"…Big up all my soldiers in a-da army, from you respect and love Bob Marley, Garnett Silk and Mohammed Ali, Peter Tosh and Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther, King to da Junior, I still hate Malcolm X’s shooter…"
Desperate to instigate enough excitement to warrant the record getting a rewind and retain his reputation, the MC steps up to rhyme for his life. The crowd surge towards the stage, bodies start spontaneously bouncing, energy levels threatening to raise the roof. The thousand-strong army of fans raise their hands in united gun finger salutes as they rhyme along with the MC of the unknown genre, firing his 16 bars at lightening speed, his mission now seemingly accomplished.
"…Biggie, 2 Pac two powerful black men, like Mike Tyson, Jordan, Jackson and Nelson Mandela, Durrty Doogz is bringing hell to your antennae, I’ve told them to free Titch he’s my likkle brother, now we’re gonna switch like English weather, see this ones for the soldiers in the struggle, that have to hustle to make their cash money double, High-grade must juggle, cause white and brown brings trouble and boys get left in blood puddle…"
The riddim track, a culmination of jittery, unpredictable, recondite beats and demoniac bass, a some-what unexplainable backing track, is cued up, and dropped with a no nonsense flair. It’s at raves such as Sidewinder and Eskimo Dance (‘the meeting of the ghetto’s as some refer to them), that there now roams this autonomous, professedly rule-free musical ideology.
When promoters and major record labels turned their backs on UK garage in 2001, the scene was drawn to a darker alley where quirky, gritty subs and random keyboard sequences roamed, dominated by a fresh breed of MC’s, lyricists who wanted to chat the rough with not a lot of the smooth.
Recommendations in the naming hat included Grime, Eski, 8 Bar and Sublow, while other parties would prefer to stick to the UK garage heritage, deeming the new sounds simply as offshoots. The opposition argue that the sound is too far a cry away from UK garage’s roots and carries false connotations.
The genre with no name.
Championed by the likes of N.A.S.T.Y, Roll Deep and Pay As U Go on radio stations such as Rinse and Déjà Vu, the scene has been bubbling and evolving. The soundtrack to their east London street life is emanating throughout the nations cities, the rhythm of suburbia an indispensable fuel.
Produced by kids and adults in both million pound studios and by first timers on Playstation’s, and born predominantly from the womb of UK garage, it’s tempo marginally exceeds the traditional 130-135bpm. Absent are the resonant vocals and melodies, replaced by, well, not a lot. Because while many of the artists who deserted Jungle in the late 1990’s for the more melodic sounds of UK garage adapted with ease, not all emcees could conform to the slower pace. A handful of producers and MC’s took matters into their own hands, constructing instrumentals that broke from the norm. These MC friendly tracks allowed an elevation into an abyss of unexplored lyrical territory.
A far cry from usual British rapping attempts, instead of imitating American flows and speech patterns, regardless of their assumed ethnicity, the emcees began to play a colourless game as Cockney linguists. Accents become exaggerated and switch between this months favoured Jamaican patois and English slang. Momentum mutates on their terms, not that of the music. It’s true to itself in every way not needing to emanate America, the culture, the rappers or the music in any way.
The majority of this verbally dextrous clique hails from Bow, E3. Tales of day to day events document a life without much form of stability and luxury. Anyone spending just a day in the company of their London estates need not question the motives for the lyrics that would place Kim Howell on that long-ass NHS list for a triple bypass.
This hardship factor, absurd as it may seem, is adding to the scenes appeal. The class basis means the scene is controlled by a multi-cultural peer group who share a universal theme – they have the odds stacked against them. Ask them what they’ve witnessed and it’s scarier than the Clockwork Orange. Shootings, beatings, sexual abuse, crack dens, robberies, death…It’s as worrying, bleak and morbid as underworld Britain gets.
The theory that shit is indeed the best fertiliser is a key theme in their path of musical evolution. It is out of these dire straits that they’ve created a culture with broadening appeal. They use their music as a weapon to gain respect, a voice, a reflection of their world which we tend to ignore but that they don’t want to disregard anymore. It’s a revolt against society and It’s meaningless, wasteful pop music.
Is this a modern day existential movement? Quite possibly. In no other genre can as much stress be put on the individuals existence and consequently on subjectivity, individual freedom and choice.
“Get some drive in your body, don’t feel sorry for yourself just move your body, and set your goals, and score, set the pace and don’t stop, keep going get more, get up and move forwards, go forward, backwards ain’t no good, lazy cause your body ain’t got no fuel it’s no good, where’s your drive, where’s your will to stay alive, where’s your will to survive and be someone somewhere doing something, think you gotta be doing something, you can’t do nothing and think you’re getting something, whatever it’s gotta be we just do it, or somebody else will do it, done the long ting, go just do it.” Wiley – Pick Yourself Up.
Like the writing of Sartre, the prose at work often seems cold-hearted and illogical but they make the meaning themselves, by often revealing situations with the very intention of changing it.
“Shot this man, shot that man, and robbed this man, fuck that…left it rudeboy, conscious time… Life’s a bit hard, life’s a bitch but you gotta stay calm don’t switch…just cool your temper, always try to remember in-a-this game you’re a life long member, so it’s best if you plan for the future, listen to the lyrical lesson and learn from the shooter, just put down your shooter, rudeboy just put down your shooter, cause if you’ve got a shooter, he’s got a shooter, and I know I’d definitely shoot yer, long, talk about wrong, all this arms house I wanna get big from my song…” Riko – Chosen One
Sartre also argued that the changing nature of the social and metaphysical requires development of new styles of expression. And here we are, on the brink of the takeover, yet we remain with no definitive classification.
While the great genre debate has been in full swing for over a year, it was when Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv U hit the mainstream that there was no escaping the dispute, Dizzee himself declaring the war of the genus on.
But does anyone REALLY care what it’s called?
The mystery and buzz that is encompassing this underground dance music is drawing heuristic visionaries likes bee’s to a hive. Never before has there been such interest in these lesser-known record labels, mixtapes, flyers and radical radio shows, the backbone for a scene that’s been fighting an ongoing battle for any recognition and support.
And while people continue to scratch their heads, battling for comprehension and definition, Grime/Eski/8 Bar/Sublow/UK garage or whatever, has a colossal future marked out. It’s un-quantifiable energy makes for the realest music phenomenon we’ve got, it’s THE flag we should all be waving.
Words: Chantelle Fiddy
A version of this article appeared in Tank Magazine