The new book by photographer Ellie Ramsden features the often underrepresented women creatives of the grime scene
Since the beginning of the genre back in the early 2000s, grime has carried the warranted reputation of being male-dominated and has always suffered from a lack of representation across the board. Over time this has changed for the better, with inclusivity generally becoming more prevalent. Even with these positive steps, it’s important to acknowledge that grime still isn’t where it should or needs to be, which is what makes projects like Too Many Man so important.
Shot and authored by south-east London-based photographer Ellie Ramsden, the book showcases some of the most powerful female voices in grime – ranging from DJs and MCs to producers and videographers – and borrows its name from the eponymous 2009 Skepta track, in which he repeats throughout: “We need some more girls in here!”
Unsurprisingly, Ramsden is a self-confessed grime obsessive and has been for some time. “There was something that just kept drawing me back [to grime] and then, before I knew it, I was obsessed with it all,” she tells Dazed. However, no matter how loyal or involved you are with a scene, the lack of representation will in most cases always lead to disillusionment and frustration.
“With my personal projects, I was very focused on equality in the music scene for a few years, although now I’ve branched out to a wider range of social documentary topics,” Ramsden tells Dazed. “I’m mainly looking at topics like community, land ownership and gender equality.” Her current projects This Land Is Our Land and Don’t Go Near the Water explore the UK housing crisis and the damage water companies are doing to our waterways, respectively, with the former showcasing the photographer's intimate portraiture style. Ramsden’s love for photography began when she was younger, looking for an outlet for artistic expression. “I got quite frustrated that I couldn’t draw or paint exactly what was in front of me […] when I picked up a camera, I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is what I've been trying to do’,” she recalls.
Ramsden’s photography style focuses heavily on capturing subjects within their natural surroundings, something that is especially prevalent in Too Many Man. Grime by its very nature is a genre deeply rooted in place as different crews and artists rep their areas and postcodes regularly within their freestyles, clashes and releases. “I would try and shoot them either where they grew up, or where they lived at that point,” the photographer explains. “I wanted to try and tell an honest narrative of grime, where these women were from, and have them represent their areas.”
Across its 144 pages, the book features not only MCs from the grime scene but also other creatives such as poets, journalists and videographers. Influential figures within the scene such as Lioness and Debris appear within Too Many Man as well as one of Ramsden’s favourite artists, Lady Sovereign. “I was so gassed to meet Lady Sovereign and I couldn’t believe it when it was actually happening. I was a bit obsessed with her and wanted to be her when I was a teenager,” says Ramsden. Other stories featured in the book include Shay D. “She decided to create a tour of all female MCs to come together and support each other because she felt like that support wasn’t there for women in the music industry at that time,” Ramsden explains. “She decided that she was going to be that change.”
Ramsden decided to self-publish Too Many Man, beginning with a Kickstarter campaign. With the very nature of personal projects, Ramsden was apprehensive as to how the success of the book would have fared. “I wasn’t putting the photos out there too much, so you don’t get that much feedback, you don’t know how the rest of the world is going to react,” the photographer explains. “But the reaction was really positive, like overwhelmingly positive.”
In recent years, grime has found itself floating between the underground and the mainstream, not only continuing to evolve but also reaching and inspiring new generations of listeners. The genre is arguably the most important British musical export of the past two decades, producing countless groundbreaking and influential artists, creatives and individual works so it’s hard to see it going anywhere. “We get to the point where everyone says grime is dead, and then it’s still very much alive and kicking,” Ramsden observes. And of course an important part of grime’s continuing evolution is inclusivity. “I am really optimistic about the representation of women in music and all aspects of life. I’m hoping that continues and I’m sure it will.”
Too Many Man is out now and available here.