Grime In The UK: It’s The Lifestyle Sweetheart — The Ups and Down and Rise of Grime
Tion Wayne and Russ Million’s track ‘Body’ has taken the world by storm, becoming a number one Tiktok trend, a number one in the UK, and being the drill song to ever do so. And whilst this is an incredible achievement, the journey of grime and drill has been in the works for decades. Only now is it deserving the correct plaudits it so desperately deserves. Grime and Drill is a huge part of UK culture, but it’s worth discussing how we got to this point now, and the work that past heroes put in so that these artists now are allowed to flourish.
Grime in 2003 was a small world in every nature of the word. It was created by people too young and marginalised to belong in the glamorous UK garage scene, and even the name was anti-aspirational to many. It was incredibly similar to the likes of punk rock or early hip-hop due to its rawness and fuck you attitude, but the fact that it has stayed true to its origins is the reason why the genre has risen to the very top in recent times. Grime has had a three-part narrative, similar to that of a Hollywood movie. The loveable underdog who grew its name and reached the top, only to then blow it (arguably due to no fault of its own), and ultimately redemption. However, it is easy to forget the journey that grime had to embark on to reach the top once more.
Much like the way in which Hip-hop reflected the streets in America, grime was acting in the same way for youth culture in the UK. Grime was all about community (it still is, but …), it gave people all across the UK a voice that they could use, and a platform to convey these messages of hardship and life growing up. The genre took root on the streets and boasted our multicultural society that many of us hold so proud, and changed the face of our city, our country, and now, even the world. When scene founder Wiley was first invited on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1 show, a make-or-break moment for the young artist’s career, he turned up with two 16-year-olds and insisted that they would be given time on the mic. One of those artists was Chipmunk, so this is the kind of inclusivity we’re talking about. What’s more, during this time a certain Dizzee Rascals ‘Boy in Da Corner’ album that many regards as a pioneering album of the genre won the prestigious Mercury Prize, and all of a sudden, music-label fat cats began scouring the streets of London for similar talent.
But this is where it all went to shit. A storm was brewing within political circles. In the mid-2000s that the political right began to link the spike in anti-social behaviour to grime music, and as such, the genre became closely linked to the concept of “Broken Britain” that was expressed in the right-wing media at the time. As a result of this media framing, what followed was a moral panic emerging around grime and other music of black origin within popular cities, particularly the association with violence.
The fall-out saw grime stigmatised and held as a symbol for a wide range of illicit leisure activities and other such deviant behaviour. The consequences of this label saw grime events, and by extension events featuring music of black origin becoming strictly policed. In London, the Metropolitan Police’s Form 696 was explicitly targeted at music venues and promoters that attracted grime audiences. One artist in particular was hugely affected by this treatment; Lethal Bizzle. Lethal Bizzle’s track ‘Pow’ was banned from being played in clubs, whilst it also saw the artist struggle to find any platform to play his music, and ultimately unable to play in clubs for over a year due to the bands placed on him.
In a statement on the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, CEO, Patrick Rackow stated: “The imposition of form 696 on live music is likely to discourage the existence and growth of live music. Music has long been a positive form of free expression, for people from all walks of life to create and enjoy.” But the thing is, this didn’t stop the genre from moving forwards. In spite of the negative attention directed towards grime, the genre continued to provide a prominent voice of hope to those who felt the political classes had forgotten about them. While many were being ruled out and poorly treated due to their affiliation to grime, the community stuck together and fought on through the inequality and racism that surrounded it.
Grime had a lot of work to do to counteract the right-leaning politicians and their resistance towards the movement, but they did it perfectly. Artists such as Akala and Stormzy played a pivotal role in providing a voice for a generation, highlighting the poor treatment of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster (never forget about them) through appearances on current affairs programmes and at public events such as the 2018 Brit Awards. Meanwhile, we all remember Dave’s spine-chilling Brit performance of ‘Black’ where he called out Theresa May and the mistreatment of ethnic minorities in British society.
The work that these artists put in to raise the name of grime once more has paid off massively. Grime is now back at the forefront of UK culture, and the music scene is absolutely thriving as a result of this. Previously over the last few years, there have been various grime songs reaching the hugely sought after UK Number 1, artists such as Dave ft. Fredo with ‘Funky Friday’ and Stormzy with ‘Vossi Bop’, and this would have never happened if the artists before them hadn't been so vigilant in their battle to change the face of the genre. Grime has had a bumpy ride throughout the ages, but now it is back at the top, arguably where it deserves to be.