If you're from the UK then there's a good chance you know what grime is, but if you're from elsewhere then it may be a bit of a mystery. This UK-based genre of music has certainly had its up and downs since its creation, so here's a brief overview of what exactly grime is, and how its got to the success it has today.
The definition of grime
Grime is a British sub-genre of rap that includes not just rap and hip-hop influences, but also hardcore drum and bass, techno, and dancehall influences, which stems from the music that was popular at the same time.
Some typical features of grime music include a bpm of around 144 and regularly repeated phrases.
The genre evolved directly from garage music which was big in London in the 1990s.
The beginning of grime: late 1990s and early 2000s
Although it wasn't labeled as such at the time, the genre that went on to become grime started as an offshoot of UK Garage music. Although the genre began to emerge across the country, it's thought that it really began in the underground music communities in London.
Grime gained its popularity through pirate radio stations (radio stations that do not have official licenses which therefore makes them unfiltered) and live events in the underground scene.
There are several artists that claim to have created the first-ever Grime song, but the reality is several of them thought up the idea pretty much at the same time in the first couple of years of the 2000s.
Towards the mid-2000s is when Grime really became a mainstream genre. At the forefront of the genre still were Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, but also artists like Kano, Skepta, and Lethal Bizzle.
There's absolutely no way to talk about Grime without talking about Wiley, the London-born rapper that is often referred to as the Godfather of the genre.
Wiley is credited with driving the grime from an unknown genre in the early 2000s to real mainstream success in the mid-2000s. He released his own debut album Treddin' on Thin Ice in 2004, which features 'Wot Do You Call It?'
This song is a really interesting commentary on the genre of grime and how it was pretty much undefined at this point, despite now being rife among the UK charts.
Excerpt from 'Wot Do You Call It':
"Wiley Kat'z got his own styles not garage
Make it in the studio but not in the garage
Here in London there's a sound called garage
But this is my sound, it sure ain't garage"
After his previous group Pay As U Go disbanded, Wiley formed his own group which included fellow grime stars like Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder.
Dizzee Rascal is another one of the artists credited with being right there at the beginning of grime. Dizzee Rascal technically was the first-ever person to release a grime track in the year 2000 with 'I Luv U'.
His debut album 'Boy in Da Corner' earned him a Mercury prize in 2004, which became the first real major award for grime music and therefore shot the genre into the limelight and mainstream.
Dizzee Rascal's career thrived in the 2000s, as he also went on to score several more chart hits and win a BRIT award.
Lethal Bizzle rose to fame as a grime MC in London in the early 2000s. Lethal Bizzle created the More Fire Crew in 2000, which went on to release the first-ever UK top 10 grime hit 'Oi!".
His own solo release 'Pow (Forward)' was banned from several radio stations due to its mentioning of guns and gang culture, but still managed to reach number 11 in the charts despite this, which shows the impact of underground music scenes and the power of grime to rise against the odds.
Kano became a member of the N.A.S.T.Y crew in the early 2000s, who then went on to have their own show on a pirate radio station that promoted up-and-coming artists, which included previously mentioned, Wiley and Dizzee Rascal.
Kano went on to become a solo grime artist and released his first solo album in 2002.
Decline in the late 2000s
Just as it seemed grime was reaching its peak success, suddenly the genre had a significant decline.
The genre became associated with gang culture which was and still is rife in London, as many performances lead to significant fights. This lead to the introduction of the P696, a controversial police document that required clubs to fill out risk assessments of each artist. This in turn meant that a lot of grime artists were banned or just not allowed to play live events because the risk of danger was too high.
As a genre that thrived on physical events to promote music and introduce up-and-coming artists, it's no surprise that this hit grime hard. There was no point in making the music if you couldn't perform it or get it to an audience, so many grime artists shifted away from the genre.
This requirement was in place until 2017, but luckily this wasn't the end of grime.
Resurgence in the 2010s
After a break of a few years, it seems the genre of grime realigned itself and came back swinging. More grime music that was built for listening at home rather than in the clubs and at events started being created, meaning it was more accessible fr the casual listener. With the rise of streaming services coming in line with this too, it allowed for a brand new wider audience to be introduced to the grime genre.
Weirdly, it's actually Kanye West that may have helped Grime on its way in the mid-2010s too. In 2015 he performed at the BRIT awards and brought a huge amount of local London grime artists on stage with him really really allowed grime to reach a worldwide audience.
The 2010s saw more musicians like Tinie Tempah mix the genre with more generic pop, and also saw a brilliant rise in female grime MCs like Lady Leshurr.
Lady Leshurr is probably the most famous and successful female grime artist due to the popularity of her 'Queen's Speech' tracks, particularly 'Queen's Speech 4' (above) which is one of the most essential tracks in Grime history. Lady Leshurr has won several awards including a MOBO, a British Empire Medal for her services to music (and charity), and she also performed with worldwide famous rapper Nicki Minaj on her world tour.
You might also know her Queen's Speech 5 from Musically, TikTok's predecessor.
There is one man that cannot go ignored in the popularity of grime in recent years in particular, and that is Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, otherwise known as Stormzy.
Stormzy came on to the scene in 2014, and released multiple freestyles titled 'WickedSkengMan', the fourth of which was released in 2015 and featured the song 'Shut Up'. It charted in the top 20 but didn't become a significant success until later in the year when it reached the top 10. Although it didn't get to number one, you could not avoid this song in the UK at the time.
Off the back of this success, Stormzy released Gang Signs and Prayer in 2017 which received incredibly critical and commercial reception, landed Stormzy at number one in the UK albums charts, which made it the first grime album in history to do so. The album went platinum, gained Stormzy a best album BRIT award, and most importantly, gained him a spot as a Glastonbury headliner in 2019.
Grime has always been a very political genre, and Stormzy has embraced this and used his position to endorse left-wing politicians in the UK, famously calling out the Government for not doing anything about the Grenfell disaster in his BRIT Awards performance, and donates significant amounts to social justice causes regularly.
The future of grime
As fast as it came into the mainstream it seems that grime is fading out again. However, this time around it feels like it's run its course fairly and is naturally being replaced by other genres such as a drill. there's no doubt that even if 'grime' fades to the background, it'll be a genre that continues to influence artists going forward, and is likely to have an impact on rap and similar genres worldwide as others have seen the success of acts like Stormzy in recent years.
It's a big claim, but I would say that Grime as a genre as important to British music history as Britpop and rock and roll.