Grime. A genre typified by propulsive electronic production played at a tempo of roughly 140 beats per minute, aggressively delivered rapped vocals (very often in the form of repeated refrains) and an aesthetic that perfectly embodies the black British youth off the past 15 years or so. The love I have for this genre personally is incalculable; I did not care about any form of music until I heard Wot Do U Call It? by Wiley at the tender age of 12. My unwavering interest in this form and the scene led me to become passionate about all the other music I actively consume now, from R&B to experimental metal, so I am indebted to grime.

It goes without saying that not everyone shares this same enthralment with what is, in my opinion, Britain’s greatest musical export. Grime has come under fire on countless occasions, from every echelon of the British establishment. The focus of this particular piece, though, is the agenda that I know the mainstream British media has against my most beloved genre.

Since its inception, grime has had a strained relationship with the mainstream media. It has been portrayed as nothing more than musical barbarism and has been excluded from the likes of award ceremonies, talk shows and musical magazines. Throughout much of my teenage life, seeing a grime video by a grime artist on a music television channel that wasn’t Channel U/AKA was essentially the real-life equivalent of Ash Ketchum winning the League in the Pokémon anime; it just didn’t happen (but I always kept my eyes and ears open in case it did).

The effect of this exclusion can be seen pretty plainly in sales figures. The former golden boy of grime, Dizzee Rascal, released Boy In Da Corner, one of the most acclaimed debuts in British history in 2003. Sales figures for the album were fantastic too (by 2004, it had sold 250,000 copies the world over) but he didn’t see a number one single until he put out Dance Wiv Me, an unashamedly commercial collaboration with Calvin Harris, five years later in 2008.

The same exclusion of sounds forged primarily by members of the black British community is nothing new, however. The mainstream British media has a decorated history of distancing and antagonising non-white communities, one such example being Our Jamaican Problem, a short film published by Pathé in the mid 1950s, which looked at the “problems” caused by the influx of black migrants coming from nations that had their infrastructures flailed by the cruel mace that is British occupation. When I asked her of her experiences with music, film and television while growing up in the 1980s, my mother said “it was like watching a theatre production- that I had no part in”, a sentiment echoed by many people of colour in the older generation.

Even when it comes to reporting some of the most serious affairs, the meticulous fact checking that goes into talking about those affiliated with other music scenes is absent. A prime example and a pathway to explore this issue is how The Guardian, a news platform often praised for being “liberal” and “progressive”, reported the incarceration of Brandon Jolie, better known to some as “Maniac” in 2009. Jolie had been convicted of conspiracy to murder; he arranged for an associate to murder his then pregnant ex-girlfriend. This is indisputably a deplorable act, but the inaccurate reporting of the affair is particularly noteworthy to me. The Guardian referred to Jolie as a “would-be rapper”, but he was not a rapper at all-  all my time being interested in grime music, the only time that I have ever heard what I believe is his voice is in the form of short sampled clips on his instrumentals- because the artist called Maniac is, to my knowledge, exclusively a producer of music (having made tracks for Wiley, Durrty Goodz and other stalwarts in the scene) and not a rapper, an MC or a vocalist of any kind. Simply with some rudimentary fact-checking, the journalist behind this would have realised this. Then again, perhaps it is possible that the writer was totally cognisant of their faux pas and deliberately included it, in an attempt to garner clicks and sell papers, to play on the racist preconceptions of members of white society that view “rappers” are savage participants of a black craft.

In looking at this issue, I thought it would make sense to speak to a few of my friends, some of the young movers and shakers in the grime scene right now, to find out what they thought and how they feel about the marginalisation of grime by the mainstream media.

 

vicky grout

VICKY GROUT, PHOTOGRAPHER

 Photo by Alex Williams

Lamar Ita: Do you agree that the mainstream British media excludes grime music?

Vicky Grout: Yes, and no. I think that the mainstream media tends to exploit grime music, and tends to kind of use it as a buzzword, and apply it to any black urban artist because it gets them clicks, but fails to support these artists properly.

LI: What do you think causes the bias against grime?

VG: White supremacy, in a nutshell, and basically black stereotyping. If these grime artists were white, this wouldn’t be the case. There tends to be this stereotype that grime artists are violent and savage, but that is a symptom of society and not what causes these things.

LI: Any examples that you have seen personally of grime being victimised by the mainstream media?

VG: When Skepta had a show at Ally Pally and someone from the Evening Standard was there doing a review, they were basically saying it wasn’t very good, it was all a mess, the songs kept stopping and starting. If they knew anything about soundsystem culture, they would know that they were reloads. And that’s the exploitation side, and the fact they’re still trying to portray as like a bad thing, as if it wasn’t a success, which it clearly was. They’re quick to use Skepta’s face on the cover of a magazine yet they write a bad review of his show simply because they don’t get it. Another example I can think of, is that Giggs review  in the NME, someone reviewed his album [Landlord] and was saying “it’s all good, it’s all great and then towards the end, there was one part where he talks about rape, where he says he’s gonna rape a girl and blah blah blah”. He thought the line was “man rapes her”, but the line was “man rates her” and if he knew anything about the culture, then he would know that that’s a thing that people say, but because he’s not familiar with the language, he simply assumed. He didn’t even think to double check the lyric with someone else, he just heard it and thought “okay, this is what I expect from a black man, so I’m gonna write it.” It’s very bad.

LI: What do you think can be done by people in the scene to help improve the situation?

VG: I don’t know if it’s anything for people in the scene to do! It’s not to do with them, it’s the people outside of the scene looking in, and the people that think they have a valid opinion when they don’t. I think if you’re going to talk on something, you need to educate yourself on the matter, and not just talk about it for the sake of it, because everyone’s talking about it, which is what a big part of the media is doing.

LI: Any other thoughts about the issue?

VG: Just to further my previous point, I think it’s important that the people that talk about these matters and on the genre as a whole need to be educated, and know what they’re talking about before they make a comment, because one slight misjudgement of what someone says just further reinforces the stereotype of black men and therefore of grime artists.

scully

SCULLY, RADIO HOST FOR REPREZENT RADIO 

Photo by Alex Douglas

Lamar Ita: Do you agree that the mainstream British media excludes grime music?

Scully: Definitely, definitely. I feel like it’s been way more excluded in the past, and they’ve tried to diminish it as a culture, as a genre, as something of worth, but definitely in recent years, we’ve seen it in a new light and people have started to respect it more. They’ve begun to show it in a correct manner and take it more seriously.

LI: What do you think causes the bias against grime?

S: It’s a subculture which is from the working class primarily, who are always gonna be demonised particularly by right wing media but all media. It’s roots are in African and Caribbean culture, so there’s gonna be some racial demonisation (too). They’re gonna be looking at it in a way like “some poor black kids make this, it’s not worth much, it’s just noise”. And also, I guess just because it’s new as well, and the older generation is never gonna understand the newer generation’s way of doing things.

LI: Any examples that you have seen personally of grime being victimised by the mainstream media?

S: Some of the interviews that I’ve seen, and the way grime has been covered in reviews. The way they look at black music within the Guardian and the NME, which are publications that are usually respectable as well, but the way they discuss things such as grime is always in a way that is condescending. People don’t look at grime as an art form yet, which is disgusting because all music is a form of art. There is so much music I don’t like, but I will never say it’s not art. Every form of music is a form of artistic expression and should all be valued in the same way.

LI: What do you think can be done by people in the scene to help improve the situation?

S: Be articulate. Be willing to explain. Even within your music. When you look at artists like Kano, or even to the extent of Skepta and the success he had with the Mercury [Music Prize], these are artists that have expressed sentiment in an eloquent manner within their music. That helps them to be respected, the message in their music has people thinking “oh, this artist has deeper thoughts than whatever we (the media) say there is”. So definitely be articulate, be honest and carry yourself in a mature way as well. If someone disagrees with you, you don’t always have to be like “I’ll punch you up bruv”, there’s other ways of communicating with people. You can be like “yo, I’m gonna intellectually par you, my g, take time.”

LI: Any other thoughts about the issue?

S: So many, man! It [grime] is excluded, it’s misunderstood, it’s infantile in its inception, there’s so many factors to it. Time and learning are the only things that are gonna get us through, and we’re seeing it mature, to another level where people are starting to respect it and respect the artists within it. We will see it, and we’re gonna see it in our lifetime, so I don’t know what else we can do other than be patient.

luke warm

LUKE WARM, RESIDENT PRODUCER/DJ OF SOUTH LONDON CREW NTN. 

Lamar Ita: Do you agree that the mainstream British media excludes grime music?

Luke Warm: I feel the modern middle class society which rules over most of the mainstream media in Britain is definitely frightened of the subjects dealt with and emotions evoked in a lot of urban music. Unfortunately, grime isn’t the only genre that receives this treatment. Music is a very powerful thing and the media, which is also very powerful, is aware of that, hence the need to block out what doesn’t suit their agendas.

LI: What do you think causes the bias against grime?

LW: I believe it stems from an ingrained prejudice and anti-youth culture, and also a distorted perception that kids who sell drugs can cause more damage to our communities and society than the corporations that sell guns to the majority of the world, politicians that care little for the unprivileged and bankers that take home bonuses with no regards to their impact on the global economy.

LI: Any examples that you have seen personally of grime being victimised by the mainstream media?

LW: Obviously, the first thing to come to mind would a tabloid’s (I can’t remember which one) review of Skepta’s show at Alexandra Palace, which was just hilarious to be honest. It shows a basic misunderstanding of the culture. Another case of victimisation would be in Giggs’ early days when he stopped getting exposure from literally every mainstream radio station because of Trident’s offensive against him without any evidence.

LI: What do you think can be done by people in the scene to help improve the situation?

LW: For the scene to continue to grow and flourish in the way it has in recent years, I believe social media has to be dominated, and used as the main platform for sharing music and self-promotion. Independence is key.

In more recent times, there is definitely an underlying but still evident misunderstanding manner that seems to prevent the mainstream media from affording grime the respect it deserves. Skepta’s performance of his hit Shutdown at the Brit Awards this year makes for a notable testament of this. While admittedly his energy on stage was somewhat off (I am by no means slandering his iconic dancing, by the way), his performance was further marred by shoddy censorship. The man is a seasoned veteran, not just in the grime scene but in the realms of Britain’s music pantheon more generally. He has played both sold out dates at Alexandra Palace and Brixton Academy. Yet, he wasn’t even able to perform without being diluted, despite the fact his performance took place after watershed. In spite of all this devilry that the mainstream media has been subjecting the grime scene to for all these years, this aforementioned success of grime’s key players right now is not invalidated. The fact that a British style of music which at its core is so distant from the conventions of the sanitised pop we are bombarded with every time the television is turned on has blossomed in a country where the expressions of working class people (particularly working class peoples of colour) are so often stifled fills me with the utmost pride. It is evidence of the integrity of the sound, concrete evidence that this scene is not about to be uprooted, by bad journalism, record labels that just don’t “get” it, or even by more tangible threats outside the realms of media, like Form 696. Grime is a juggernaut, and as such, is not close to being halted anytime soon.


WORDS AND INTERVIEWS BY LAMAR ITA (M.I.C)

Lamar Ita’s interviews débuted in the first edition of our zine, TAH VOL.1. To read the full zine, for free, click here.

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