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It's Grime Wot Won It

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One of the most unexpected media storms of the 2017 general election was over the hashtag #Grime4Corbyn. The hashtag started trending after a string of Grime MCs–from doyens of the scene like JME and Saskilla to the up-and-coming young'uns AJ Tracey and Novelist–publicly declared their support for Jeremy Corbyn.

But if all the fuss over #Grime4Cobyn passed you by, or if your only experience of London's greatest musical export of the past decade is seeing Stormzy on Jools Holland, then we've got you covered. In this extract from The Wire Primers, acclaimed music writer Simon Reynolds takes us on a tour of Grime's seminal records. 

Grime emerged from London’s pirate radio underground. Its immediate precursor was two-step (aka UK Garage), which at the turn of the millennium was making a powerful break- through into the UK pop mainstream. Two-step had been shaped by the so-called ‘feminine pressure’ for singalong melodies and ‘wind your waist’ grooviness. Grime arose as a backlash against this crossover sound, a violent swing in the scene’s inner gender-pendulum from yin to yang. Out went two-step’s highpitched diva vocals, sensual swing and sexed- up amorousness; in came gruff rapping, stiff electro-influenced beats and raucous aggression

MCs have been part of the pirate radio tradition for at least 15 years, going back through Garage and Jungle to the early days of Hardcore rave. By the end of the 1990s, however, the MCs were moving beyond their customary restricted role as party ‘hosts’ and sidekicks to the DJ. Instead of gimmicky vocal licks and ‘praise the selector’ exhortations, they began to rap actual verses – initially, extended takes on traditional boasts about their own mic skills, but soon getting into narra- tive, complicated metaphors and rhyme schemes, vicious dissing of rivals and even introspective soliloquies. The MC’s rise swiftly eclipsed the DJ, hitherto the most prominent figure on rave flyers or the main designated artist on record releases. The year 2001 was the turning point, when MCs shunted selectors out of the spotlight. So Solid Crew broke into the pop charts and the underground seethed with similar collectives modelled on the clan/dynasty structures that prevail in American hiphop and Jamaican dancehall.

Grime really defined itself as a distinct genre when the first tracks appeared that were designed purely as MC tools – riddims for rappers to ride. These Grimestrumentals were largely sourced in the electro diaspora – post-‘Sleng Teng’ ragga, Miami Bass, New Orleans bounce, Dirty South crunk and street rap producers like Swizz Beats. Like these genres, Grime doesn’t go in much for sampling but prefers synths, typically with cheap ’n’ nasty timbres that vaguely evoke the 1980s and often seem to be influenced by pulp movie video soundtracks, videogame muzik and even mobile phone ringtones. But in Grime’s textured beats and complex pro- gramming you can also hear the imprint of the Jungle that most of these late teens/early twenties producers grew up on, alongside folk-memory traces of Gabba and Techno. Some- times you might imagine you can hear uncanny echoes of post-punk era electro-primitivists such as The Normal, DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, or the calligraphic exquisiteness of Japan, Thomas Leer and The Residents.

Inherited from the period when two-step ruled the Top Ten, but also inspired by enviously watching the living-large of American rap superstars, Grime artists feel a powerful drive to invade the mainstream and get ‘paid in full’. Pirate radio, a broadcast medium with a potentially vast audience, encour- ages this grandiosity. One peculiar byproduct of Grime’s ambition is the scene’s craze for DVD releases, combining documentary material with live footage. It’s as if the scene is DIYing the sort of TV coverage it feels it deserves but isn’t get- ting. Yet while some top MCs are being groomed for stardom by major-owned boutique labels, the day to day reality of Grime is grafting to get by in a narrowcast culture. Selling 500 copies of a track is considered a good result.

Unlike those globally dispersed microcultures such as Noise or extreme Metal, Grime is geographically concentrated. It is popular across London and has outposts in other UK cities, but its absolute heartland consists of a few square miles in that part of East London not served by the Tube. In truth, it’s a parochial scene, obsessed with a sense of place, riven by internecine conflicts and territorial rivalries (the intense competitiveness being one reason Grime is so creative). Still, despite this insularity, Grime has never been easier for ‘out- siders’ to investigate, thanks to 1xtra (the BBC’s digital radio station for UK ‘urban’ music; the trend for pirates like Rinse FM to go online as well as broadcast terrestrially; mail order; and the swarm of blogs covering the scene.

 

So Solid Crew
“Dilemma”
So Solid 12" 1999

Oxide & Neutrino
“Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)”
From Execute
East West CD 2001
(orig. East West 12" 2000)
So Solid are famous as the first MC crew to cross over big time (they hit number one with “21 Seconds”), and infamous for their frequent brushes with the law. In Grime terms, though, their single most influential track is this instrumental, which replaced two-step’s sultry swing with an electro-derived cold- ness and rigour. This new starkness was a timely move given that two-step had reached the inevitable ‘overripe’ phase that afflicts all dance genres, its beats becoming cluttered and fussy. With its hard-angled drum machine snares and single-note sustained bassdrone veering upwards in pitch, “Dilemma” rediscovered the Kraftwerk principle: inflexibility can some- times be funkier than suppleness. So solid, indeed: “Dilemma” is like a huge block of ice in the middle of the dancefloor, a real vibe-chiller.

So Solid affiliates DJ Oxide and MC Neutrino also scored a number one UK hit with “Bound 4 Da Reload”. Initially a pirate radio anthem in 1999, “Reload” created a massive rift in the Garage scene. Older types loathed it, young ’uns loved it. Today’s Grime heads would probably disown their teenage favourite as a mere novelty track. Which it certainly was, from the Casualty TV theme sample to the “can everyone stop getting shot?” soundbite from the UK gangster film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Gimmicks aside, Oxide’s production is heavy, from the ice-stab pizzicato violins to the swathes of morgue-chilly echo (the track alludes to the rising blood-tide of violence on London’s streets). Probably equally repellent to two-step fans was the nagging, nasal insistence of Neutrino’s rapping, which is remorselessly unmelodic but horribly catchy. Instantly transforming two-step from ‘the sound of now’ to its current nostalgia-night status as Old Skool, “Reload” has strong claims to being the first Grime tune.

Pay As U Go Kartel
“Know We”
From Various: Smoove Presents Streetbeats Ministry Of Sound CD 2003
(orig. Solid City 12" 2001)

Wiley & Roll Deep
“Terrible”
Solid City 12" 2001
Circulating on dubplate as early as 1999, “Know We” was in constant pirate rotation by the time it was released, alongside “Terrible”. Both are back to basics affairs: simple programmed beats, in each case adorned with the solitary hook of a violin flourish, functioning purely as a vehicle for the MCs. Another striking shared characteristic is the use of the first person plural. Each MC bigs up himself when it’s his turn on the mic, but at the chorus individualism is subsumed in a collective thrust for prestige. “Now we’re going on terrible,” promise/ threaten Roll Deep, and they don’t mean they are about to give a weak performance – ‘roll deep’ itself meaning marauding around town as a mob. But there’s a hint of precariousness to Pay As U Go’s assertions of universal renown. The sense of grandeur is latent; they’re not stars yet. What does come through loud and clear on both tracks is the hunger. “Terrible” starts with a Puff Daddy soundbite: “Sometimes I don’t think you motherfuckers understand where I’m coming from, where I’m trying to get to.”

Genius Cru
“Course Bruv”
Kronik 12" 2001
Pay As U Go and Roll Deep pioneered Grime’s criminal- minded lyrics. Taking them literally isn’t always advisable, as the imagery of ‘slewing’ and ‘merkery’ is often purely metaphorical, signifying the destruction of rival MCs in verbal combat, the maiming of egos rather than bodies. Still, the genre was not always so relentlessly hostile. Just before the Grimy era, Garage rap outfits like Heartless Crew and Genius Cru exuded playful bonhomie. The follow-up to their number 12 pop hit “Boom Selections”, Genius’ “Course Bruv” talks about spreading “nuff love” in the club and stresses that they “still don’t wanna hurt nobody”. The chorus even celebrates the rave-era ritual of sharing your soft drinks with complete strangers, the “course bruv” being Genius’s gracious acquiescence to “can I have a sip of that?” Producer Capone weaves an effervescent merry-go-round groove of chiming bass melody and giddy looped strings, while the MCs hypnotise with the sheer bubbling fluidity of their chat. The verses are deliberately preposterous playa wish-fulfillment: “Number one breadwinner” Keflon claims he’s “invested in many shares, many many stocks” while Fizzy purports to date “celeb chicks”, “ballerinas” and even have “hot chicks as my household cleaners”.

Platinum 45 featuring More Fire
“Oi!”
From More Fire Crew CV
Go! Beat CD 2002
(orig. Go! Beat 12" 2002)
Pirate radio culture evolves in small increments, month by month. The onset of one genre or sub-flava overlaps with the twilight of its predecessor. There are rarely clean breaks. Still, every so often a track comes along that yells “IT’S THE NEW STYLE!” in your face. “Oi!” was one of them. Drawing on the most anti-pop, street vanguard elements in black music his- tory – ragga’s twitch ’n’ lurch, electro’s (f)rigidity, jump-up Jungle’s bruising bass blows – producer Platinum 45 created a most unlikely number seven hit. Factor in the barely decipher- able jabber of More Fire’s Lethal B, Ozzie B and Neeko, and the result was one of the most abrasively alien Top Of The Pops appearances ever. The tune’s pogo-like hard-bounce bass and uncouth Cockney-ragga chants mean that “Oi!” has more in common with Cockney Rejects-style punk than you’d imagine. “Oi!” was Grime’s biggest hit to date, before the genre even had a name.

Musical Mob
“Pulse X (VIP Mix)”
Inspired Sounds 12" 2002
Widely regarded at the time as UK Garage’s absolute nadir, “Pulse X” is actually a pivotal track: the scene’s first purpose- built MC tool. Locating a new rhythm at the exact intersection of electro and Gabba, “Pulse” is virtually unlistenable on its own (those dead-eyed claps, those numbly concussive kicks). But in combination with a great MC, the skeletal riddim becomes an instant, massive intravenal jolt of pure adrenalin. It’s not just the headbanging energy, though, it’s the track’s very structure that is radical. “Pulse X” was the first eight-bar tune, so called because the rhythm switches every eight bars, thereby enabling MCs to take turns to drop 16 bars of rhymes using both beat patterns. Far from being UK Garage’s death rattle, “Pulse X” rescued the scene, rudderless and demoralised after two-step’s pop bubble burst. The sheer phallomorphic rigour of “Pulse X” gave the scene a spine and a forward direction.

Dizzee Rascal
“I Luv U/Vexed”
From Boy In Da Corner (“I Luv You” only)
XL CD/LP 2003
(orig. XL 12" 2003)
Circulating as a white label from summer 2002 onwards, “I Luv U” turned London pirate culture around as much as “Pulse X”. Legendarily creating the track in a single afternoon during a school music class, Dizzee took the same sort of sounds Musical Mob used – Gabba-like distorted kickdrums, shearing metal claps – and turned them into actual music. Add a teenage MC genius desperate to announce himself to the world and you have Grime’s “Anarchy In The UK”. The punk parallel applies because of the harsh Englishness of Dizzee’s vocal timbre and the lovelessness of the lyric, which depicts the pitfalls of the ‘dating game’ from the POV of ‘too much too young’ 16 year olds whose hearts have been calloused into premature cynicism. Dizzee’s snotty derision is almost eclipsed by the retort from female MC Jeannie Jacques, who throws “That girl’s some bitch yunno” back in his face with the equally corrosive “That boy’s some prick yunno”. The original white label featured the “Luv U” instrumental but tossed away on the XL rerelease’s B side is the classic “Vexed”. Dizzee’s stressed delivery makes you picture steam coming out of his ears and the music – beats like ice floes cracking, shrill synth-tingles – renders obsolete the entire previous half-decade of retro-electro in one fell swoop.

Wiley
“Eskimo”
From Various: Rinse 04: Mixed By Skepta Rinse CD 2008
(orig. Wiley Kat Recordings 12" 2002)

“Ice Rink”
Wiley Kat Recordings 12" 2003
Ex-Pay As U Go but at this point still Rolling Deep, Wiley invented an entire mini genre of low key, emaciated instrumentals: asymmetrically structured grooves based around sidewinder basslines that “Slinky downstairs” (as DJ Paul Kennedy put it) and glinting, fragmentary melodies. From his legion of imitators, these tended to be strictly MC-funktional beats; but in Wiley’s case, more often than not the tracks are highly listenable standalone aesthetic objects even without rhyming. The first in an ongoing series of ice-themed tunes (“Igloo”, “Frostbite”, “Snowkat” and so on), “Eskimo” was the blueprint for this dinky yet creepy micro-genre (which Wiley dubbed ‘Eskibeat’). “Ice Rink” took the concept of MC tool to the next level. Instead of just being sold as an instrumental for MCs to use, it was released in some eight versions featuring different MCs. Spread across two 12"s, “Ice Rink” constituted a de facto riddim album. Dizzee’s turn is the standout, his scrawny voice oozing the impudence of some- one at the top of his game, as he invites all haters to plant their lips upon his posterior: “Kiss from the left to the right/Kiss till my black bum-cheeks turn white.” Wiley’s palsy of gated door- slam kicks and mercury-splash blips jostles with Dizzee for your attention.

Jammer
“Weed Man”
Hot Sound 12" 2003

Jammer featuring D Double E
“Birds In The Sky”
Hot Sound 12" 2003
2003 saw a slew of eight-bar instrumentals suffused with cod- oriental exoticism. As incongruous as a pagoda plopped smack dab in the centre of Bow, “Weed Man” is the supreme example of ‘SinoGrime’. Produced by Nasty Crew’s Jammer, the track is dedicated to “all the marijuana smokers” and appropriately the tempo is torpid to a triphop-like degree. The loping, sprained rhythm flashes back to David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bamboo Music”, while the ceremonial bassline and breathy flute conjure mind’s-eye imagery of Zen gardens and temples. But where Wiley’s similar excursions Eastwards were fuelled by World Music record-buying trips, Jammer most likely derived his notion of oriental mystery from videogame muzik and martial arts movie soundtracks. “Birds In The Sky” has a similarly medieval atmosphere but, apart from the plucky twang of some kind of stringed Far Eastern instrument, is less obviously an ethnological forgery. The solo debut of one of Grime’s greatest MCs, D Double E, “Birds” has a brooding, meditative aura. The lyric pivots around the bizarre trope of a verbal drive-by, the MC firing off word-bullets “Like birds in the sky/Hit one of your bredrens in the eye.”

Riko & Target
“Chosen One”
From Various: Run The Road Volume 1 679 Records CD 2005
(orig. Aim High 12" 2004)

Ruff Sqwad
“Lethal Injection”
White label 12" 2004
Former Pay As U Go stalwart and man behind the ace Aim High compilations, Target here creates one of Grime’s most stirringly cinematic epics, placing a heart-tugging orchestral refrain amid a strange decentred drum track whose flurries of claps and kicks seem to trip over themselves. This groove’s sensation of impeded yet steadfast forward motion fits the lyric’s theme of determination and destiny. In his smoky, patois-tinged baritone, Riko (another Pay As U Go alumnus) counsels calmness and composure to all those struggling, whether they’re aspiring MCs striving to make it or regular folk trying to make it through everyday strife: “Use your head to battle through/’Cause you are the chosen one.” The synth swells favoured by Ruff Sqwad also have a cinematic grandeur, like a gangsta Vangelis. “Lethal Injection”, though, is one of their more minimal efforts, consisting of a wibbly keyboard line, the boom of a heavily echoed kick drum and the Sqwad’s rapidfire jabber, swathed in a susurrating shroud of reverb and background chat. Not a tearjerker like “Chosen One”, but incredibly atmospheric.

Terror Danjah
Industry Standard EP
Aftershock 12" 2003

Various
Pay Back EP (The Remix)
Aftershock 12" 2003
You could justly describe Terror Danjah as one of the most accomplished electronic musicians imaginable. On tracks like “Juggling” and “Sneak Attack”, the intricate syncopation, texturised beats, spatialised production and ‘abstracty sounds’ (Danjah’s own phrase) make this a rare instance of ‘head- phone Grime’. Yet all this finesse is marshalled in service of a fanatically doomy and monolithic mood. The Gothic atmosphere of domineering darkness is distilled in Danjah’s audio-logo, a demonic cackle that resembles some jeering, leering cyborg death-dwarf, which appears in all of his productions and remixes. “Creep Crawler”, the first tune on Industry Standard, and its sister track “Frontline (Creepy Crawler Mix)” which kicks off Pay Back, are Danjah’s sound at its most pungently oppressive. “Creep Crawler” begins with the producer smirking aloud (“Heh heh, they’re gonna hate me now”), then a bonecrusher beat stomps everything in its path, while ominous horn blasts pummel in the lower midrange and synths wince like the onset of a migraine. From its opening ‘something wicked this way comes’ note sequence onwards, Big ED’s original “Frontline” was hair-raising. Danjah’s remix of his acolyte’s monstertune essentially merges it with “Creep Crawler”, deploying the same astringent synth dissonance and trademark bass-blare fanfares (filtered to create a weird sensation of suppressed bombast) but to even more intimi- dating and shudder-inducing effect.

Mark One versus Plasticman
“Hard Graft 1/Hard Graft 2”
Contagious 12" 2003

Loefah
“Bombay Squad”
From Various: Grime 2
Rephlex CD 2004
If you hadn’t already guessed from the name, Grime inverts values. Dutty, stinkin’, even disgustin’: all are positive attributes in Grime parlance. So when I say “Hard Graft” is utterly dismal, you’ll know this is the thumbs up. Grime often represents itself as gutter music. Mark One and Plasticman go further and deeper with this track, plunging into the sewage system. Full of clanking beats, septic gurglings, eerie echoes and scuttling percussion, “Hard Graft” makes you imagine pipes, storm drains, dank chambers. Mark One, Plasticman and their cohorts constitute not so much a subgenre of Grime as a side genre – soon to be definitively named dubstep – running adjacent to the scene proper. The sound is techy, MC- free and more danceable than Grime. Although a number of black producers are involved, you could fairly describe this style’s sonic coding as whiter than Grime, and situate it on a Euro continuum running through Belgian Industrial Techno (Meng Syndicate, 80 Aum) through the cold Technoid end of rave (Nebula II) to No U-Turn’s Techstep and Photek-style neurofunk (the beats on “Hard Graft” sometimes recall his “Ni Ten Ichi Ryu”).

Plasticman’s proximity to Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman alias is telling. The black component to this side genre is dub. The clanking skank of Loefah (from leading dubstep crew Digital Mystikz) connects to a lineage of Industrial/rootical UK music: On-U, bleep ’n’ bass, The Orb, Techno-Animal. A foundational track for the ponderous, slow-motion style known as half-step, “Bombay Squad” is built around what feels like a half-finished, or partially erased, groove: massive echo-laden snare cracks, a liquid pitter of tablas situated in a localised corner of the mix and . . . that’s it, apart from the dark river of sub-bass that propels the track forward. The title’s intertextual traces include Public Enemy’s producers and 2 Bad Mice’s rave anthem “Bombscare”, but actually allude to the track’s plaintive ululation by a Bollywood diva.

Wonder
“What”
From Various: Smoove Presents Streetbeats Ministry Of Sound CD 2003
(orig. Dumpvalve 12" 2004)
SLK

“Hype! Hype!” (DJ Wonder Refix)
From Various: Roll Deep Presents Grimey Volume 1 DMC World CD 2006
(orig. Smoove/Ministry Of Sound 12" 2005)
Wonder works on the cusp between Grime proper and the Plasticman One/Loefah sound. “What” makes something compellingly atmospheric out of the most meagre components: a beat dragging like a wounded leg, sub-bass yawning ominously like a portal into the underworld, a dejected one- finger melody suggestive of an autistic desultorily toying with a xylophone, occasional dank blips of electronics. Overall, the audio mise en scène is something like ‘twilight falls on the battle-scarred moon’. Also vaguely redolent of The Mover’s gloomy brand of Ambient Gabba, Wonder’s remix of “Hype! Hype!” replaces the perky original backing track (produced by the great Sticky) with a groan-drone of sick Technoise. This catastrophe in slo-mo makes a marvellously incongruous backdrop for the roaring vocal hook chanted by North West London crew SLK.

Jammer featuring Kano
“Boys Love Girls”
From Various: Roll Deep Presents Grimey Volume 1 DMC World CD 2006
(orig. Hot Sound 12" 2003)


Wonder featuring Kano
“What Have You Done”
From Welcome To Wonderland Dumpvalve CD 2006
(orig. New Era 12" 2004)

Terror Danjah featuring Kano & Sadie
“So Sure”
Aftershock 12" 2004
The backing tracks are fabulous – Jammer’s frenetic snare-roll clatter, Wonder’s tonally harrowed synths, Danjah’s aching ripples of idyllic electronics – but it’s MC Kano who really shines. With some Grime rhymesters, the flow resembles an involuntary discharge (D Double E being the ultimate expo- nent of MCing as automatic poetry). But even at his most hectic, as on “Boys Love Girls”, Kano always sounds in complete control. All poise and deliberation, he invariably sounds as though he’s weighing up the angles, calculating his moves, calibrating which outcomes best serve his interests. That’s blatant on “Boys” and “What Have You Done”, both cold- hearted takes on modern romance that depict sex in transactional terms, a ledger of positives and minuses, credits and debits; a war of the genders in which keeping your feelings checked and maintaining distance is strategically crucial. But it comes through even in the gorgeous ballad “So Sure”, on which Kano blurs the border between loverman and soldier drawing up plans for conquest: “Ain’t got time to be one of them guys just watching you and wasting time/Next time I’m clocking you I’m stopping you to make you mine”. As much as the acutely observed lyrical details, it’s the timbre of Kano’s voice that’s enthralling: slick yet grainy, like varnished wood, and knotty with halting cadences that convince you he’s thinking these thoughts aloud for the very first time.

Davinche
Dirty Canvas EP
Paperchase Recordings 12" 2004

Essentials
“Headquarters”
White label 12" 2004
“So Sure” is an example of the burgeoning subgenre R&G, basically a transparent attempt to lure the ladies back onto the floor, after they’d been turned off by the testosterone-heavy vibe of tracks more suitable for moshing than sexy dancing. As the name R&G, short for ‘rhythm and Grime’ suggests, the mini genre replicates two-step’s original move of copping American R&B’s luxurious arrangements  and diva-melisma. Alongside Terror Danjah, Davinche pioneered R&G with tunes like “Leave Me Alone”. Too often these attempts at Brit- Beyoncé fall short owing to a lack of grounding in songcraft and the studio art of miking vocalists, and end up sounding slightly thin and shabby. So I prefer Davinche’s instrumental efforts like the Dirty Canvas EP series. The quasi-soundtrack orchestration of “Stinger” – flurrying strings, decaying tones from a softly struck gong – are designed to swathe any MC who rhymes over it in an aura of slightly harried majesty. Built out of similar pizzicato elements meshed to a beat like a clock- work contraption gone haywire, “Madness”, I’ll wager, drew inspiration from the paranoia zone reached after one toke too many: racing thoughts, pounding heart, jangled nerves, the suspicion that you might just be losing your mind.

Grime is synonymous with East London, but other parts of the city are starting to get a look-in. Essentials, Davinche’s crew, operate out of the South. This powerful sense of territorial- ity is integral to the concept of “Headquarters”, which draws on the talents of a veritable battalion of MCs, some guests and some from Essentials’ own barracks. At each chorus, a drill sergeant barks questions at the MC who’s stepping up for his turn: “State your name, soldier”, “State your location” (usually ‘East’ or ‘South’, sometimes a specific postal district), “Who you reppin’?” (usually a crew, like Essentials, NASTY, After- shock, but sometimes just “myself ”). Then the sergeant orders each recruit to get down and “give me 16” – not press-ups, but 16 bars of rhymes. The amazing production seals the conceptual deal, the chorus being accompanied by cello-like instrumentation that’s been digitally contorted into an unearthly wraith-like whinny, or a cyberwolf howling at the moon.

Lethal B featuring Fumin, D Double E, Nappa, Jamakabi, Neeko, Flow Dan, Ozzi B, Forcer, Demon & Hot Shot
“Pow (Forward)”
From Various: Grime Wave Mixed By Semtex
Antidote CD 2006
(orig. Relentless 12" 2004)
Following a failed mainstream-bid album, More Fire looked all washed up in 2003, but Lethal B rebuilt their street rep from the ground up. In 2004 his “Forward” riddim became the scene’s biggest anthem. Renamed “Pow” on account of its main vocal hook, it ultimately barged its way to the outskirts of the Top Ten, achieving Grime’s highest chart placing since . . . well, “Oi!”. The riddim is basic, verging on crude, a madly gyrating loop that resembles an out of control carousel. “Pow!”, Lethal’s chorus chant, evokes the fisticuffs of comic book superheroes. Matching the track’s rowdy vibe (it was reputedly banned in some clubs for inciting mayhem on the floor), a squadron of top MCs lay on the ultraviolence, the cartoon flavour of which can be gleaned from Demon’s immortal warning, “You don’t wanna bring some beef/Bring some beef you’ll lose some teeth.”

Jammer featuring Wiley, D Double E, Kano & Durty Doogz
“Destruction Remix”
From Various: Run The Road Volume 1
679 Records CD 2005
(orig. White label 12" 2004)

D Double E & P-Jam
“Anger Management”
Dice Recordings 12" 2004
Like “Pow”, “Destruction” is a rollercoaster of pugilistic noise and lyrical aggro, but Jammer’s production is marginally more sophisticated, slicing ’n’ dicing brassy fanfares (probably from blaxploitation movies) and filtering them to make a track simmering with pent-up rage. The four scene-leading MCs rise to the occasion, from Wiley’s riffed variations on “I know Trouble but Trouble says he don’t know you”, to Kano’s quaintly Anglicised gangsta boast “From lamp post to lamp post, we run the road”. But the star performance comes from D Double. Sounding like he’s battling multiple speech impediments, he expectorates glottal gouts of raw verbiage. “Spitting” is too decorous a word for his rhyme style: retching is closer. Wit- ness Double’s astonishing first six bars on “Destruction”, a gargoyle gibber closer to hieroglyphics than language, seemingly emanating from the same infrahuman zone Iggy Pop plumbed on “TV Eye”. On Double’s first solo single since “Birds In The Sky”, rising producer P-Jam’s snaking wooze of gaseous malevolence sparks one of the MC’s most Tourettic performances. Barely tethered to the beat’s bar scheme, Double seems to be wading waist deep through sonic sludge, “sucking up MCs like a hoover”.

Trim
“Boogieman”
From Various: Roll Deep Presents Grimey Volume 1 DMC World CD 2006
(orig. Aftershock 12" 2004)

Bruza
“Not Convinced”
Aftershock 12" 2005
Like most dance producers, Grime beatmakers typically invent a striking sound, then wear it out with endless market-milking iterations. Terror Danjah has often approached that danger- zone, but on “Boogieman” he shows how much scope for inventive arrangement remains in the “Creep Crawler” tem- plate. You can hear the cartoon-ghost ‘wooh-wooh’ touches best on the instrumental version, “Haunted” (on Aftershock’s Roadsweeper EP). “Boogieman” itself is a showcase for rising star Trim, here honing his persona of scoffing imperturbability: “I’m not scared of the boogieman/I scare the boogieman.”

On “Not Convinced” Danjah drafts a whole new template that reveals the producer’s roots in drum ’n’ bass. Again, though, the MC makes it hard to focus on the riddim. Bruza incorporates British intonation and idiom: the not-flow of stilted English cadences becomes a newflow. It sounds “brutal and British”, as Bruza puts it. As his name suggests, the MC has also perfected a hardman persona that feels authentically English rather than a gangsta fantasy based on Compton or Kingston. He exudes a laconic, steely menace redolent of bouncers. “Not Convinced” extrapolates from this not-easily- impressed persona to create a typology of character in which the world is divided into the serious and the silly, the latter lacking the substance and conviction to give their words authority. Bruza addresses, and dresses down, a wannabe MC: “I’m not convinced/Since you’ve been spitting/I haven’t believed one word/Not one inch/Not even a millimetre/To me you sound like a silly speaker/Silly features in your style/You spit silly.”

Kano featuring D Double E & Demon
Reload It
697 Records CD/LP 2005
“Reload It” celebrates the pirate radio and rave tradition of the DJ rewind, when the crowd holler their demand for the selector to “wheel and come again”. Until Grime, the trigger for rewinds would be a killer sampled vocal lick, thrilling bass drop, or even just a mad breakbeat.

Nowadays, the MC being king, the crowd clamours to hear their favourite rhymes. “This is what it means when DJs reload it/That 16 was mean and he knows it,” explains Kano, before listing the other top dog MCs who get nuff rewinds (two of them, Double and Demon, guest on the track). “I get a reload purely for the flow,” Kano preens, and you can see why as he glides with lethal panache between quicktime rapping and a leisurely, drawn-out gait that seems to drag on the beat to slow it down. The track itself, which is coproduced by Kano and Diplo, is all shimmery excitement, pivoting around a spangly filtered riff that ascends and descends the same four notes, driven by a funky rampage of live-sounding drums and punctuated by horn samples, Beni G’s scratching and orgasmic girl-moans.

The Old Skool, breakbeat-like energy suggests an attempt to sell the notion of Grime as British hiphop, yet if transatlan- tic crossover is the intent, that’s subverted by the localised, Grime-reflexive lyric. “Reload It” encapsulates the conflicted impulses that fuel this scene: underground insularity versus an extrovert hunger to engage with – and conquer – the whole wide world.