Grime, Revival Or Renaissance?

Siobhan Mearon looks at British Grime’s difficult rise to mainstream popularity, some of its biggest players and the budding scene here in Ireland.[br]The Mercury Music Prize is prestigious in many ways. Nominees are taken from across all genres, the judges are all respected and influential in the music industry and the eventual winner not only gets a £25,000 prize but also priceless renown.  Previous Mercury winners have seen their albums go straight to the top of the charts, gaining new audiences and levels of fame previously unknown to them.In May 2016 Skepta released Konnichiwa on his independent Boy Better Know label. It was critically acclaimed and commercially successful despite being released independently. The album was nominated for a Mercury Prize, alongside fellow grime MC Kano’s Made in the Manor. To have two grime albums recognised for their musical excellence is important for a genre often overlooked as a serious contender in the music industry. Konnichiwa got into the final six and won, despite facing competition from Radiohead, The 1975 and favourite to win; David Bowie.Konnichiwa is Skepta’s fourth album. It came after a four year break during which time he took a step back from fame and attempting to bring grime into the mainstream. Instead he created an album that is honest and, for many, was seen as a renaissance of the grime genre. A new focus and style was born, one that shuns popular demand and refuses to pander to critics and audiences.Skepta’s Mercury win and Kano’s nomination mean more for UK grime than just mere recognition. It’s the fact that they’ve been recognised by the industry as a mainstream genre, for both artistic value and success. Especially when grime artists were completely overlooked at this year’s BRITs. Many commented that Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ or Stormzy’s ‘Shut Up’ deserved a nomination and new grime artists such as Lady Leshurr, Krept & Konan and Novelist were ignored.Grime has long been absent from the BRIT Awards, with one notable winner being Dizzee Rascal, but only after his commercial success and transition to more chart-friendly music. This constant snub of underground British music at an awards show that is supposed to promote and appreciate new British artists could be down to the BRITs focus on mainstream success as opposed to the Mercury’s concern with talent and critical acclaim. In previous years, grime was too underground to achieve the chart success the BRITs demand, but to not see a single grime artist nominated in 2016 seemed like a deliberate snub. In 2015, Kanye West invited UK grime and rap artists on stage with him because they weren’t invited in their own right. Yet in that same year Stormzy and JME were gaining hundreds of thousands of fans through interactions on social media.  Grime artists were getting millions of views on YouTube and climbing the UK charts. In 2016, grime is dominating the UK music scene, so the reason for no grime nominations at the BRITs can’t be blamed on lack of commercial success.
In 2016, grime is dominating the UK music scene, so the reason for no grime nominations at the BRITs can’t be blamed on lack of commercial success.
Ireland’s current grime scene is as underground as it was in the early days of grime in London. Different to UK grime in its focus on production and DJ’s rather than MC’s, Irish grime artists are taking cues from the roots of the genre and making it their own. Boiler Room finally came to Dublin last year, deciding to showcase Ireland’s best grime producers and artists. Glacial Industries are a label based in Dublin, working as an outlet for grime and rap artists from the UK, US and Ireland. They “took over” the Boiler Room set, inviting the best acts on the Irish grime scene, such as Shriekin, who released his most recent EP last year, mixing electronic synths with grime beats. Dublin DJ Major Graze and Belfast producer Bloom also both played, with their take on eskibeat, the instrumental grime beat pioneered by Wiley. Gemma Dunleavy brought her soulful vocals to the set, complemented by dancehall beats, as heard on Murlo’s Jasmine EP. With this line-up, Glacial Industries was paving the way for Ireland’s grime scene to grow and expand, bringing Irish grime to new audiences. More recently, club nights organised by Wriggle are featuring both newcomers and the staples of Dublin’s Bass music scene. While small, Ireland’s grime scene is unique, exciting and only getting better.Although grown from its infancy, UK grime is still consistently improving and evolving. Konnichiwa is one of the best albums of 2016, with Skepta showing a depth to his talent that is helped by his freedom as an independent artist. Kano’s Made in the Manor is an album from an artist maturing and finding new inspiration, honing his skills in the genre he helped establish. BBK have played at festivals all over the UK in 2015 and 2016, drawing huge crowds. New grime artists are reaching the charts without having to change their music to fit the mainstream mould.
New grime artists are reaching the charts without having to change their music to fit the mainstream mould.
Grime is transitioning into a popular genre, but its roots will always be tied to its specific identity and no amount of chart success, critical acclaim, or fans in the US can remove grime from its black British roots.