grime's greats discuss the past, present and future of the scene
To celebrate i-D and Channel 4’s Street, Sound and Style series, we gathered some of the Grime scene’s greatest to see where the scene is at right here, right now.
We sat down with originators Jammer, Ghetts, Footsie and D Double, talked to the man credited with reigniting the scene in 2014, German Whip creator Meridian Dan, as well as Dagenham's Devlin, newcomers Section Boyz, Nottingham's Izzie Gibbs, Manchester's Blizzard, Hackney's Jammz and Essex MC Potter Payer and got the down low on the scene's defining moments, best tracks and future greats…
British MC's of all genres are enjoying a lot of attention right now. Why do you think that is?
Tank [Heavytrackerz]: I think it's cos of the break. Grime wasn't the in thing and it needed a break, so Hip Hop took over for a bit. The resurgence, I think, is due to new talent and new blood. It's fresh. You've got Novelist, Stormzy, you've got new producers like us and Z-Dot.
Ghetts: Some of the young boys started doing Grime again and breathed life into it again for the generation that could connect more with them than they could maybe with us. A lot of young boys weren't doing Grime for a while, there was no one doing it, but now we've got a few ones coming through that are sick.
D Double E: I also feel like there's less pressure to go and do a House tune today and get radio play. You can actually be yourself. You still gotta do a good song mind you, you can't just go over blind. Before, you had to tick the other boxes to get that radio play. I think that's sort of moved out of the way, and radio is being forced to play what's cool. That means that I can make a song today about my life, I can be clever about it and there's an opportunity for it. Before, there was no opportunity for those songs although they've existed in Grime forever, but now they're being allowed to come through.
Blizzard: I think we're at a point where the music scene isn't London-centric anymore. Manchester has started to smash it, Birmingham, Nottingham's coming through. The fact is now you don't need to be from a certain part of town to get your music heard. When I was 11 and 12 years old, sending my music to radio stations in London I was getting parred because people were interested in the Roll Deep's and Boy Better Know's. Which is understandable. But now we've got things like Target's Noticeboard and Fire In The Booth and we're at that point where there's no geographic stereotyping or stigma attached. That's why people like Bugzy Malone are smashing it at the moment.
Izzie Gibbs: I think it's a fashion thing. It goes out and comes back round. One day black trainers are cool and the next day they're not. But people will keep wearing black trainers. A lot of MCs carried on doing Grime and now it's benefitting them.
Jammz: I think for once in quite a long time British people are looking to Britain and not to the US for inspiration and culture. I think for a long time, a lot of MCs were getting label deals, and having to do what labels were telling them as opposed to making the music they make; for radio, tunes that people want to hear.
Jammer: Grime was dying because a lot of people that come from it just wanted to get rich and wanted to get money and forgot about the whole reason about why they were spitting in the first place and what the essence was. Then labels got involved and people got a little bit excited - it's a normal thing to happen. Things that you would never think are possible begin to happen. People are telling you 'Maybe you should wear that tracksuit and put that chain on,, you should stand with those guys, they look a bit different'. And then you start to lose the essence of what people really loved you for. And that's ok, people just weren't educated enough. And I'm not angry at anyone, it's just that a lot of artists were uneducated about standing their ground and having integrity - as Jamie would say. Integrity is so invaluable and so important to the scene. Not just to the individual, but to the whole scene and what it stands for. And we're lucky to come out the other side, with people respecting London and what it is. So I feel like yeah, we've come full circle, but now we have the knowledge to educate.
What do you think the scene needs to do to continue to go from strength to strength?
Section Boys: Not hate on each other and work together more.
Ghetts: You know, we lack self-belief. Without self-belief, a lot of corporate people got involved. A lot of us disconnected from the roots. I think everyone is doing the right thing, every piece of music I have heard lately just sounds like - whether I like it or not - that's them, that's who that is. I think if we continue like that then it's going to be great for years.
D Double E: We just have to keep on doing what we're doing now.
Blizzard: Concept albums need to come into Grime more often. When I was 13 or 14 years-old, I was listening to Original Pirate Material and Boy In Da Corner. They had an ulterior motive. I think Grime needs to be more pragmatic, it needs more subtext, more inner meaning for people to clock on to because it's easy for a Grime MC to fall into the trap of talking about how much money he has, how many drugs he sells, how many cars he has. Music needs to be more dense that that.
Meridian Dan: American production is still so many more levels ahead than we are. It's because our scene is not supported from all angles. The press always wanna put a lid on it - bar i-D! - and I just feel it's got that stigma attached to it. And with that happening, people can't make money. The talented producers are going elsewhere with their talent, they're not producing the music because they're making House, they're making Dance, they're making R&B records.
Footsie: Songs. Cause I think to date there's been no actual big songs in the scene, ever. There's been the ones and twos, but I think now it's been accepted, kids are making music with a more open mind.
When you think back to 2003 and 2004, what were your memories of Grime back then?
Ghetts: Good memories. Just being naive, making music from a naive point of view is an amazing thing. Because you don't have the stress of thinking, 'How long is that tune, is radio going to play it'. I remember in 2000 & Life, there were like four verses. Whether that is wrong or right, I don't know but that's how I felt at the time. And it felt right, because of my naivety. If I think of those years, I think of adidas tracksuits, then the trainers with your name on, and a cartoon character. And then obviously pirate radio, just being in that environment, the level of competition was so high. Everyone says they are the best now, inside their room, in their studio, yeah that's great. But when you are in a room with 15 people, it's going to be obvious who is what they say they are. Reloads are a big part of the culture. I remember getting my first reload, and feeling like 'Rahhh I'm super human'.
Jammer: Well I started out in East London playing music from a very young age. I was playing music from seven years-old. But I didn't take it seriously until I met a few people, like D Double. And then at the age of about 16 we started playing records together, it wasn't really tunes yet. But everybody knew each other and used to play Jungle and things like that. And then Double was like, 'Do you wanna go on radio'. So we used to go radio and then I got a job at Essential Direct and started getting some studio equipment and building a studio. We started the 187 Crew - me, Ebony J, D Double D and Hyper. We were on Flava or Mission or one of those weird stations, doing our thing. And then Double was like, 'There's this guy named Marcus Nasty, and everyone's into this crew and we should join'. And I was like 'I don't wanna join, I've got all my own dubs, let's just do our own thing'. And then Marcus Nasty came up to the radio and I thought he was gonna steal my records (laughs). But he was pretty cool, and then he left and didn't take my records and I was pretty happy. D Double really wanted us to join Nasty, but I wanted to do my own thing, so I started making beats in my basement. This went on for about two or three months. Then Double came to me and was like, 'This crew thing's going really well, we're on the radio, it's popping off. We need a producer, we need you'. I kinda gave in to what he was saying. That was it; from that day we never parted. N.A.S.T.Y Crew: Sharky Major, Stormin, Double… they were just at my house, in the basement, every day, building, building, building until we came out with Birds in the Sky, Destruction VIP, Army - all of my early instrumentals where you'd just hear everyone spitting on. I became, I suppose you could say, number one producer on the street, debatably, with Wiley. It was me and Wiley really, it was Roll Deep, it was N.A.S.T.Y Crew. I was the producer for them, and he was the producer for Roll Deep. We just took over the scene.
What's your favourite UK tune of all time ever?
Blizzard: Trappin Ain't Dead by Section Boyz.
Footsie: Pass the Dutchie, Musical Youth.
Rass (Trackmasterz): Kano's Brown Eyes.
Meridian Dan: The Streets Blinded by the Lights.
Jammz: Kano Boys Love Girls.
Izzy Gibbs: At the moment, Bonkaz We Run The Block. It's the creativity behind the song; it's so clever. It's pushing forward, and not blocking creativity. What I get from it isn't beating up a police officer; he's saying don't let the structure limit your creativity. It's an art.
Who's your favourite MC?
D Double: I would have to say Footsie. It's the catalogue. When you know a man's catalogue like that, you've got to be a fan. I don't know no one like I know Footsie. Footsie's the deepest.
Ghetts: Shit. I've got three. Kano's one. Dirty Doogz - Doogz not Goodz and Wiley - not Wiley Wiley, Wiley in war. It's two different things.
Potter Payper: Old school Dizzee. Back in the days 2002 Dizzee.
Jammer: D Double E. He's unique, he doesn't follow anybody's style. He's always does his own thing, even when everyone used to he was shit and didn't understand him and couldn't understand what he was saying. He just carried on doing what he was doing. And through the whole cycle when everybody went commercial, he just stuck to his game, his trueness, his self. You can't beat being yourself, and he just stuck to that. And he came out the other side being the most respected but he didn't do anything to tarnish his art. And now people appreciate it for what it is.
Rass (Trackmasterz): Skepta.
Tank (Trackmasterz): Right now, Bugzy Malone.
Devlin: That Stormzy geezer. He reminds me of old Grime.
Blizzard: Bugsy, currently. Not just because he's a Manc, I just love his content. He's got an amazing work ethic.
Meridian Dan: Pres T is sick; he's like everybody's favourite MC. I like everyone who's close to me, like everyone who came to Meridian. Meridian, I don't know how we did it. For that estate, for that like crew of people to all have gone on and… everyone can stand alone, it's crazy. JME, Skepta, Big H, Bossman, Pres T, myself - it's just crazy. Must be something in the water.
Izzie Gibbs: Dot Rotten, Wiley, Skepta, Big Narstie, Stormzy. I listen to Ice Kid a lot - I like the pain. He says things that people might find hard to take in, but I can relate to him a lot. The way he puts his message across is phenomenal. A lot of MC's lack that pain; they force it. With him it's all natural. I respect that.
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Tim and Barry