheeran (via social media). Seemingly playing into Wiley’s hand, Stormzy followed up the former’s initial send, “Eediyat Skengman 1”, with his own response, “Disappointed”. Cue the internet breaking into pieces. Not many could have foreseen the venom spilling out of Stormzy towards a man he considered a friend, a legend, a peer, but over Headie One and RV’s “Know Better” instrumental, he went for Wiley’s throat, questioning his integrity at every turn, and it was a marvel to see. Wiley has since responded with “Eediyat Skengman 2”, while Dot’s send for Stormzy in the midst of all of this symbolises war dub season coming full circle.

Whether you side with Stormzy taking the initial win and standing up to the ultimate cyber troll, or with Wiley, who was able to bring his opponent into the arena of the clash, despite his constant Twitter fingers, the result is a big W for grime as a whole. Here, two respected MCs, for better or worse, are sharpening their skills against each other, in a manner that we’ve come to expect from Wiley but almost forgot Stormzy possessed. A student of grime, the South London spitter moonwalked back to his roots (albeit on a drill beat) with devastation, drawing out Wiley, his brother, fellow MC Cadell, and even his father. It proves that Stormzy, though excelling as the reigning prince of UK music, still has the fire in his belly to take it back to the days where he was shelling down radio sets and park cyphers, and that Wiley has found yet another formidable opponent as unafraid to engage as he is at starting beef.

Clashing is indelibly marked on modern British music. From the early days of Jamaican soundsystems duelling at sound clashes via stage shows such as Sting, the spirit of soundsystem culture—brought to Britain by the Windrush Generation in the 1960s and 1970s—later filtered, via dancehall, into the genres of jungle, D&B, UK garage, dubstep and grime, informing the styles of countless future generations. The importance of Trojan Sound, Iration Steppas, Channel One, Aba Shanti-I and other soundsystems should not be forgotten on dubs, their spiritual descendant and the way by which modern-day MCs continue the tradition of clashing. Think back to any set on Déjà Vu FM, Heat FM and Rinse FM, and the new grime upstarts were running with a baton passed on by their ancestors. Consequently, MCs are literally born to clash; it’s an essential part of their DNA.

In a new age where most voices and opinions are expressed on social media (the reason Wiley and Stormzy’s beef happened in the first place), it’s easy for the new generation of UK artists to hide behind the keyboard and move onto the next profitable venture. Rarely these days do artists channel the competitive energy of old, which, given the view of many that grime is ‘dead’, creates a void of the vintage energy that made the genre a mainstay. Watching vintage radio sets via TRENCH’s HERITAGE series age like wine, their modern counterparts are few and far between. Wiley, having beefed with virtually everyone in the scene—from Lethal Bizzle and The Movement to Dizzee Rascal and Skepta—is a relic of the old ways, but in a way that it sometimes informs the present.

Wiley’s presence is essential for keeping the spirit of grime, the essence of competition and the art of clashing, alive in a landscape where playlist placements are more essential than sharpening skill. We find ourselves constantly harkening back to past clashes, of Ghetts vs P Money, Skepta vs Devilman and Chip vs Everybody because we have to, because they represent the scene at its most potent, most destructive, most alive. They spark debates online, offline and everywhere in between, sending a jolt in the arm of a grime scene where competition is valued above all. And while the new generation of grime MCs are indeed a fixture, the current trajectory of UK music tends to leave that wanting for yet more competition.

The likes of Wiley, Stormzy, Dot Rotten and Jaykae have recently proven that that spirit does indeed still flicker through the hallowed halls of grime, and UK music more generally. All of a sudden, the grime scene has been invigorated, with all eyes now back on a genre many think to be well past its glory days. This, in essence, is the intention of war dubs: to shake up, stimulate and ultimately strengthen the stature of all involved. They have, and always will, bring the best out of MCs, because a draw-out backs them into a corner, challenging them to box their way out and come out of the clash with their integrity intact. Chip was a human highlight reel in 2015 for his innate ability to never run out of bars and with his clashes, grime was able to fully re-embrace him after years in the pop wilderness. Leading with the music, he regained respect, and there is no doubt that Stormzy has earned a brand-new level of respect for his Wiley send. It may prove a passing moment, but two of our most talented musical sons going to war is not an event to scoff at, but to celebrate.

The importance of clashing, now under a fresh lens following this festive season, can never be understated or overvalued. The scene is there to be competed for and it is never above anyone, not even the brightest stars our scene has seen because, for many of them, combat is one of the first skills they brought with them into the game. It’s moments like these that tap deeper into the arsenal of our mainstream stars, and while success will push this impulse further down the pecking point, the actions of one Godfather can and will prove enough to bring it back out of MCs. Wiley vs Stormzy and Dot Rotten vs Everyone are just more chapters in the storied history of clashing, and long may that book continue to be written.

Posted on January 09, 2020