Well well well…. If it isn’t (possibly) the Grime resurgence I thought would never happen. I don’t mean to sound discerning or condescending, but although I didn’t completely write off a comeback in my last piece on the subject (see here). I really didn’t expect such a dramatic reversal of fortunes. The ‘apparent’ one dimensional mentality of some of the genres lesser known artists – that many people simply did not want to look beyond has been breached by a reintroduction to Grime in the wider teenage and young millennial consciousness. By a combination of the digital revolution, the general discarding of the ‘bling’ culture and the vacuum it left behind being filled by a shared (and genuine) determination to affect societal change the music and more so it’s new torchbearers, are being embraced.
Where before, the genre was being pigeonholed and it’s MCs were being typecast, doors that were once locked tight are now wide open and its most high profile exponent is winning awards over contemporaries that represent genres with a far greater public reach. Who would have thought 2 years ago that Stormzy would be in a ‘bromance’ (of sorts) with one of football’s brightest talents and have ties with one of the world’s top sporting brands. Who would have envisaged that Boy Better Know would team up with arguably Hip Hop’s biggest star (although I’m still waiting for the results). Who could have foreseen the critically acclaimed (and possibly seminal) impact that Skepta would have with the superb, Konnichiwa.
But thinking about it and at the risk of making my prequel piece seem like a complete waste of time , should we really be surprised? The trends and tastes of popular music do tend to move in cycles and I’m old enough to remember the positive repercussions Dizzee Rascal brought forth with Boy in da Corner. That now classic yellow cover was the catalyst for most of the artists that enjoyed a period of prominence afterwards.
There is of course, the argument that Grime’s current attempt to embed itself in mainstream music and media will eventually go the same way as the last one. That there is a reason why Dizzee, Wiley and Tinie Tempah all broadened the scope of their music to include sounds that were more commercially palatable to the masses. The difference now, is that although the essence of any comeback will always be the music, Grime’s new main attractions are doing a lot more than jumping in a booth and dropping bars. Stormzy for example (on top of the Adidas connection I mentioned earlier) made a recent impact in front of the camera in Noel Clarke’s UK record breaking Brotherhood.
Now, I’m more than cool with admitting that my protestations of Grime’s downfall were somewhat premature and it’s clear that the new found malleability of its sound lends solidity to the idea that it’s here for the long haul. In my defence however, some of what I wanted to see happen has come to pass. Tinie Tempah’s last full length release is a veritable fully loaded subway foot long stuffed with Grimes great and good. The more traptastic elements of mainstream Hip Hop, have risen through the production ranks from honourary member to a seat on the (sound) board. Meanwhile, more and more of Grime’s up and comers are choosing to marinate their bravado with an assertive/channelled aggression and rebellious substance.
The trick to this second coming being more than just another fad, is how much of that ‘ghetto insurgence’ to let loose on the masses. The general harshness of Grime’s soundscapes, even when compared to much of Hip Hop’s more recent successes, makes it easier to alienate loyal fans by towing a more commercial line or put off new ones by letting your ego get the better of you. For the new wave, following Skepta’s example is no mean feat. When you consider the quality he was up against (David Bowie and Radiohead were also contenders) his mercury music prize success was no fluke. The ability to engage a varied audience without sacrificing your ideals, is what music’s greatest have been doing for years. Skepta’s latest offering is no different.
Yet the last time I checked awards didn’t guarantee permanence. Hip Hop has become a mainstay at the forefront of popular culture because it is always creating newness. New styles, new stars, new controversies. For Grime to turn this busman’s holiday into a permanent stay the first two of those must be in a constant state of evolution. It’s a relatively young genre that still has yet to be completely explored. I would expect this, ‘misadventure’ (as some purists might call it), to bring out the controversy as a by product but that also brings up the other obstacle. Grime is primarily UK artists catering to an almost entirely UK audience. And although having Pharrell Williams listed on your production credits is a very big deal, a lot more will have to be done for the names of many of the current crop to be recognised outside of UK borders. For me this is thee main obstacle between Grime and genuine mainstream longevity.
But for now, it seems I must bow down and paraphrase an old saying… There’s life in the young dog yet.