Grime will always have a special place in my affections. It’s Robin Hood music, the artform which, like its most celebrated MCs, wasn’t meant to succeed. Grime is the story of survival not only against the odds, but in contempt of them. I thought this as I looked at the cover of a Ruff Sqwad album, and saw a group of stern-faced black boys standing in the shadow of Canary Wharf – a world from which no money would trickle down to them, and which, through gentrification, might even one day force them out.
I love grime because of its defiance. I love JME’s work because, in my favourite track of his, he is full of righteous anger. And that’s what grime will always be to me, at some level: the perfect distillation of the fury of the socially disrespected, the disadvantaged. Basslines that feel like winter midnights, mournful strings, and MCs who, to paraphrase Ghostface Killah, want success so badly they might cry.
Some people are afraid of fury, but, if correctly focused, it can be a marvellous thing. James Baldwin is the writer I probably revere the most, and he often seemed to write in a state of rage. The reason I love the Wu-Tang Clan so much is because, like the grime artists of today, they grew up in neighbourhoods that were maligned even by the standards of the inner-city, and from that adversity crafted some of the greatest poetry the world has ever heard.
And the best part of any grime tune? Everyone will have their own, but for me it is the moment that an MC arrives on a beat. As I tweeted recently, you can tell how great an MC is by the way they enter a track – it’s like watching an elite footballer take a first touch, like seeing Andres Iniesta bring down a high ball. The best recent example I have heard of this is Novelist’s “Showering” on Rinse FM. I had been told by a friend that he was the one to watch, and so I visited his Soundcloud page: and, within a few seconds, I just knew. His flow exploded onto the track with precisely the same rhythm as the shuddering bassline, and, for me at least, his stardom was assured.
So I love grime. I see it as alchemy: a way of taking all of that disrespect you get as a young person, mostly black, always working-class, and turning it to art. And when I see artists such as Novelist emerge, to claim bigger and bigger stages, I have say that – at the risk of sounding patronising – I am proud of them.