The 2010s: Grime’s Most Impactful Songs

As the decade draws to a close, we take a look back at the grime tracks that pushed things forward the most. Did your favourite make the cut? Tap in...

grime in the 2010s
Art by Will Kay/Complex Original
grime in the 2010s

The past 10 years have been tumultuous for us all. A decade in which Britain hosted the Olympics and saw us endure uninterrupted Tory rule, only to end up crashing out of the European Union in the most embarrassing way possible. Similarly, grime hasn’t exactly had the smoothest of runs.

From grime’s beginning in 2001 up until around 2009, it had made a huge impact on British culture, but that trajectory to greatness was put on hold for the following three years when its central figures decided to go pop. However, at the start of 2013, grime’s fortune changed. Thanks to the huge success of Meridian Dan’s “German Whip”, Skepta and Jme’s “That’s Not Me” and some well-timed freestyles and radio sets, the entire country’s heads were turned. Suddenly, venues were actually willing to host events—even the US was ready to worship at grime’s altar—and the nation became enamoured with the scene’s newbie, Stormzy—who, alongside Skepta, took grime to the farthest reaches of the UK and beyond. Now these emcees are household names in ways that only Dizzee and, to an extent, Wiley had ever approached before. 

Ultimately, in spite of everything, grime survived. We’ve spoken about it in greater length before, but the point is that grime withstood a lot in the 2010s and it deserves celebrating. As the decade draws to a close, we take a look back at the grime tracks that pushed things forward the most. And this isn’t about commercial success—Stormzy’s had more successful tracks than “Shut Up”—this is purely about cultural significance.

So, without further ado, here are grime’s most impactful songs of the 2010s.


20. StayFresh – “16 For 16” (2010)

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15 years ago, when grime was solidifying its stars, the only time you’d get to hear MCs from outside of London was through now-classic Sidewinder​ tape-packs (the promoters themselves were from Northampton, so they saw the challenge early on), where the likes of Birmingham’s Vader and Nottingham’s Wariko would pass mics with the genre’s top players. Coming through at roughly the same time (late 2000s) as their local, Lady Leshurr, West Midlands crew StayFresh enters the ring and they’re hungry for it; most Wednesday nights you could catch them in East London for Tim & Barry’s Just Jam event, jumping at any chance to be heard by the scene’s core, close-knit family and friends. 

After proving their worth throughout 2009, the crew’s S-X-produced single, “16 For 16”, was uploaded to YouTube on Dec. 31, 2009 (it had to make the cut) with a warning that, in ‘010, we would all see what they’re on. Although StayFresh disbanded some years later, former manager Despa Robinson is currently enjoying success with fellow Midlands native, Brummie bar-slinger Jaykae. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

19. Lady Leshurr – “Queen’s Speech 4” (2015)

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Queen’s Speech was a series of YouTube videos that merged the lyrical skill and punchy sends inspired by battle rap with really fun, social-friendly Gen Z energy. Out of Lady Leshurr’s seven-part series, “Queen’s Speech 4” was a breakout hit. The one-take video of the star spitting through the streets of Birmingham, to a melodic and spacious beat, was simple and excellent with a cross-generational appeal as everyone from teen fans to those in their 40s screamed “BRUSH YOUR TEETH!” in their best Brummie accents.

Between the Fetty Wap and Queen Latifah Set It Off references, Leshurr spoke to not only her own experiences growing up, but many millennials’ too. Crossing between groups in a down-to-earth, non-patronising way, her catchy bars—laced with pop culture references—and animated persona make for viral-worthy songs that do well in this new era of music. Though the song was clearly a direct message to anonymous online haters, the use of comical insults was reprimanded for being anti-feminist. These comments highlighted another double standard between male and female MCs, which Leshurr previously addressed

In an era where good bars are also defined by how ‘captionable’ they are, Lady Leshurr is a gold-star lyricist and “Queen’s Speech 4” proves it. Go, LL! —Chanté Joseph

18. Kozzie – “Spartan Remix” f/ Marger, Merky Ace, Rival, Ego, Scrufizzer (2011)

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During grime’s exile from commercial and critical acceptance, it was the true believers that kept the scene alive, releasing independent projects to a devoted community of loyalists with no hope or intent of reaching a wider audience. Kozzie’s 2011 album (don’t call it a mixtape) The Problem’s Started was among the best of these, and his 8-bar rally over “Spartan” was its single brightest moment. Spooky’s instrumental version was already tearing up sets—that pre-drop 300 sample will always elicit a response—but Kozzie and his “new wave” affiliates was a pointed reminder that grime just sounds better with the right emcees tearing up the beat. Just as importantly, the pitch black, sub-heavy instrumental fit in perfectly with the raviest of 2011 dubstep, introducing a new generation of fans to the aggressive energy that grime could bring to the table in a club setting. —Son Raw

17. AJ Tracey – “Spirit Bomb” (2015)

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Before he told everyone he’s not a grime artist, AJ Tracey was firing out grime bangers like this one. An argument could be made for “Naila”—the beat for which was laced by countless other MCs—but with “Spirit Bomb”, AJ laced a boxfresh riddim from Vision Crew’s Ezro and gave the scene a teeth-kicking look at what the new generation had to offer. It also spawned a rowdy, jam-packed remix featuring Dave, PK, Merky Ace, Trims, Cadell, Skits, Central Cee, Drifter and Capo Lee. The track gave AJ the springboard that led to “Thiago Silva”, which in turn led to so much more for him, but “Spirit Bomb” alone put him on the map as a gifted rhymer who simultaneously knew and respected grime’s history while driving it into the future. —James Keith

16. Sir Spyro f/ Big H, Bossman Birdie, President T – “Side By Side” (2015)

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East London’s Sir Spyro, one of grime’s most valued and gifted producers, may have hit the charts recently with Stormzy and Ed Sheeran, but he still has his ear close to the ground when it comes to that true and authentic sound. Back in 2015, Spyro decided to unite Bloodline members Big H, Prez T and Bossman for a lyrical workout over his rolling, ground-opening “Mizuno” instrumental, which allowed each spitter to shine and live up to their reps as some of the true originators when it comes to grime flows. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

15. Ghetts – “You Dun Know Already” (2016)

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Somewhere between grime’s infectious energy and the smooth, 2-step bounce of UKG, Sir Spyro combined these sounds for Ghetts on the So Solid-saluting “You Dun Know Already”. Ghetts had already proved himself to be one of the country’s greatest MCs by this point, but it dropped at a time when we needed reminding of his spellbinding flows and rowdy, Ghetto energy. —Tobi Oke

14. Wiley – “On A Level” (2014)

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Where to start with Wiley? He’s got an MBE, sure, but his Twitter account does a better job at capturing his appeal than any establishment titles. Deep down, we love him because he’s one of our own—a cantankerous striver that can’t help but get in his own way, while always somehow managing to right the ship in the end. “On A Level” is one of those perfect Wiley moments, one where he dismissed his pop-leaning crossover ambitions in favour of shelling down on a grime riddim (a Skepta production, no less).

There’s nothing fancy here and, quite frankly, Wiley’s got anywhere from 50-500 similar tunes in the bag—but that he chose to lead off his Snakes & Ladders album with something this rude and raw, provided grime with a jolt of confidence, putting the “Wearing My Rolex” days firmly in the rear-view mirror. Richard Cowie is best enjoyed longform (his 2010 Zip Files remain equal parts astounding and frustrating), but “On A Level” is his single punchiest tune of the decade. —Son Raw

13. Kano f/ Giggs & Wiley – “3 Wheel-Ups” (2016)

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As soon as those trumpets kicks in, even your mum jumps up for a skank! The brilliance of Kano’s “3 Wheel-Ups” with Giggs (Wiley features on the album version) wasn’t just that it dropped at the perfect time to snap up a new generation of fans discovering grime, it also managed to capture the sound’s mosh-pit energy with a polished production recorded with live instrumentation. Brass has never sounded so raw! —James Keith

12. Lethal Bizzle – “Pow 2011”

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Seven years after the iconic 2004 track debuted, one tweet from Lethal Bizzle set things in motion for a remake of classic posse cut “Pow! (Forward)”, whose bars have become a rite of passage for a generation of Brits. “Pow!” really felt like an audible grime anthology of essential flows and lyrics that gave you a small taster of the range and skill possessed by the still young scene. The energy of “Pow!” was too real for police and clubs owners, who consequently told promoters they couldn’t play it, or anything remotely similar. This was when grime and punk interrelations began to form. Bizzle became the scene’s first ‘rockstar’ and took the fight to the House of Commons in a very public spat with David Cameron when he was the leader of the Conservative Party. 

2011’s rendition platforms a roster of legends: Jme, Wiley, Chipmunk, Face, P Money, Ghetto and Kano. This star-studded lineup interchanging on a refreshed, Teddy Music-produced riddim over-delivered in revitalising the initial excitement that first enthused grime fans. This time, the song was received more openly with fewer obvious restrictions on the genre. Not straying too far from the structure of the original, “Pow 2011” is a full grime experience, and debates as to whether 2011 beats the 2004 version are still ongoing. —Chanté Joseph

11. Kano f/ D Double E & Ghetts – “Class Of Deja” (2019)

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A return to form in the truest sense, “Class Of Deja” reunited old friends, former N.A.S.T.Y Crew stalwarts and grime originators Kano, Ghetts and D Double E all on a track that celebrated and encapsulated everything that made pirate radio so great in the first place. Even their respective bars were delivered with such fury and raw energy that you’re immediately thrown back to the early noughties, huddled round the radio listening to the greats throwing high-octane bars back-and-forth with boundless energy.

With the track came a short film (which included album extract “Trouble”) that took the viewer on a journey from the passing of a young boy through to his wake, gradually transforming a tragic moment into a celebratory one. The same could also be said of the album that birthed it, Hoodies All Summer—which was just as glorious and even gave us the priceless sight of a full choir singing “suck your mum” on Later... With Jools Holland. Between the album and the new Top Boy, Kano has had a massive year. —James Keith

10. Dave & AJ Tracey – “Thiago Silva” (2016)

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Producer 169 applied a unique spin to Ruff Sqwad’s 2003 instrumental “Pied Piper” for Dave and AJ Tracey, right before they would go on to sell out dates across Europe (and now the globe) and hold down spots in the UK charts. “Thiago Silva” earned the pair—who are now both considered rappers—grime scene stripes with this relentless back and forth that recalled the early days of pirate radio. —Tobi Oke

9. P Money – “Slang Like This” (2010)

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Released at dubstep’s commercial peak, when P Money was equally at home over subby wobblers as he was over 8-bar riddims, “Slang Like This” cut across scene divisions in a show of civic pride, forcefully advocating for London’s unique, ever-shifting dialects. Beyond smashing up raves and collecting reloads, True Tiger’s harsh, stuttering bass, South-Asian sample and P’s energetic, full-throttled bars painted a picture of a multicultural British experience that ignored American hip-hop’s traditions and language in favour of its own. Completely of its time, while also pointing towards a brighter future, “Slang Like This” was an underground statement of intent for black British music that laid the foundation for the coming decade’s mainstream success. —Son Raw

8. Skepta – “Shutdown” (2015)

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“Shutdown” was more than just a song: it was a very significant event that took place on the backdrop of a wider cultural movement that came at the peak of—what critics called—grime’s ‘resurgence’. The track opens with a sample from a Drake vine that confirmed rumours of the friendship between him and BBK’s Skepta, and provided a subtle international co-sign from the rapper/cultural tastemaker. Effortlessly catchy, with exaggerated synths and violins harking back to the intense orchestral sounds that made cuts like Treble Clef’s “Ghetto Kyote” and Plastician’s “Still Tippin Remix” classics, it felt like Skepta had a lot to prove on “Shutdown”, determined to ensure that grime was treated with as much reverence as American hip-hop. 

Referencing the 2015 Brits performance with Kanye West, a middle-class female voice on the track speaks in disdain at the “extremely aggressive” men on stage, on her screen, making her feel “intimated.” This was clearly a two-fingers up at the establishment’s snubbing of the sound and a testament to the force with which the genre would sweep the nation. “Shutdown” was a stripped-back and reborn Skepta, one who threw out his designer clothes and reverted back to the bulgy statement trackie with effortless swagger. The unrepentant lyrics, assertive video and impeccable timing of the release made it a decade-definer. The Grace LaDoja-directed visuals also indirectly helped to grow a mainstream appreciation of the much-critiqued tracksuit and council estate ‘aesthetic’ that was replicated by fashion students and absorbed nationwide. —Chanté Joseph

7. Stormzy – “Shut Up” (2015)

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When XTC produced “Functions On The Low” in one hour on Fruity Loops and pressed it to the B-Side of a Dirty Danger remix, little did he know that he’d produced an anthem that would shake up the monotony of manufactured Christmas charts and usher in a new global era of grime. “Shut Up” was 2015’s “Killing In The Name”. Grime fans, old and new, rallied behind the track, playing it on repeat and even streaming it in their sleep to beat the X Factor single to Christmas No. 1. “Shut Up” beat the X Factor single by one place, taking No. 8 in the charts which was still a feat in itself. 

Stormzy’s clear and immediate flow—hopping and inflexing over the dreamy, flute-driven beat—coupled with the nostalgia-inducing visuals of early ‘00s low-quality diss videos, was a chef’s kiss moment for the scene. “Shut Up” was a blatant reminder that grime wasn’t dead, bringing in new adopters of the sound whilst saluting the long and extensive history of those that came before. Originally filmed as a freestyle to clap back at online jibes from “bitter” emcees that sought to discredit Stormzy’s success, “Shut Up” will go down as one of the decade’s most memorable moments. —Chanté Joseph

6. Novelist – “Take Time” (2014)

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6. Novelist – “Take Time” (2014)

What Plastician said.

“For me, 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 MCs who went on to have monumental success, and were catalysts for the recent resurgence. Somebody has that track in them, or that project.” 

Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

5. D Double E – “Streetfighter Riddim” (2010)

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If you don’t know every single word to this, you’re not a real fan. —James Keith

4. Jme f/ Giggs – “Man Don’t Care” (2015)

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Giggs’ ability to ride a variety of beats has flown under the radar at times, with some of the best examples existing on hard-to-find early mixtapes. On Jme’s 2015 album Integrity>, the decision to recruit the rapper for his Swifta-produced track “Man Don’t Care” would again alter the trajectory of the scene. Giggs would go on to drop another show-stealing verse for Drake two years later, but the motion was already set by the hyped scenes and genuine displays of unity prompted by “Man Don’t Care” across the summer of 2015. —Tobi Oke

3. D Double E & S-X – “Bad To The Bone (Wooo Riddim)” (2010)

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S-X’s “Wooo Riddim” is one of the greatest grime productions of all time, and there’s no debating it. When the Wolves producer—now singer!—released it back in 2010, almost every top-boy MC dropped a version and showed us what they could do on the hypnotising beat, but no one could place it automatically in classic territory like D Double E. Everything this East London legend touches turns into greatness. Just ask IKEA! —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

2. Meridian Dan – “German Whip” (2013)

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The majority of songs in this list come after the 2013 release of “German Whip”—and for good reason. Six months before the Adenuga brothers returned to grime’s true essence with “That’s Not Me”, Meridian Dan, their former Meridian Crew associate, would unveil an anthem to kickstart the buzz, most importantly bringing grime back to commercial daytime radio. —Tobi Oke

1. Skepta f/ Jme – “That’s Not Me” (2014)

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“That’s Not Me” is one for the history books, in that more than a few books on grime have already used it as a narrative device—the moment when the scene’s wayward flock of MCs and producers releasing tepid electro-pop suddenly saw the light and returned to hard, 140BPM grime. The truth is a bit messier. Younger collectives such as Butterz and Boxed kept the sound evolving online and in clubs throughout the decade, and a new generation of emcees like Novelist and AJ Tracey were already coming up on radio, commercial hype or not. Plus Skepta himself had just dropped a great project in Blacklisted a few years prior, so it’s not as if he was coming off a failure. As far as myths go, this one falls apart pretty quickly.

So no, “That’s Not Me” didn’t resurrect grime, but it absolutely and definitively smashed any and all limits on what a grime emcee—or any person of colour—could achieve in British music. One MOBO-winning, £50 video by Tim & Barry later, and we’re living in a world where grime not only thrives, but it competes with UK drill, Afro-pop and a half dozen other subgenres for mainstream attention, all on its own terms. Skepta didn’t just score a pop smash, he scored one over a couple of Plugsound VST effects while verbally binning his designer threads in favour of a tracksuit. In other words, he was being himself, in turn inspiring every subsequent British MC—from Dave to slowthai—to do the same.

“That’s Not Me” is an easy choice for No. 1 on this list because of the myth that it brought grime back, but it remains compulsively listenable because of the reality behind that myth. That reality, one of a young person speaking his truth, unconcerned by how it’ll be received, is central to not only grime, but to practically every vital strain of music in the world today. This was never about crossing over, or making it in America, or even about getting a rep in the ends. It was about being heard. And today, thanks to a super honest, off-the-cuff freestyle made in one afternoon, every UK artist’s voice rings out that little bit louder. —Son Raw

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