The changing of the guard that saw us enter 2017 from a year notorious for how it inflicted tragedy on the famous, is a significant moment to reflect on how far the genre of Grime or UK Hip-Hop as it has been mistakenly referred to, has come. 2016 again was a year of excellence for Grime as without fail new and exciting talent continued to emerge from London streets with an appetite for success and crucially with an understanding of how to get it. Whether you are a grime enthusiast or pay no attention to the genre, you wouldn’t be wrong to think that an upcoming artist: a Grime MC makes his/her trade by putting out as much content as possible hoping a record label will pounce. Sadly the process isn’t as straightforward as in American Hip-Hop for the fact that Grime itself does not have as extensive a palette as Hip-Hop. What I mean by this is that Grime has found its success from functioning in one rigid style, and that is through intense, high tempo instrumentals coupled with lyrics, which almost always recycle the same subject criteria. Many Grime MC’s are tasked with the difficulty of having to impress on pirate radio and video platforms that give them the small exposure they need to get noticed. Some artists appear like diamonds in the rough needing their material to be refined but they are the least bit concerning if you’ve seen the copycat artists who all play the same game, seperated only by the ridiculous pseudonym they produce for themselves. Originality like in most things is scarce and looking back 2016 was a reminder that there is hope. Often the most interesting thing about an artist is their name, it creates that enigma behind them and admittedly is often the reason for me remembering an artist as opposed to the punch lines they deliver.
A perfect example of this is AJ Tracey. One Grime act that had a very prosperous 2016. Most people associate Tracey as a feminine name and would be surprised to hear a Grime artist knowingly pick it as a stage name with the connotations rivals and haters can make. AJ From The Lane as he is also known as, is a staunch defender of the name and would much rather let his rhymes be the topic of conversation. AJ Tracey made his name in pirate radio like most Grime acts, and in the years since he first appeared, 2016 became a year of hard work finally paying rewards. He appeared in promotional material for BT Sport’s coverage of the Premier League, not out of random circumstance – his love affair with Tottenham Hotspur FC hence ‘The Lane’. The release of his EP ‘Lil Tracey’ also proved to be very popular, the buzz for its release even led him to filming track 2: Buster Cannon in Japan. In short AJ Tracey spent the year stamping his name as one of the new mainstays of Grime along with his pal and fellow artist Santan Dave who even had his song 'Wanna Know' remixed with Drake (yes really!).
A Grime MC’s content that characteristically is deeply personal, allows us to identify with the artist and learn that their experiences are unique meaning no two Grime MC’s are the same. However there are many overlaps between MC’s and how they present themselves. This is right down to their demeanour and their ‘swag’. Last year was inspiring in this regard as it saw some of the lingering stereotypes about women squashed with artist Lady Leshurr who amongst many projects worked with the custodian of Grime himself, rapper Wiley, widely considered to be one of the major pioneers of the genre. Leshurr’s progression into the the Grime scene leaves us all feeling optimistic she can pick up where Ms. Dynamite left off.
In addition Wiley, one of my favourite acts practically created Grime with the efforts of a few others most notably Dizzee Rascal. It was Dizzee Rascal’s album Boy in da Corner that won the Mercury Prize back in 2003, and really was a landmark event in the history of UK Grime. The following Grime act to win the award since, Skepta in 2016. Last year Skepta won the award for his album Konnichiwa deservedly so in my opinion, beating the late great David Bowie as well as Radiohead who were amongst the nominees. As he stood on stage with his family and friends the emotion that overcame him in that moment represented all the hardship he and all the seasoned Grime MC’s had faced trying to bring Grime into the world. On that stage there was no mistaking the look in Skepta’s eyes. He had his validation.
By no means is Grime’s influence confined to music either what with the release of movie ‘BrOTHERHOOD’ the conclusion to Noel Clarkes ‘KiDULTHOOD’ and AdULTHOOD trilogy. Stormzy in addition to his onscreen role as Yardz provided the title track ‘Brotherhood’ for the movie. The ‘Hood’ movies have always been dark in tone and presented the gritty reality that Grime artists have described as their own. My hopes moving forward with 2017 is that headline acts such as: Skepta, JME Krept and Konan, Stormzy, Chipmunk and Lethal Bizzle continue to push the boundaries and cause more audiences to reimagine the genre for how they ordinarily might view the music as the work of hoodlums. Their work stands for art and carries a purpose in diversifying music and opening people to the realities of the London street culture.
The only request I’ll make is that if you have five minutes to yourself, pop in the search bar in YouTube: Lord of The Mics. Undoubtedly you will be met by a whole host of videos that feature artists like Skepta and sibling JME famously in their clash with Birmingham artist Devilman - legendary. As they wax lyrical about coming from the streets and picking holes in each other's work, I always find it fascinating to think about them in their twilight years where they were very raw to the height of their success now. 2016 saw many new artists take the first step and in some years down the line I hope to look back on 2016 as a reminder of where they came from.