To me, punk music is the most influential musical movement of all time. Regardless of the fact that after a decade of its reign, mainstream punk music died, it has reigned over the underground scene for years and to this day, is able to create music that sounds fresh. So what’s ‘grime’ then?
Grime music took influence heavily from the British rave scene in the 1990s and the jungle scene, which occurred in the late 1990s. After Garage music died down in popularity in the early 2000s, producers believed that Garage music needed to be a lot darker, and turned it into what we know today as ‘Dubstep.’ Whilst Dubstep was gaining more popularity, a genre yet again inspired by Jungle and Rave music was developing in London by East London rapper, Wiley, who had been an MC in the Garage and Jungle scene. Wiley , amongst other London rappers formed the biggest Grime group of the early 2000s: Roll Deep, which allowed the genre to storm the UK, particularly in London, due to its ‘in your face’ attitude, unique production style and a strong message about living in a poor economy. Dizzee Rascal was a particular turning point for this genre when he dropped the album Boy In Da Corner (2003) after leaving Roll Deep the year before. Artists such Kano and Tinchy Strider made albums in the early 2000s that were influenced by pop and grime, giving the genre a more accessible sound and allowing it to become more popular in the UK. Grime was constantly expressing the conditions of living in a poor economy with lyrics containing lower class lethargy and because of the poor economy, most music was sold on blank store- bought CDs and spread around the artists’ local community. However, it was in the mid 2000s where Grime made its descent into the underground scene, whilst its sister genre: Dubstep gained more popularity. Since then, artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Strider created music that was nothing short of generic and forgettable UK pop. From the 2010s to present, Grime has resurfaced slightly because Dubstep has lost its place in the mainstream. However, with less acclaimed albums and less attention to the message it sent out before, it appears that Grime has become a lesser version of what it was.
Whilst listening through several Grime albums between 2000- 2005, I found it interesting that Grime was doing what a lot of UK music at the time was afraid to do. Whilst Oasis and Blur clung on to an older and more DIY sounding style of production, Grime sounded like the future of electronic music combined with hip- hop, and was doing it in a way that didn’t care about the standards and ideals of mainstream music. This is very similar to the way punk developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The way bands like The Stooges and The Ramones exploded into popularity was because they wanted to express rage and fury through their music, ignoring ideals set by mainstream bands such as The Beatles. In that sort of sense, it’s easy to see how Grime had this ‘in your face’ way of bringing it’s unique style forward to audiences. In a 2005 New Yorker article, Sasha Frere- Jones described Grime as being a ‘fine black mist dissolving the air.’ This quote is probably the most accurate description of Grime because it shows how it has a sense of unease about it yet it becomes familiar to audiences, it allows them to be taken over by something unknown and unforgiving. This reminds me a lot of the way punk took over the hearts of British audiences in the 1970s and 1980s, where it quickly became something infectious and familiar amongst people, yet had a sense of unease about it. The reason this is similar amongst both genres is because both genres don’t care about adhering to musical standards, they simply care about getting their music to people’s ears. Even today artists such as Skepta, JME and Stormzy care mostly about getting their content to people, rather than trying to live up to a certain musical standard and try and crawl into the mainstream. This is what unique genres do and what will keep them way more memorable than any of Adele’s albums. A combination of Grime’s attitude and its recent resurgence makes it likely to take the torch of being the next phase of Punk.
However, the line pretty much draws at Grime’s attitude and way of creating music. A lot of the time, the content that Grime artists create, especially nowadays, is largely forgettable and will be unlikely to last the test of time. Before people start to get offended, I want to clarify that Grime does have the potential to be one of the most important genres of music to be born in London. However, while albums such as Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer (2017), Wiley’s Godfather (2017) and Skepta’s Konichiwa (2016) and anything by popular group Boy Better Know are lyrically intelligent, perfectly produced and are balanced between accessibility and nuance, it is difficult to see past these leading figure heads of the genre. It’s difficult to compare smaller Grime artists such as Bugzy Malone because they’ve crossed the line of having an ‘in your face’ attitude and simply sound arrogant at this point. The lyrics to the song Mad(2016) by Bugzy Malone are as such: ‘They wanna drive the cars that I’ve driven, the clothes I get given, there’s way too many and my new walk-in wardrobe can’t fit ’em.’ It’s good to see the guy has a lot of self confidence, but nobody cares how rich one rapper is. When Punk was developing as a genre, it had a message, something it wanted to express and music was simply a medium for that. Founder of Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren said that ‘punk was an attitude. It was never about having a Mohican haircut or wearing a ripped T-shirt. It was all about destruction, and the creative potential within that’ and it is evident that Punk had a significant message with a deeper, more philosophical meaning. The song No Future by Sex Pistols subtly expresses ideas about existential nihilism and conspiracy and the idea that England is alienated by those that govern it, which is evident through lines such as ‘God save the Queen, She ain’t no human being. There is no future, In England’s dreaming.’ Despite not commercialising itself and sticking to its roots, the Grime artists seem to be creating music that’s rhythmically interesting and catchy, however they seem to have lost the message that Grime initially set out to portray about living in a low economic lifestyle. In fact, even releasing content that talks about the artist living in excess with no self awareness is almost an insult to the genre itself; it pretty much contrasts entirely with the message it originally set out to express.
An article by Ant Lightfoot on Public Pressure states: ‘Grime is largely associated with violence, however which may be holding it back somewhat. There is a resistance from certain artists to involve themselves in the grime scene for this reason. But does that not enhance their anarchic, punk-ish relevance?’ I completely disagree with this idea. The idea of anarchy that was expressed in Punk music wasn’t about creating violence per say, but it was the idea of having no one else control you. Craig O’ Hara describes it best in his book The Philosophy of Punk (2001) where he states that ‘Anarchy does not simply mean no laws, it means no need for laws. Anarchy requires individuals to behave responsibly. When individuals can live in peace without authorities to compel or punish them, when people have enough courage and sense to speak honestly and equally with each other, then and only then, will anarchy be possible.’ If Grime is supposedly the next Punk then its ideals shouldn’t be to cause violence, but to bring together people that believe in a certain message about the awful societal state. This was evident in early 2000s Grime, however it seems to have faded away amongst artists and remains mainly with current leading figures in the genre such as Skepta, Boy Better Know, Wiley, Kano etc. It’s easy to say that Grime is the new Punk when Skepta wins best male solo artist at the NME awards, but when you truly look into what Grime meant, it appears that it’s only amongst leading figures of the genre that the idea of being the new Punk is relevant.
In many ways it is arguable that Grime does mirror Punk; Grime has an attitude like very few genres in today’s world and has a certain magnetism about it that sources from its unique style of production and appeal to youth culture. However, it’s difficult to agree with a statement like ‘Grime is the new Punk’ because Grime has a tendency to lose sight of itself. The reason Punk music collapsed into the underground by the 1980s was because the ideology behind the genre was commercialised, which was the exact opposite of what the genre set out to be. Punk set out to be an anti- establishment genre that wanted to strip away all ideas of consumerism from people and allow them to be individuals, however, because the genre was commercialised in the 1980s, it was being hypocritical to its own message and eventually people stopped caring about it. It’s evident that Grime is pretty much doing the same thing, despite the leading artists and groups sticking to what the genre was about, it’s smaller artists like Bugzy Malone, J Hus, Yungen and Devlin that strip away the sense of community that Grime created in previous years. The reason Grime isn’t mirroring Punk is because Punk music actually progressed when it went underground and created sub genres such as Grunge, No Wave, Post Punk etc. I don’t see Grime doing that because so many artists seem to be blinded by their own egos. Don’t get me wrong, I think Grime is probably one of the most unique genres out there, but it’s influence has faded away so much since its resurgence because artists have made it about one- upping other artists and trying to show off the idea of excess rather than sticking to what Grime was truly about.
Overall, it is possible for Grime to be the most influential genre in the world, it’s also possible for it to bomb completely. But Grime appears to have lost the same type of familiarity it had in the early 2000s. Grime has made a comeback, that’s for sure, but it feels like a part of it died in 2005. The idea of being ‘punk’ isn’t to create something that is commercial and will be played on the radio, the idea of Punk is to send out a strong message by using music as a medium for it, Grime had that, and part of it still does, but a lot of the genre feels like it’s just there to give you an Instagram caption when you’re feeling particularly egotistical one day. I’m not going to decide the fate of music or how influential a genre will be, but the lack of a strong message and a simple rise in popularity doesn’t mean Grime has become the successor to Punk, or that it will in the future.