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"Is grime really dead?"
That's the question I've battled with a lot recently.
Culturally, grime is alive and well: Skepta—who just adorned the cover of British GQ—is now a Nigerian Chief, meanwhile longreads are still being penned about Stormzy sending for Theresa May at The Brits. However, musically, the scene is in a troubled spot. Could it be that platforms, and writers—like myself, who pride themselves on unearthing new music—aren't looking deep enough for the gems, or is the quality of music just not there right now? For me, it would have to be the latter. Despite some great recent efforts from artists like Big Zuu (Hold Dat) and Capo Lee (Capo The Champ), the music—mainly singles—is seemingly falling by the wayside.
Granted, we're still only four months into 2018, but I honestly couldn't give you a pure grime banger (pure, as in, no tinge of trap or drill) from the last 6-8 months that has truly stuck. And this is coming from an insider with a genuine love for—and interest in—the scene (my newly-launched magazine is basically dedicated to it) and wants to see it win and continue to smash down doors, globally. But we'll need more than magazine covers and moments to do that.
It's almost as if we've been blinded by the lights of mainstream media, comfortable in knowing that grime is seen by the higher-ups as this leading voice of British youth. And while it definitely is that, it's like we're stuck in that 2009-2012 space again where we don't know where the scene is headed, and because of that uncertainty, we're getting sub-par music. It's really too early to say whether we need a saviour like Meridian Dan and his 2013 "German Whip", but something's got to give. I am also well aware of the new crop of young talent being pushed by the likes of DJ Argue—they're needed for the scene to move on, but this isn't about shelling down radio and spinning raves for days: it's about the laxed attitudes of grime's core foundation.
"I don't think the quality is as good as six months ago because people are rushing out music just to compete and stay relevant," says D Power, grime emcee and founder of EB Records and Deja Vu FM. "Plus, I feel like a lot of the big grime acts are trying to make songs for the radio now, so when you're talking quality grime records, hardly any are connecting with the streets, or even the radio. What was the last actual—big!—grime record to wave down the roads?"
My thoughts, exactly.
D Power—someone who's been instrumental in grime's growth since its inception—also thinks it's down to certain platforms and them knowing the difference between various genres. "They need to show a clear distinction between grime and the rest of the genres because we're getting mixed up with hip-hop, UK drill, trap and Afrobeats," he says. "Basically, if you're black and do urban music, to them, you are a grime artist. And because of that confusion, certain grime MCs have become lazy. Generally, I think the scene is in a good-but-bad place—a good place because the name 'grime' is getting thrown about a lot, but a bad place 'cause it's not actual grime music they're referring to." Mix-ups to one side, where has all the hunger gone? Just two years ago, we were being bombarded with street-level grime smashes, ones that still circulate clubland.
"I think all genres go through seasons and the good music is around the corner," says Sharky Major, former N.A.S.T.Y Crew emcee and industry veteran, "especially through Grime Originals Records and Major Muzik Entertainment. I just feel that guys need to put a bit more effort in, and those at the top who are the influencers need to embrace the newer generation more if they want the sound to keep growing, rather than making them feel like they might as well make a different genre to be noticed. More events and headline shows, as well. We all need to support each other more."
For revered dubstep and grime producer Plastician, maybe grime is in need of a saving riddim. "For me," he says, "if the essence of the grime sound is going to come back strong and overtake the current drill sound, we need one of those big tunes that takes the old grime mentality, sonics, flows and spins them on their head. We saw this when Novelist and Mumdance collaborated on 'Take Time' a few years back. A lot of us got talking when that single dropped, and I know for a fact that it reinvigorated a few emcees who went on to have monumental success, and were catalysts for the recent resurgence. Somebody has that track in them, or that project."
With promised albums from Ghetts, D Double E and Wiley, plus a not-grime-but-grime LP from Novelist doing the rounds, we can at least hope things will pick up as the year unfolds. And if, like me, you ever feel the need to remind yourself of grime's greatness, here's a 25-track playlist I put together for your brap-shouting pleasure.