With Stormzy’s debut album topping the charts and Boy Better Know headlining The Other Stage at Glastonbury, it’s safe to say that grime is back in a big way. But how did it get from ‘I Luv U’ to ‘Rolex Sweep’ and back again? We’ve picked out ten moments that changed grime forever, from its beginnings as an offshoot of garage in 2002 right through to the present day.
1 | 2002 | Garage group Pay As U Go Cartel split up and one member, Wiley, starts making “eskibeat” or as it’s later known – grime. Check out ‘Wot Do U Call It’ with Wiley’s dismissal of people equating his new style with garage: “Wiley Kat’z got his own styles not garage/Make it in the studio but not in the garage”.
2 | 2003 | Dizzee Rascal’s debut album Boy In Da Corner wins the Mercury Prize. Grime’s first nod from the mainstream and many people’s first introduction to the upstart genre from East London, Boy In Da Corner not only made Dizzee an international superstar, it also opened up the grime scene to new people and new influences outside of its London base.
3 | 2003 | Channel U (later Channel AKA) is launched on satellite TV, giving grime MCs a platform for their music other than pirate radio. With the channel playing grime videos on national TV, no record deal or glossy recording was needed and many videos were shot on handheld cameras. Grime was in people’s living rooms for the first time.
4 | 2004 | Jammer holds the first Lord of the Mics event, a freestyle clash between MCs that’s still going today. The first instalment features a now legendary clash between Wiley and Kano. MCs reputations are made and broken in these freestyle clashes, with Skepta and Devilman’s clash on Lord of the Mics II spawning a decade long beef between the MCs that still exists now.
5 | 2005 | North London brothers Jamie and Joseph Adenuga (better known as JME and Skepta) form grime collective Boy Better Know, consisting of the two of them plus Wiley, Jammer and Frisco. BBK still dominate the grime scene today and it’s hard to imagine the genre having the presence it does without them.
6 | 2008/9 | Grime goes commercial. Big singles from Dizzee Rascal (‘Bonkerz’), Wiley (‘Rolex Sweep’) and Tinchy Stryder (‘Number 1’) lead to grime’s first big assault on the top ten, but purists talk of grime losing its way and forgetting its roots, with tracksuits and tower blocks giving way to champagne and designer brands.
7| 2014 | Skepta releases ‘That’s Not Me’ and kick-starts the back to basics grime revival that’s resulted in the current popularity of the genre. Skepta claims the video cost him just £80 to make and lines like “Yeah, I used to wear Gucci/Put it all in the bin cause that’s not me” are a much-needed rallying cry for the genre to get back to its roots and regain the quintessentially British sound that made it famous in the first place.
8 | 2015 | Kanye West brings on a tracksuit clad mob of grime artists at the Brits, smashing through the status quo and forcing the media to admit that grime is here to stay. Whether or not grime needed the boost has been debated, but support from one of the biggest stars on the planet speeds up the genre’s meteoric rise, even if it doesn’t actually cause it.
9 | 2016 | Skepta, one of two grime MCs nominated (along with Kano), wins the Mercury Prize. Another nod from the mainstream, and this time it seems like grime’s got a far stronger foundation
than it did in 2003, with old hands like JME, Skepta, Kano and Wiley all making their best tracks in years, whilst new MCS like Stormzy and Novelist show what the younger generation is capable of.
10 | 2017 | Grime goes to Glastonbury. Between BBK headlining The Other Stage on the Sunday, Wiley and Stormzy’s incredible performances on the same stage earlier in the weekend and Kano’s blistering set headlining The Park Stage, it’s hard to believe grime was almost declared dead a few years ago. It’s been in rude health for a few years now, but Glastonbury finally acknowledging the genre’s place in UK music history really is the cherry on top of the grime cake. Next stop, grime headlines The Pyramid Stage?
So there you have it. A (very) brief history of what grime went through to get to where it is today. As JME said on his 2015 single Man Don’t Care: “the music originated/And will always remain in the streets”. But that doesn’t mean it won’t also find a place in the charts.