I got into a recent conversation with a friend of mine about success and what characteristics are needed for people to become great at what they do. We both made the point that pioneers, creators and inventors needed to adopt an almost cynical mind frame of competition and rebellion for them to excel above all others. One of the reasons for this being the need for them to stay unapologetically true to their beliefs at all time. During our conversation my friend and I both singled out and criticised the U.K. grime scene as being one that somewhat lacked a competitive edge in recent years.
I agree that in the past there have been times were the U.K. grime movement was extremely competitive and intrinsically rebellious. To take an example, the birth years of the scene was one that I remembered as being so competitive it almost always spiralled out of control. The rivalries between competing crews also created an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. I still remember memorable clashes between artists who practically despised each other. They lacked fear in their callous quest to prove that they would come out on top in any clash or on any dub they were on. There was also a clear cockiness in how the young pioneers of the emerging genre chose to conduct themselves. They had very little regard for those who chose to overlook what it is they were trying to achieve; there was a clear belief in the grime culture. This left very little room for niceties only the acknowledgement that artists ought to respect the craft, but ultimately the sole aim was to be the best. The Movement embodied this attitude.The crew was a collective that was enormously talented but they were incredibly competitive with each other. The implication of this is that they continuously pushed each other to be better and “harder.” Each individual member was competitive, rebellious and ultimately in unique in their own way, but that always sought to outdo the other members. Moreover, this all happened under a friendly and brotherly atmosphere. I suspect that from an early stage the members understood the importance of seeing each other as competition (even though they were friends) because it brought out the best in them constantly. Furthermore, I would argue that this attitude stemmed from the clash-culture that grime emerged from.
Overtime, my opinion is that UK grime artists began to tone down their attitudes and approach moving away from the clash-culture the genre originated from. Perhaps there was no need for competition and the culture that defined the genre necessarily change. Moreover, the change may have been down to the fact that artists who were once underground pioneers achieved levels of success that reduced their need to be competitive and rebellious. They had “over-achieved” and created their own respective lanes and identities. They had no real need to continue to neither portray nor pursue the battle culture of grime. I accept that this may have been an inevitable reality, however in my opinion the scene suffered as a collective. Grime for a number of years lacked the level of hunger and competition that was needed to keep it consistently engaging and entertaining. Perhaps artists were reluctant to accept the occasionally “cutthroat” and unforgiving nature the genre had emerged from. They may have been more inclined to adopt a façade of togetherness to help them fit in and gain commercial success. Furthermore, I feel that external social pressures may have led artists to tone down their intensity and sidestep the confrontational “clash-culture” that had very much been a part of the foundations of the grime movement. The media and those who didn’t understand the movement had consistently painted it as one that was overtly aggressive and disruptive. However, my opinion is that the “sidestep” from the core themes of grime affected the growth of the scene; it reduced its intrigue and dumbed down what made the genre so unique.
Recently the UK grime scene has been thrown back into the spotlight. The impression I get is as if the genre has been given a new lease of approval from a general audience that’s willing to: support, engage and embrace the genre “as it is.” On the other hand, the embrace and recognition of the genre appears to be limited in light of the recent lack of recognition at the Brit awards. Although the UK grime scene currently does not completely resemble the initial clash culture of grime in its birth years. I have seen clear examples over the last 18 months of a number of the original characteristics of the genre remerging. For example, the recent “beef” between Chip and Yungen was one that created excitement and captivated the fans; people literally stayed up all night in suspense of what might happen next between the two artists. The genre is currently buzzing with excitement and opportunities. There are of course a number of reasons for this. However, my opinion is that rappers have gone back to being openly competitive and reintroduced the rebellious aggression that birthed the genre.
Grime artists should rightfully abandon all the “fake niceties” and the attitude of feeling compelled to thread carefully as artists trying to emerge from a genre that perhaps lacks a massive global market. It is not necessary. Moreover, artists such as Stormzy have been able to gain recent chart success with tracks like “Shut Up” that managed to retain the aggressive, competitive and egocentric nature that makes grime GRIME. Although there is a collective understanding that artists (and fans) all need to work together to push the scene and take it further. There is also a recognition that the genre needs to stay true to the central themes that define it. This was a point that Kano eloquently made in one of his recent interviews with the guardian “that’s in the DNA of an MC – we come from a battle culture – we shouldn’t dumb ourselves down.” This recognition as in my opinion paved the way for the new and refreshing “renaissance” of the genre. A recognition that I feel is necessary for the continued growth of grime. Grime is edgy; Grime is not friendly; Grime is competitive; Grime is rebellious.