America has a unique role in the world of popular music, from an international perspective. Our country’s influence over what the world listens to extends so far from our homes, one could even consider it omnipresent. That being said, hip hop easily holds the place of America’s largest musical export. Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.” tour reached as far as Oceania, and new albums from Kanye West, Drake, Travis Scott and Lil Yachty have charted on every major chart around the world. The United Kingdom cannot say the same for its current rap scene: grime.
A relatively new genre, the early seeds of grime were sown in the early 2000s, with major artists like Wiley (largely considered the ‘Godfather’ of grime) and Dizzee Rascal producing beats that combined UK garage, drill and breakbeat with hip hop, with the producers themselves rapping over these beats. Although these artists only had a presence within the underground and on pirate radio stations around England, they began to create a huge buzz within a few years of the new millennium. The years 2003 and 2004 were crucial in the development of the genre, as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley released their debut projects, Dizzee’s “Boy In Da Corner” and Wiley’s “Treddin’ On Thin Ice,” in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Both released on XL Recordings, the projects were a defining moment for grime, and propelled it into the mainstream, even garnering Dizzee Rascal a Mercury Music Prize.
Despite rave reviews from publications across the pond, these two records failed to crack the American music market. At home, however, more and more grime artists began to emerge, such as Kano, Lethal Bizzle, Skepta and Ghetts releasing essential projects within the scene. Excitement for the genre grew once Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, and others began to experience real commercial success- Dizzee’s “Maths + English” yielded numerous top 10 hits in England, and Wiley had a number one hit with his song “Heatwave” in 2013. “Heatwave” marked a continuation in the blending of grime and trendy pop music that had gained traction around the turn of the decade. For many, this seemed like a low point for the scene as a whole. However, at this point, many of these grime hard- hitters had experienced great success throughout much of Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Commercial success across their home continent did not necessarily mean success across the Atlantic. However, around the time when Drake began to blow up, he befriended Boy Better Know, a well-known grime crew that includes Wiley, Jme and Skepta. He and Skepta got along particularly well, with Drake praising many of his songs and performances. Likely as a result, Skepta is currently the most present grime artist here in the states, having completed a 2015 tour of the east coast and Canada and has been featured on A$AP Rocky’s latest album. On his latest project, 2016’s “Konnichiwa,” he welcomed numerous American features such as A$AP Nast and Pharrell Williams.
“Konnichiwa” gained rave reviews from just about all music publications, American and European, and is considered to have given grime a much needed second wind, following its biggest acts’ attempts at pop crossovers. Skepta, along with fellow newcomer Stormzy, are now largely regarded as the kings of grime. The newfound excitement for grime culminated in the release of Wiley’s 2017 album “Godfather,” a 17-track behemoth on which he blatantly cements his status as the “Godfather of Grime.” The album proves that grime still has so much more to offer, and is every bit as exhilarating to listen to in 2018 as it was back in 2003.
I truly believe Americans are missing out by sleeping on grime. I realize that the British accents and slang may be extremely prominent within the music, but if one can get past all that, it’s a very rewarding genre to listen to. If you find yourself tired of all the new hip hop out there and need something else to listen to, I highly recommend “Boy In Da Corner.” That record immediately hooked me upon first listen, and I have been obsessed with the genre ever since.
I believe grime will finally have its day in America when they realize one thing: every grime song is a banger. Literally. Every grime song.
Gabe Sagherian is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. ✉ GS889554@wcupa.edu.