It’s Not Just Bars — Some Meditations on Grime

maxresdefault

The whole Grime explosion that’s going on right now is so intense that it’s pretty overwhelming and often kind of hard to tell where it really came from. Some people seem to think that it was Meridian Dan’s “German Whip” that turned the spotlight back on the genre around 2014, but I think that was more contained within the UK. Looking at all the hype kicking off around Skepta at the moment it feels more like it was “That’s Not Me” that really set the stage, with “Shutdown” just turning it up further in recent months. There’s plenty good reasons why the former garnered so much attention. It had that perfect blend of nostalgia and progression that reminded everybody what Grime was all about whilst demonstrating how it could still be relevant ten years later. It’s laced with all these little pieces of DNA in the synths and drums that conjure up dozens of classic tracks, with the lyrics doing the same, packaged in a mixture of flows that have become essential to the genre.

Whenever I speak to a lot of Grime fans, however, the sudden resurgence is one that comes with mixed emotions. Grime is now over ten years old and it feels like there’s a bit of an anxiety about how much has come before now that might never see the light of day—the fear that what is now being appreciated isn’t the whole picture, that the lion is now talking but perhaps is not fully understood.

Let’s be clear; nobody is hating on Skepta and Boy Better Know for doing what they’re doing. If there is a single group in Grime that has earned the right to capitalise and succeed off their graft then it’s Boy Better Know, one of the only teams that has been both driven and fortunate enough to have stood the test of time. I just keep hearing an anxiety that the “Grime” that is now making it big is a surface-level image of that group and perhaps Stormzy and a couple of tracks off Boy in da Corner and so on.

One of the things that has really gotten to me about Grime’s return to the centre stage has been these facile and tenuous articles about the genre’s fashion. “How to dress Grime”; “It’s all about trackies and trainers”; “Combine black with black for that roadman look”. Firstly, it feels really trashy that the term “roadman” has almost become a buzzword comparable to “hipster”, “spice boy” or “nandos lad” when, in my opinion, its origins lie much more in elements of lifestyle and action than the latter terms’ preoccupation with image.

Secondly, we know that Grime was born out of a feeling of rejection and alienation from the London garage scene’s preoccupation with image and fashion; Moschino and Versace, flashy garms, outfits that cost your entire wage packet. Grime was never about image or fashion, this was a uniform born out of necessity. The emergence of articles in recent months so heavily focused on the fashion of Grime in this sense is almost kind of grotesque and, to me, demonstrates either total ignorance of the politics and social issues that birthed the genre or a twisted interest that I almost want to compare to early colonial missions into the African continent; this strange fascination with the other that fails to contextualise what it is seeing at all. We’re all quite ready to rip on guys with bland tribal tattoos, but what of our black rain jackets and nylon trackies? Don’t @ me.

Anyway, I didn’t start writing this piece to get on a rant or be cynical about things. As someone who can still remember having JME’s “R U Dumb” as the ringtone on his Sony Ericsson when he was 14 years old and getting sent to “the landing” for calling his English teacher a Poomplex, there’s a lot of really deep fondness for Grime that I really wish I had some sort of an outlet to share with people who are discovering the genre, whoever and wherever they are. That in mind, this is a small collection of a few grime artists that I personally think are worth knowing about that maybe aren’t getting the spotlight now that they deserve, for a number of reasons. They might not even be the best in their game, but they represent different aspects of the whole scene that tapped into me over the years and if all they get is a couple more plays on the YouTube channel then fuck it, it’s cool.

edit: Before I go any further, let’s be clear—one of the biggest problems that is emerging is the pure fact that it’s now been ten years for the genre. To be able to fully grasp the expanse of Grime now would effectively require an encyclopaedic level of documentation. I’m not equipped to do that, but Big Narstie gives a lot of amazing (subjective) insight in this video and I highly recommend it.  Even having written this and prepared it to post, there are whole corners and areas that I wish I could go into, and maybe for that reason it’ll be worth returning and talking about this more in the future. I have missed people out, I have skimmed over aspects and there are some bits that I straight up just don’t know about, but these are individuals who have stuck with me as major figures who made serious contributions to Grime. Safe.

Griminal 

Before Stratford was known for the Olympics and a fuck-off big shopping centre, it was—like most of East London—notorious for gang culture and no-go areas. Griminal came up as part of the Nasty Crew alongside his brother’s Marcus Nasty and Lil Nasty and was generally associated with the Greengate gang, Stratford to Plaistow etc. Grim has always had one of the most distinctive flows, some perfect blend of aggressive, jagged bars and really fluid wordplay. “Nowadays gash go over the top cus they just wanna get under the jeans”—Like come on man, that’s crazy. To be honest I think he kind of got caught up in the pop-grime movement around 2009 to his detriment. Most people I speak to say he went hard on freestyles and radio sets but kind of gloss over his later singles. Still, his ‘It’s Not Just Bars Vol. 1’ mixtape is one I always return to, and if there’s any justice in the world he’ll come back on the scene soon back on form.

Dot Rotten

I don’t even know where to start with Dot Rotten. I almost want to say that Dot was, in some ways, the closest thing the UK Grime scene ever got to a Lil B character—but with far superior lyrics (forgive me Based God). To anyone who knows, Dot is just as well known for his spitting ability as he is for his, well, slightly off-key behaviour. Look out for him in that Griminal video above, waving around a copy of “The Luciferian Conspiracy” and shouting out “anyone reading books”. Dot undoubtedly has some of the realest bars and is one of the scene’s storytellers, genuinely able to take you down a path and paint a picture for you with his lyrics. He’s also produced some crazy beats in his time too, and there was a time when his track ‘Rowdy Riddim’ seemed to be the essential track for freestyles across the city, including the Griminal video above. If you get any of his early mixtapes you’ll be in good company but I recommend ‘Something Out Of Nothing’.

Rinse 

I wish I had more to actually say about Rinse because the guy is genuinely a myth, I have no idea where the fuck he went. Nobody expects anything of him when they first see him, myself included, but he’s easily got some of the best bars and craziest flows. Plus if you write a lyric like “Everybody’s doing the Rolex Sweep but I’m broke, so it’s more like I’m doing the robot” then your plaque on the Grime Wall of Fame is fucking long overdue. The only footage I’ve ever seen of him is two YouTube videos where he goes absolutely mad then vanishes into the ether. There was always talk of a mixtape called ‘Revenge of the Nerd’, I think, but nothing ever materialised and it’s genuinely a crime. The fact that he shares a name with one of London’s biggest radio stations for grime, garage, house et al also means it’s very difficult to find him when you search “Rinse Freestyle” or whatever. I’ve put him here because he’s just legit too good for any Grime fan to miss. Enjoy watching Dot Rotten standing behind him in awe. We’ve all been there.

N.E. aka Nu Era

N.E. was one of the founding members of Organized Grime (OGz), best known for P Money, Blacks, Little Dee and Desperado. In a grime context N.E. wasn’t even necessarily the best MC in his crew, let alone the scene, but his story is a particularly sad one that seems important to me. He struggled with alcoholism for most of his life and from what I understand died suddenly from an alcoholism-related seizure. He had some crazy bars and character that poured out of his performances and you can seriously hear him arrive on the track, but for me he’s important because there’s such a preoccupation with “roadman narratives” or fixations on the gang culture and so on in UK Grime, people forget that the road is a struggle for more reasons than that and can take lives in any number of ways. Road life takes lives, and N.E.’s death represents an aspect that is at times much harder to express. R.I.P.

Jendor

Another member of OGz that never gets the spotlight he deserves. Jendor has made countless appearances on radio sets and goes in every single time, and also had a crazy clash with Canadian MC Tre Mission on Lord of the Mics 3. Jendor is pretty much a masterclass on spitting fast bars with flow. He seems to be on a lot of road movements and I wish he blew up more because he’s got amazing talent. Basically watch the video above and watch out for Desperado in the grey top bopping at around 27:20—that is how watching Jendor spit makes me feel, he absolutely kills this beat to the point where you feel like you’re riding it with him.

President T aka Prez T

It’s weird talking about Prez because I already know that anybody from day one knows that the guy is an absolute animal but he’s equally just about underground enough that he could easily slip under the radar, which would be a crying shame. Prez is particularly close to my heart as an MC with an absolutely unparalleled approach to writing lyrics. His bars are structured in such a strange way there’s almost something scientific to them; he even starts on different parts of the bar—sometimes the first beat, sometimes the second—and everything just slots into place around the rhythm. His ‘Back Inna My Face’ mixtape is an essential release, so download it now. He’s been working on a follow-up release for about five years now and everyone is getting justifiably pissed off at him because he’s too good to not be bigger in the game. From where I’m sitting it seems like a combination of slow work rate, road movements and legal issues—he mentions house arrest in a recent video so maybe things aren’t too easy to get down right now.

Crazy Titch

My feelings about Titch are a raw blend of frustration, sadness, anger and laughter. If you don’t know, Titch is serving a life sentence for a murder related to some beef in the grime scene—Google it, it’s too long for here—and was one of the best MCs to ever grace the genre. One of the true originators of the genre and someone who would be copied by countless others later on, Titch pretty much embodied the whole spirit of grime. And he was just a fucking funny guy as well, watch him in the background (blue cap) of this clash between Ghetts and Bashy, laughing as Ghetts starts kicking off. I’m actually dead. The reason I feel the way I do is because every single person I speak to says the same thing about Titch; if he wasn’t in prison right now he would be absolutely destroying the game. Titch is the biggest waste of talent in the whole grime story, in my opinion. In the grander scheme everything about his situation is just stupid, a tragic waste and utterly pointless. His ‘Crazy Times 2’ mixtape that he recorded and released while in prison isn’t necessarily the most polished piece of work, but is a spine-tingling demonstration of what he’s capable of with a microphone. As for ‘Crazy Times’ volume 1, watch the videos on youtube and try to find the audio if you can, it’s pretty much the closest thing you can get to Grime gospel.

Shystie

Again, Shystie is unarguably a known name in the scene, no mystery. She’s still doing her thing and even supported Kendrick on a recent European tour so it’s not like she needs any help, but as far as Grime goes she’s an OG and it just doesn’t feel like she gets nearly enough recognition. She’s unmissable on a track and is just an essential mention.

Roadside Gs

Roadside Gs are just true originators and one of the OG crews in Grime. They’re consistently touted as some of the best to ever spit. Everything from the sets to the mixtapes is fire. They were mainly based in Brixton and Camberwell in South London and connected to a lot of the shit that was going on down there. Central figure R.A. is now in prison on some dubious firearm charges in a long story, and the crew doesn’t seem to be doing much, but their association with local gang culture and constant run-ins with Trident has probably played no small part in this. RSGs just have that original energy that embodies what grime was all about, and their mixtapes and sets are obviously dripping with classic beats and tracks that contemporary artists make constant homage to. Download their Grimetapes mixtape and listen to ‘Phantom, Appear at Random’, especially Dan Diggerz’ verse—‘Bars, I got plenty a dem, think you can merk me, send for me den!’. Madness.

Essential Mentions

Seriously, I’m done or we’ll be here for hours, but let’s also remember;

Slix ­– Down, down, down, down. Basically if you can turn a single word into one of grime’s most quotable bars then you must be on something correct.

Ghetto – I’d get slaughtered if I failed to mention Ghetts, I never rated him greatly but he’s still without a doubt one of the most vital figures in grime and someone who really worked actively to push the movement forward.

Trim – Alongside Prez T, an MC who really innovated flow and lyricism with bars that you have to listen over and over to decipher. Funny that he’d have beef with Prez really. This town ain’t big enough for both of them.

Durrty Goodz – Half-brother of Crazy Titch, one of the most talented MCs in the game and insanely versatile. So versatile that fuck it, I’m gonna leave you with one more video that I urge you to watch from start to finish so you can watch him blow up from casual hip hop flows to Grime overdrive. You’re welcome.

This entry was posted in Lifestyle, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.