Dizzee, Wiley and the rest of the characters on the emerging Grime scene were once see as a danger by the press, now they front advertising deals and top the charts. Here's how it happened...
In the beginning MCs clashed on rooftops at illegal pirate radio stations in East London. Lyrics about violence and sex clattered over dark edgy 140bpm bedroom beats that no-one really had a name for yet. Fast forward ten years, and what was grime, has suddenly become a huge mainstream success. Although now household names; artists such as Chipmunk, Skepta, Devlin and Dizzee Rascal, were once frowned upon by the mainstream. However, many MCs have turned into award winning “urban artists” as they spit socially acceptable lyrics over what some would call “watered down grime”.
So how did grime go from being criminalised to celebrated? The main cause is debateable, but no-one can deny that the first iconic break through began in 2001 with So Solid’s, “21 Seconds” reaching number one in the UK charts. Granted they were a garage act, long before the term “grime” was coined, but this set the wheels in motion for what would be a steam train of dubplates, white labels and altercations.
After a few hits So Solid seemed to slip into decline. Around the same time artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, DJ Target and Maxwell D combined their crew “The Hit Squad” with larger ensemble “Pay as U Go”, in a bid to strike it lucky in the mainstream. Pay as U Go seemed sure to blow with their top 40 hit “Champagne Dance”. Sadly though, they fell apart. With So Solid getting arrested for rolling about with guns in their car, raves becoming violent, and the Master of Ceremonies feeling less “wicked” by the day, the mainstream success of UK garage slowly died out.
From here on garage started to change as it was pushed back underground. The youth couldn’t relate to champagne dances, oversized watch faces and diamond rings. However, the earlier bubbly beats influenced a darker uprising in the UK “urban” scene. Grittier beats known as “sublow” became popular. The edgy rhythms and deep bass of sublow influenced grime and were arguably the early beginnings of dubstep. After a barrage of raves, sets and pirate radio clashes, a beat called Pulse X by Youngstar was released in 2002. Some say this to be the first ever grime beat. The description of the genre feeling “grimey” eventually spawned the term “grime” and from here on out the scene exploded.
It wasn’t the unemployment and poverty that made the youth angry – according to the press, it was grime. In reality, grime simply gave them a platform; it was the Fight Club for the London youth.
Grime first hit the mainstream for all the wrong reasons. National newspapers claimed that the violent lyrics were spawning a generation of thoughtless murderers and criminal culture. They weren’t all wrong. Many looked up to MCs like D Double E, Sharkey Major and All in One, who spoke about criminal acts. However it seemed the press wanted a scapegoat. It wasn’t the unemployment and poverty that made the youth angry – according to them, it was grime. In reality, grime simply gave them a platform; it was the Fight Club for the London youth.
Despite the negativity, record labels had pound signs in their eyes. In 2003 XL Recordings signed two of the leading MC’s at the time, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, formerly of Roll Deep. Months after winning the Mercury Prize for best newcomer Dizzee (or Dylan Mills to his mum) and Wiley flew out to Ayia Napa, where Dizzee Rascal was stabbed six times. This was supposedly due to an altercation surrounding So Solid Crew. Legend has it that Dizzee grabbed Lisa Mafia’s arse, aggravating Mega Man who in turn cut him to ribbons. No charges were brought on anyone, but Dizzee’s tune “Respect Me” on his second album “Showtime” pretty much confirms the incident. Despite the near death experience, the controversy seemed to help Dizzee’s debut album “Boy in Da Corner” sell surprisingly well, peaking at number 23 in the UK chart.
The following year Wiley released his debut album “Treddin’ on Thin Ice” which bombed like an angry dictator, leaving Wiley without a label and Dizzee rethinking his next move. Treddin’ on Thin Ice seemed to lack any commercial appeal, most likely the reason for its poor response.
In the 2005 – after winning the NME Award for Innovation – Dizzee Rascal released his second album “Showtime”. This album proved to be a mixture of soft sounding grime, diluted almost. Long time fans were disillusioned with the album, but Dizzee knew what he was doing. The toned down lyrics and more familiar beats was all part of the plan. Showtime peaked at number 8 and gained Dizzee a more respectable standing in the media, as he spoke about leaving his life as a criminal behind.
Whilst Dizzee Rascal honed his business skills, other artists that were spawned of grime slowly came out of the woodwork. In 2006 N-Dubz appeared on our screens. They released their first video on Channel U. Serious grime fans laughed them almost out of the scene, but now we laugh on the other sides of our faces, as N-Dubz were paving the way to stardom. Their grime-turned-pop like beats sat under catchy commercial hooks and simple lyrics. Over time, this seemed to strike a chord in teenagers all over the UK, N-Dubz’ debut album “Uncle B” peaked at number 11 in 2007. The album later went Platinum and N-Dubz hysteria ensued, annoyingly exposing us to more Dappy than anyone can handle. It’s almost as if by toning down the aggression in grime, adding in some less threatening beats and turning the artists into caricatures, made this new form of urban music socially acceptable. Effectively using grime as a spring board or a quotable to garner more fans of “street” music.
If anything grime pulled a great swindle, effectively selling a watered down version of its past life to the children of its middle class critics of yesteryear
Pushing forward to 2008 and Wiley is back in the game. This time though, he’d learnt his lesson. “Wearing My Rolex” was his first mainstream single for a while and it came with a house styled beat and party lyrics. Many diehard fans were disappointed, but the tune was catchy and sold well. This got him signed and it seemed Wiley had the perfect mix of mainstream and grime. However, Wiley’s Naomi Campbell-esque fits of sporadic anger blew up as a lack of creative control had him leave his label a year later, dumping hundreds of unheard tracks onto the internet for free.
In the present day grime is currently sitting pretty. Forgers of the scene are finally being commercially recognised. Skepta now has a tune with P Diddy, Devlin has an advertising deal with Adidas and Chipmunk’s new single features Chris Brown. Not to mention Tinie Tempah, going from grime scene small fry to international success. Even die-hard grime artists – still in the underground side of things – feel the mainstream look is a good thing. I spoke with long time established grime artist “Discarda” who recently got back from a UK tour with chart toppers Roll Deep, he said “They [Roll Deep] done some commercial tunes on stage and it blew the roof off”. It seems everyone is warming to the haze of commercial grime.
Much like a catwalk model, grime grew up fast, lost weight and got exploited. In some ways, by losing its integrity, it became a huge success. Thankfully the underground scene seems to be flourishing. So who’s to say that the road from criminal to celebrity was such a bad thing? If anything grime pulled a great swindle, effectively selling a watered down version of its past life to the children of its middle class critics of yesteryear, before cranking the quality control back up again. Overall, the grime scene is coming into its own as the social trend of music changes. What seemed underground a few years ago is starting to become the norm, and with this, real music will surely prosper.
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