Rise & Grime: Skepta, North America, and Embracing Tomorrow’s Sound
Ever since the idea of talking poetically over a steady beat popped into someone’s head, the world of hip-hop has never stopped evolving. From the Sugarhill Gang taking influences from Disco, to Kurtis Blow being one of the first to add a hook, to Public Enemy fighting for the political message, to NWA making it cool to rap about violence, to Kanye West merging music and fashion, to Lil Uzi Vert creating a new genre of bubblegum trap noise *big breath*, hip-hop has become arguably one of the most diverse genres of music. It takes influences and makes influences and creates something more varied than imaginable. So naturally, as time rolls along there comes another shift in the way we hear rap; and this time, it’s grime.
Notably, the sound known as grime has been around for a while – since the early 2000’s in fact, and it’s a whole genre on its own. It’s not rap, because it’s too chaotic, quick, and electronically driven to fit in the genre. But it’s not quite electronic either, because, well it just makes more sense musically. Grime is the hybrid, the musical entity of combining electrically heavy beats with fast-paced English street culture. Just listening to a grime song on its own makes this undoubtedly clear – it has a sound that you just can’t quite put your finger on, but one that is so distinct it can be picked out without knowing the origin beforehand.
So why talk about grime? Ridiculously popular in the UK, this genre is something that we need to start embracing in North America. One of the more famous artists hailing from England, Skepta, is one of the biggest names in the UK at the moment. Originally a grime DJ, the artist became more involved with MCing after his DJ group, Miridian Crew, disbanded in 2005. But he’s not the beginning of Grime in the UK, though he has had a big hand in pioneering it internationally these past two years. English artist Wiley has been crowned the alias the “King of Grime”, and for good reason. Originally involving himself in a number of garage scene groups, he later branched off and formed the Roll Deep Crew in the early 2000’s, who consisted of big names like Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder, where they began to create what we call grime today.
Since then, the variety of artists in this genre in the UK has exploded. You have artists like Wiley and Dizzy, who provide the base for the industry; the godfathers of grime. You have artists like Jme, Skepta’s brother, who rap over the god damn Pokemon theme song. You have brooding artists like Devlin, and angry artists like Ghetts. Pop-esque grime artists like Tinie Tempah, and Lord of the Mic’s founder, Jammer. And this is only the tip of the iceberg; this is why the genre holds a shelf all on it’s own. And that shelf is starting to get heavy.
But let’s get back to the real topic of todays discussion; why we should embrace grime. Like every big movement in hip-hop, outside influence only works to make the industry stronger, more interesting, and keep it fresh. There are already some rappers who have worked along the lines of what makes up a grime song. Kanye West’s Yeezus was different than his other albums. It was laced with electronic influence, which you can hear right off the hop with On Sight. He might not have directly meant to dip his finger into grime – though, knowing Kanye, he probably meant to do that and 10 other things our peasant ears still haven’t picked up on yet – but evident is the undeniable hint of UK sound in his music on the project. Grime artists aren’t that different from American artists in the sense that their lyrics hold many of the same messages; violence, partying, growing up in rough neighbourhoods, and getting off the streets, so it’s not about the lyrics so much as it’s about the feel. And man, I am feelin’ it.
So, why should we embrace grime? Because it’s in our nature. Every time there is a shift in the spectrum, it’s a full movement. You can’t stop it. You can’t ignore it. And you definitely can’t look away. Skepta’s song Ladies Hit Squad has a hook that could have been taken right from a Drake album – which, I might add, the two shared a stage together once & Skeppy is expected to show up on this weeks release of Views – hell, the song even features A$AP Nast. London is knocking and both worlds are colliding; each genre taking notes from the other. Evidently, hip-hop artists themselves are listening, and they know. So why doesn’t the general public get it yet? Consider this your official un-official wake-up call.
For your first taste of grime, I would recommend you check out Skepta, who also happens to be releasing his latest album, Konnichiwa, on May 6th, which also happens to be my birthday. Coincidence? I think not. It’s a big project that’s gaining some ground, and you will likely read about it again on RLGT soon. Poised to make a huge splash in American markets with singles such as “Shutdown” & “That’s Not Me”, and Drake’s influence bringing the vibes to Canada, expect a full North American takeover sooner than later. (Editors Note: Skepta’s BBK affiliate Stormzy is another modern grime name worth checking out; He absolutely SNAPS on his latest track “Scary“)
Or, you can do what I did and strictly listen to grime for a whole day; immerse yourself in it, bathe in it, breathe it. It may or may not result in all the thoughts in your head sporting a British accent, which I can’t decide is a beautiful thing or a curse. But one thing I can decide on is that grime is a movement, and it’s moving this way pretty damn quick.