Five years ago, you would have been hard pushed to find a UK rapper making regular chart appearances, a serious UK rapper and not John Barnes. Therefore it is amazing just how quickly we have become accustomed to hearing born and bred, mostly London rappers, banging out top ten hits every other week. In the last three years electro-pop featuring rap vocals, and usually a catchy R&B hook, has become a rite of passage for grime rappers to break into the mainstream.
If you take yourself back to 2003, grime was one of the most explosively exciting and original genres of music in the world. Deep and dark guttural sub bass lines, schizophrenic drum patterns and eerie synth lines provided the back drop for hype, yet humorous, explosive and explicitly violent rappers to spew unique flows. Inextricably rooted in East London boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest the image of the music matched the vibe. Inevitably after many failed transitions into the mainstream, a polished, toned down version began to emerge. Transferring the style and energy of grime lyrics onto easily accessible pop house beats was a sure way to penetrate ‘real’ clubs and daytime radio.
While on the other side of the spectrum, rappers such as Giggs and K Koke signing to major labels have finally brought public attention to the gritty futuristic sound of modern UK hip hop. Whether or not original fans of the genre would consider what we hear on the radio to be an accurate portrayal of the scene however is another question. In the words of Nas “we used to be a ghetto secret, can’t make my mind up if I want that or the whole world to peep it” but all is not lost. Veteran grime MC and producer Dot Rotten is slowly breaking into the public sphere. His most recent single “On a Low” is a perfect example of how it is possible to retain a grimy essence and subject matter while a more polished sound and mellow hook provides mainstream potential. Furthermore, much has been said recently on the rise of so-called ‘conscious’ or ‘political’ hip-hop. In my opinion this is just hip hop, and an easy way to identify the style of artists such as Lowkey and Black the Ripper who both juggle grime and hip hop. Black the Ripper’s 2009 ‘Edmonton Dream’ mixtape is a mixture of pain-fuelled contemplation over soulful hip hop and grime tracks that pay testimony to his reckless go getter attitude. Lowkey’s ‘Soundtrack to the Struggle’ is conceptually, quite simply, what UK hip hop has been missing. Moreover his clinical technical ability injects new levels of intelligence into grime whenever he decides to turn his hand to it. A decent freebie to download is the Dirtee TV mixtape from Dizzee Rascal’s Dirtee Stank label, featuring D Double E and Footsie over twenty five tracks. There are a few gems to be uncovered, most notably the “Pumpin It Out” remix featuring JME and Kano.
Summer is typically a quiet time for grime shows but Tempa T, taking time out from campaigning to become London mayor is flying the flag at the Parklife Weekender in Manchester on the 9th and 10th of June.