When talking disaster Azealia Banks finally imploded via social media last month on account of her virulently racist and homophobic comments about Zayn Malik, most were content to chide her for being an awful person, full stop. For grime fans however, the real stinger was her later response tweets taking UK artists to task over their flows and the roots of grime as an art form.
The backlash was swift, with most emcees taking the opportunity to cuss out Banks or mock her removal from Rinse’s Born & Bred, but Novelist, the rising star who took her headline festival spot incidentally, had a more salient point to make, claiming grime’s roots go back to ragga rather than hip-hop. Which begs the question: what are grime’s roots, and how does the London genre relate to dancehall and hip-hop music outside the UK?
Both dancehall and hip-hop tend to favour fashion statements too outlandish or ostentatious for grime, whose monochrome tracksuits celebrate utility over attention. Nevertheless, the antecedent is clear: Run DMC were rocking Adidas tracksuits in the ‘80s and Boy Better Know’s fashion sense is/was a smarter, European-cut reflection of the all-over prints Dipset were famous for in the early noughties. That, or just head to toe in Nike.
And there we have it. Obviously there’s an argument for hip-hop’s massive influence on grime, but look past the surface to the way the music works, and it becomes clear that Jamaican music lies at the heart of what makes grime tick. Of course, grime’s also far more than an English flip on ragga: what would the genre be without Plastician’s industrial experiments, DaVinChe’s R&B grooves, Youngstar’s electronic noise, Royal-T’s 2-step bounce and even contemporary efforts by the likes of Mr. Mitch to expand into slower, more emotional territory? Grime’s been fighting a battle for respect since day one, and the scene has always had a love-hate relationship with hip-hop’s massive international success. But whatever its chart fortunes, the genre can stand tall with pride as its very own ‘ting.