Friday, 18 March 2005

From The New York Times

If It's Grime, It Rhymes
March 14, 2005

Grime is a booming London-based genre related to hip-hop - the raw materials are jagged beats and rapid-fire rhymes. And for American listeners who have been trying to keep up with grime, there was something shocking about the seemingly ordinary performance that took place at the Lower East Side club Rothko on Friday night.

With the exception of Dizzee Rascal, grime's first breakout star, the music has reached New York not through concerts and rare vinyl singles, but through the Internet. Thanks to grime-obsessed magazines (like RWD, online at and blogs (like and even radio station Web sites (like, the curious and the obsessed can eavesdrop as connoisseurs debate new tracks, rehash complicated feuds and identify emerging trends. In London, grime may seem inseparable from the rowdy clubs and fly-by-night pirate radio stations that nurture it. But in New York, grime is computer music - that is, music you listen to on your computer.

At Rothko on Friday night, the MP3's suddenly came alive. Names that had existed as glowing text on well-stocked iPods were transformed into real live performers with microphones and turntables. There were three: the veteran rapper D Double E; his promising young protégé Ears; and the producer Jammer, a brilliant grime pioneer who may have seen one Lil Jon video too many. Together, they put on a messy but entertaining show for an admiring crowd.

The concert celebrated the release of something American listeners have long been waiting for (whether they knew it or not): a thrilling, smartly curated, widely available grime compilation, "Run the Road" (Vice/Atlantic). There's something to love about every track, from Terror Danjah's hyper-belligerent posse cut, "Cock Back V1.2," to Kano's slick, swaggering "P's and Q's," to "Cha Ching," a mischievous, sing-song track by Lady Sovereign, a playful white rapper who is emerging as one of grime's biggest stars. Here's hoping "Run the Road" is just a start: if American listeners are ever going to get up to speed on grime, we may need a new "Run the Road" every few months or so.

Part of what makes grime so exciting (besides the wild, angular electronic beats and the tricky, meter-shifting rhymes) is the sense that even its stars are still trying to figure out how the music works. On Friday night, Jammer often interrupted the tracks before they were done, shouting "Rewind!" or "Next one, next one!" (This is a grime tradition borrowed from
dance hall reggae.)

And while D Double E reeled off some of his best-known rhymes ("Them bulletscan fly/Like birds in the sky/Do you want your bredren to die?," he rapped), Ears was even more impressive. "How old do you think this boy is?," Jammer asked, smiling proudly when someone correctly shouted the answer: 17. And Ears (who appears on "Run the Road" with a bittersweet nostalgic track called "Happy Dayz") responded with yet another nimble verse, fearlessly darting in and out of the beat.

British grime concerts often unfold like contests, with rhymers angling to settle scores and establish hierarchies, but this one was cheerful and slightly slack. It wasn't a grudge match, just a friendly demonstration for listeners who are still learning how to love what they're hearing.

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