This year marks 20 years since an underground group of musicians created a sound in a small basement in North London. MCs Richard Cowie and Kane Robinson, AKA Wiley and Kano, were recording the now-iconic Lord of the Mics I clash. Their contest signalled the genesis of the grime genre, a musical style that came to be characterised by harsh, industrial instrumentals with complex and often violent lyrics that told stories of inner-city poverty. Grime’s raw and unashamedly British style rose rapidly to widespread popularity as well as becoming a major export. Its stars have since entered the Pantheon of UK musicians: Skepta and brother JME, Dizzee Rascal, Lethal Bizzle, Ghetts, Chip, Wretch 32, and Giggs to add but a few to the aforementioned LOTM (Lord of the Mics) contestants.
From its inception two decades ago grime was a matter of pride, instilling an underdog fire in musicians proud to represent the UK despite all its faults. This indomitable British spirit generated a blueprint for the next generation of artists to achieve global recognition whilst staying true to their roots. Look no further than the biggest releases of 2023. Dave and Central Cee (who credits grime legend Skepta as a major inspiration) released Sprinter to global acclaim, achieving considerable chart success in the US as well as twelve weeks at no.1 back in Blighty. London rapper J Hus released the inescapable summer banger Who Told You featuring Drake, arguably the most popular artist on the planet right now. But what has the stellar rise of UK rap meant for the Grime genre? Over the last decade or so the harsher Grime sound has become largely eclipsed in favour of more marketable hits. The rapid shift in popularity has even led to some aficionados declaring the genre dead, resigned to the back catalogue of music history – until Grime began to quietly regain ground through new musical channels, giving veteran spitters new niches for their bars.
Most conspicuous are the successful collaborations between a fresh generation of producers at the heart of the ongoing popularity of dance music, and seasoned rappers whose flows fit naturally over electric bass lines. Last year, Flowdan – who has been making music since 2001 – was nominated for a Grammy for Rumble with Fred Again… and Skrillex, as well as collaborating with Sammy Virji and Chase & Status. Other grime OGs such Flirta D and P Money have also found success employing their skills over dance tracks. Popular with younger audiences, these partnerships have led to a wave of recognition for the associated rappers, able to show off their full range of talent without altering their style.
Grime heavyweights surfing a new wave of 140 BPM is somewhat to be expected. On the other hand, Grime and Hazz make a far more unlikely marriage. The origins can be traced back to legendary North London producer KwolleM and his 2015 Mellow EP. Conceived as a project to juxtapose different styles of UK rap with uncharacteristically laid-back instrumentals, the result is a uniquely British sound; the influence of US Hip-Hop is obvious, with call-backs to grime as well as a host of other UK influences. Since then, there has been an underground swell of producers fusing jazz and grime, with the oxymoronic ‘mellow grime’ genre set to find increasing popularity in 2024, as a host of producers are gaining modest but growing fanbases through releasing laid-back remixes of popular vocals. In the true pirate spirit of grime, lyrics are lifted from freestyles and unreleased songs unearthed from a YouTube rabbit hole of homemade grime videos, with producers free to use them however they see fit.
Even the most avid fan would have questioned the state of grime over the last decade. The genre has even been declared dead, laid to rest by its proponents. It is ultimately the longevity, tenacity and skill of the musicians that has gained their art a well-deserved renewed recognition. Ever the underdog, it has been a tough scrap back to popularity; a fresh fusion of genres promises to make 2024 a grime shutdown.
5 ARTISTS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2024
Wilfred is a highly talented producer, able to expertly combine eclectic Jazz samples with some of the most popular lyrics in Grime. He dropped two albums in 2023 and this year looks to be no different in terms of quality releases.
2 . BexBlu
One of the cleanest producers in the scene, BexBlu shows promise as a growing name with consistent and thoughtful releases.
Already one of the biggest artists in terms of listeners, Oakland’s tight edits and ‘gram friendly album covers is at the forefront of the mellow grime wave.
4. P Money
Active since 2005, P Money is your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper due to his honesty to the grime sound. 2023’s Streets, Love and Other Stuff was a strong release, with another album already teased for this year.
Another artist who stays true to his roots in grime, Novelist never tops the charts but garners huge respect in the UK rap scene for his creativity and unique style.