The Kids Of Grime
From Stormzy To Stooki sound and everything in between
“Everyone calls it hip hop, but we aren’t hip hop. Our records are always like “yeah that UK Hip Hop”, we are like grime music, its a completely different thing.”
-Jelacee, Stooki Sound
Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. has made it. Last year he charted on the UK billboard top 10, wen’t #1 with his album, gained universal recognition for his unique energy as well as his undeniable talent as an emcee. Oh, you probably don’t know Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. or who I’m talking about, for that matter, but he’s at the front of one of the largest musical movements out of the UK in years, apart of a scene that’s built off of it’s roots, it’s youth and it’s experiences. Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. is Stormzy and this revolution is televised, it’s called Grime.
To understand it properly you’d have to go back about 15 years. It’s the early two thousands and Garage is dominating the Rap scene in London. Out of the east end, a group of young kids started making waves on the pirate radio stations. There was early versions of Grime prior to it’s current personification, a reaction to it’s environment, an offshoot of Garage where traditionally the Garage and Jungle emcee’s played the part of a hype man. It wasn’t until the younger emcee’s began to step in front of the sound, out from behind the speakers, and slowly drift from the Garage scene.
Traditionally at around 140 BPM’s and choppy break beats, Grime was born and bred for a club experience. A raw, physical interaction. Grime emcees would draw from the traditional Jamaican soundsystem culture that was imported from the Caribbean as a large part of London’s population was made up of (and still is) Immigrants or first generation. The Grime style in itself was born out of frustration of the excess that dominated the Garage scene. Tracksuits, Soccer jerseys, trainers; all pieces of clothing that weren’t accepted in the contemporary scene of the early 2000’s. In the same way it makes you feel sonically, it is also able to personify physically. It represents the working class struggle; Manchester, East, North… It’s all London. This is real.
Artists like Dizee Rascal and Wiley were able to break through first and pave the way. Grime began to carve itself out with the success of Dizzee Rascals 2003 release of Boy In Da Corner, garnering universal acclaim as well as validation for the genre as it found a ton of success internationally. It should be noted that both Dizzee and Kano both had hits at 16 years old with “I Luv U” and “Boys Love Girls.” This wouldn’t be a singularity as Grime seems to be a young mans game, crews coming up together, their fearless styles outlined by the ingenious ignorance and beauty of youth.
The infancy stages of Grime that were pushed forward by artist like Lethal Bizzle, the aforementioned Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Kano, saw itself flame out a bit towards the latter half of the 2000’s. In 2008 Skepta would drop a series of freestyles; first the Tim WestwoodTV freestyle and then a follow-up in 2009 turning the local scene on its head and Skepta crowning himself the “King Of Grime.” This coming two years after, what is still considered, the gold standard for Grime clashes when Skepta and Devilman went at each other; trading shots on individual tracks and battles.
Skepta himself is his own moment. Since his freestyle days, he has become one of the leading faces in Grime that have crossed over into the pool of mainstream success. The 2016 release of Konnichiwa was met with massive critical and popular reception, charting as high as number 2 on the UK music charts. If you caught Drakes More Life you probably noticed that Skepta had arguably the best track on the record.
During Section Boyz UK tour they had already brought out Skepta as a special guest and a surprise for the London crowd. But they shocked the crowd, the grime scene, and the entire UK when they went one step forward and brought out Drake to perform his international hit “Jumpman” to bring the show to a close. The reaction from the crowd says it all about the huge popularity and influence of Drake as an artist, and the significance of him coming out as a guest at the end of a UK artist’s show is impossible to put into words for the Grime scene.
This is after Kanye had already brought out Skepta, Jammer, Novelist, Stormzy and a handful more, mobbing the stage in black hoodies, at the Brit Awards. The motley crew would rap with Yeezus on his then new single “All Day.” Ye’ did this to not only salute the overlooked genre but to continue solidifying the fact that it was real. Grime is not going anywhere.
“I think that is why people respect it, because it is kind of our thing. Watching people hate; (mimics a voice) “you copied this, and you copied that” but watching people hate is a good thing because then you know you are going in the right direction. That’s why I was like “okay this is real now”. It’s sick.”
Jelacee and DJ. Lukey make their way into the green room at Avalon in Hollywood. They just got done playing their set at Control La…. And killed. It’s hot as fuck in here and these dudes walk in like ice. A small entourage of management, friends, and randoms follow. It’s a bit frenetic at first but eventually slows down for a conversation about the state of music and Grime, of course. Jelacee is the emcee, outspoken, harnessing that charisma that can break an act if given the chance. He’s wearing a denim jacket with an embroidered Mickey Mouse on the back, round glasses; he’s cruising. Lukey is mellow, hiding most of his face under a Nike soccer cap, a soft spoken yet equally articulate as his partner; engaging in his own way. They each make up an act out of East London called Stooki Sound, an act that mashes up aspects of Trap while assimilating it into their own sound. Grime.
When did trap start blowing up in the UK?:
Jelacee: Trap didn’t blow up in the UK it still hasn’t, but its funny because people try to make trap in the UK, but it is not electronic trap, it’s like Rap Trap. They don’t call it trap, they call it ground, but its not really ground.
I’m Definitely confused? it seems like the whole scene is fairly layered. It felt like, from an outsiders perspective, that there was more pressure for UK artists to rap like an American until the early 2000’s?:
Lukey: Yeah, there has been different waves of homegrown talent. I think now it’s like UK artists are just doing their own thing and getting heard worldwide, as opposed to the UK before, looking at the US and saying they need to sound like and American rapper to be heard there.
Do you think the accessibility attributes to that?
Lukey: Now you can make a video, make a track, and people are getting their stuff out there. There is so much more access that people are learning they don’t need a label anymore to make music. A lot of artists are building their own infrastructures, their own families, and their own brands. That’s the reason why they have their own set up, or YouTube channels getting 2 millions views on it. Like look at what Stormzy has built, it’s crazy, that was unheard of in the UK, there were never numbers like that. It’s cool to see people to start to cling onto that.
How much does geography play a part in that?
Jelacee: In what way?
Where you’re from in London, like how each artist has their own infrastructure?”
Jelacee: Oh yeah. It’s quite inspiring to see people who have been doing it for so long now being recognized on a worldwide platform, rather than just homegrown. People are building themselves and watching it happen, and we have been watching these people for so long and it’s like “yeah man why can’t we do the same thing” so yeah, its a good time for music right now. You can do it with your own people.
-This new wave that you’re talking about, it makes it easier to get content out but on the flipped, there is more competition.
Jelacee: It is difficult, there is an element of luck for sure. It is such a hard thing because one thing might work for someone but not for another. We base it upon let’s go out to places and connect with these people because what works for one act doesn’t necessarily work for the next. It keeps you on your toes. Theres so many ways to run it, man.
You guys are from East London, geographically, is there “territory type” things in London, or is everyone there to help each other out?
Jelacee: The scene has amalgamated. Back in the day it was way different and separated, you had to rep your ends. There is beef and territory. It still happens today, but now there is a lot more people helping each other out because people are realizing there is strength in numbers. Like what Stormzy did was mad. He broke all these streaming numbers by just reaching out to all of us in London. It was crazy, every one in London was streaming his shit. That’s not supposed to happen like that, that’s breaking the system and that’s cool. The whole scene gets behind someone when they get big. It is cool knowing that people from the ends are making it out there, it keeps us going.
-The sound is so raw and so organic compared to what dominates hip-hop over here. For me, it was refreshing to here something like it. I think that resonates with people.
Jelacee: We will see where it goes hopefully it gets bigger and better and starts becoming a thing instead of just moments.
So many scenes have broken out of the UK, going all the way back to the Beatles, then the Manchester/Hacienda scene in the 80’s or even the Brit-pop explosion in the 90’s. Is this it? Is Grime what’s next? It sure feels like it.
Lukey: There has been a lot of Brit phases, but this is kind of the next big thing. Besides maybe Dubstep, that came out before, but this is bigger.
Jelacee: I don’t want to jinx it. This is like the first time that everyone is kind of watching the UK [regarding hip-hop], I’m seeing people pop up on all different types of albums. I seen Lil Yachty just got Steph London from the UK, Swizz Beats has Giggs on a track. All these men are working with these UK artists, and that just hasn’t happened. There has never been a huge explosion in Grime, but I just hope it is not a novelty thing, where it’s like; it is in right now and then it’s gone. I hope it is something that people genuinely respect. It is very real, and organic. Like when you look at people like the Beatles and stuff like that, it’s a completely different sound but it was very real and people always respond to real. When you watched it, you knew it was something. I think that is why people respect it, because it is kind of our thing. Watching people hate; (mimics a voice) “you copied this, and you copied that” but watching people hate is a good thing because then you know you are going in the right direction. That’s why I was like “okay this is real now”. It’s sick.
On December 12, 2015, Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr., Aka the child of grime, Aka Stormzy, stood in front of 18,000 people at the 02 arena in south-east London. You talk about moments, you try to carve an overall experience down in your head so it plays out like a scene out of a movie, but rarely does it ever look the same way to the next person. Stripped down to nothing but a microphone, his jumpsuit and the beat. He tore through “Shut Up” as heavy weight champion boxer, Anthony Joshua, made his way to the ring. Stormzy was on a different level that night, a level that transcends meaningless terms in order to label a genre. He doesn’t need a giant LED screen or stage effects, his stage is the streets and it’s visceral. A level above Grime, above Rap, above Hip-Hop. On a level of his own.