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Is Grime Dead?

I am first black British artist to headline Glastonbury. At 25 years old I am the second youngest solo act to ever headline Glastonbury, the youngest being a 24 year old David Bowie in 1971.

The words of Stormzy as he headlined Glastonbury in June 2019. Some people questioned the announcement that Stormzy was to take the coveted Headliner slot at the festival. In an interview with BBC1Xtra, he answered the sceptics, saying, “There were so many doubters being like, ‘Oh, he hasn’t had a No 1 song’, or, ‘Oh, he’s got one album out, he’s not ready.’ I’m there because I’m a serious musician.”

However, despite the controversy around his performance, Stormzy already has a long list of achievements. He was awarded Best Grime Act at the MOBOs in 2014 shortly after releasing his first EP Dreamers Disease. This was followed by a performance on Later with Jools Holland, which saw Stormzy become the first unsigned rapper to appear on the programme. 

The following year brought more success. In January 2015, he came number 3 in the BBC Introducing top 5 on Radio 1, and in March that year he released the single “Know Me From,” entering the UK Singles Chart at number 49.

In September 2015, Stormzy released onto iTunes his final instalment to “WickedSkengMan” freestyle series, “WickedSkengMan 4”, along with a studio version of his “Shut Up” freestyle over XTC’s Functions On The Low instrumental. This track debuted at number 18 in the UK chart in September, becoming not only Stormzy’s first top 40 hit but also the first ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom.

After some time away from the spotlight, Stormzy released his album Gang Signs and Prayers in February 2017. This went on to debut at no 1 in the Album chart in March – the first Grime album to achieve this.

Stormzy has achieved a number of major steps for Grime music.

But what actually is Grime..?

Grime is a style of music with fast, syncopated breakbeats, typically at a speed of 140 beats per minute (bpm). Tracks often feature aggressive or jagged electronic sounds.

Stormzy

The genre emerged from Bow, E3 in East London in the early 2000s, developed from earlier UK electronic music styles such as UK garage and jungle. It was originally known by various names such as 8-bar or nu shape. Among the first tracks to be described as Grime were takes by Wiley such as EskimoIce Rink and Igloo, Pulse X by Musical Mob and“Creeper” by Danny Weed.

Dave, the London MC and Drake collaborator explained the difference between rap and Grime in an Interview:

“Grime is its own sound. The instrumentation usually dictates it. It’s not limited to one tempo, but it’s mainly at this one tempo. It’s the entire sound in the industry that’s behind it. Basically, like you’d have drill music or trap music… grime has the tempo of 140 bpm, set usually goes up to 144.5, never goes down to 138. It has very grungy basslines, a lot of melody [and] a really hard-hitting sound.”

Dave continued: “Grime MCs usually have radio sets where they rap and switch instrumentals, when the beat changes they have to catch the drops in. If I’m rapping, there’ll be a beat underneath me, then they’ll change it and I’ll have to catch the drop.”

“There’s a lot more to it,” he added. “It’s like a sound, culture, style — the way that they dress and speak. Rap, for me, I go at any tempo and any sound of beat and incorporate melody as well.”

“Grime must be its own genre,” he said, when asked if grime was a sub-genre of rap.

The sound of the new genre spread via pirate ratio stations such as RinseFM and through the Underground scene, initially in London, then across Britain. By the mid-2000s Grime was mainstream.

However in August 2018, the BBC ran an article entitled Is grime dead? Or has it ‘just gone back underground’? The article suggested that Drill music, with its slower trap beats, was becoming more popular, along with Afrobeats, Afro-swing, or Afro-bashment. In the article, London-born photographer Courtney Francis, who had worked with Stormzy, stated:

“Grime had a boom, but then people changed. The music changes, people’s appetites change, and it’s gone on to Afrobeats and UK rap and drill now, and grime has gone back to the back burner.””Those same artists, and new artists as well, are doing their thing right now. The only difference is that it’s not in public spaces. It’s no longer the backdrop for TV programmes and you’re no longer hearing it on radio often.

“But everywhere else where grime existed before, it’s still there. 

“People are saying it’s dead because it was commercialised and it was accessible for more of the country. You didn’t have to search for grime. Grime was just there.”

“But,” he stresses, “only for the people who look for music in the commercial spaces.”  

“Grime isn’t dead. It’s just gone back underground.”

With one of Grime’s biggest Artists headling Glastonbury, just a year later, it could be argued that Grime is back in the mainstream.

Interview sources:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45017057 and https://www.nme.com/news/music/santan-dave-grime-rap-difference-video-2027048  

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