Weird Music #7: Blimey...It’s Grimey!
In the United States, listeners typically perceive a divide between electronic and hip-hop music scenes — an opposition of cultural values and aesthetic preferences. Several artists have attempted to cross this gap throughout the years, ranging from the fusion of Kanye West’s “Yeezus” to the second-rate patchwork that makes up every Lil Jon-EDM DJ collaboration ever. These attempts have the feeling of novelty, yet somehow always fail to initiate a tradition of collaboration between the scenes. But in the U.K., this divide does not exist. Grime, one of Britain’s most prominent native genres, creates a seamless unity of the two styles.
Grime was born in east London in the early 2000s, when young rappers started spitting over fast-paced electronic beats made on laptops in their bedrooms.
It’s easiest to understand Grime’s overall sound through a comparison to American hip-hop. Both are drum-centric, but while hip-hop is mainly confined to 4/4 time-signature territories, Grime is much more rhythmically open.
The rapping styles are also entirely different. Grime MCs are more aggressive than American rappers in lyrical content, speed, vocal tone and delivery style, making them more intimidating than Waka Flocka at his most rowdy. Hip-hop is music you can move to. Grime, on the other hand, is fight music — it is the soundtrack to a foot-chase through east London.
Hip-hop always has a strong sense of place, whether that place is the neighborhood street, the city or the club. The distorted bass and dark synths of Grime, however, sounds like nothing on earth, and makes the genre far more sonically unpredictable.
It’s difficult to place Grime anywhere in a linear chain of influences. Some characteristic Grime tracks, such as Wiley’s “Eskimo,” eskimo feature the Caribbean rhythms of Jamaican Dancehall, the syncopated unpredictability of U.K. Garage, and the destructive, distorted synths of the U.K.‘s Jungle and Drum & Bass. In other tracks, dark atmospherics and half-tempo stomps of early Dubstep make an appearance. Looking back, it’s hard to tell who influenced whom, but Grime has been unquestionably vital to the progression of U.K. bass music throughout the past decade.
For a fast primer on the genre, I recommend Grime progenitor Wiley’s album “Playtime is Over.” Then, once you have truly prepared yourself, definitely pick up Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury Prize-winning “Boy in Da Corner,” which steps outside the traditional format of Grime, but is fantastic nonetheless. If lightning-fast, hardly comprehensible raps aren’t your thing, Grime has a pretty lively instrumental tradition as well. Check out Logos, Terror Danjah and SX for good examples of the beats without the battle raps.
Grime offers a wide variety of content within the genre, making it a great source to dig through for music to set fire to your musical life.