From the heyday of Channel U to Tinchy's Chuckle linkup, we look at British music's last great youthquake in 26 letters
A IS FOR ASBO
Or more specifically, the first ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) of its kind, that was ordered to DJ Slimzee back in 2005. Slimzee, who alongside Geeneus, helped set up the mighty Rinse FM, was charged under Blair’s new favourite mode of punishment when Ofcom disconnected a Rinse FM radio transmitter from the top of a tower block. He was banned from every roof across an entire borough which prohibited him ‘entering any roof of any building over four storeys without permission’ for five years. Cue outrage from the grime community, best seen in this post from 2008 entitled, ‘When does Slimzee’s ASBO run out?’
B IS FOR BBK
Boy Better Know, is probably the most popular grime crew today, which is home to brothers Skepta and JME, alongside Jammer, Frisco, Shorty, Maximum and the rest.* While the likes of Roll Deep, Ruff Sqwad, More Fire Crew, Newham Generals and N.A.S.T.Y Crew shouldn’t be discounted, BBK are my favourite crew ever because they consistently look like they’re having the best time of their fucking lives, are responsible for some of the biggest crossover hits including "Goin In" and "Too Many Man", won the Red Bull culture clash last year, and are pretty much the kings of the scene. *For more information, please see Shorty’s very detailed and informative opening verse on Too Many Man.
C IS FOR CHANNEL U
If you ever saw scores of school kids grouped together, Blackberries in the air, pushing each other for screen time, then you’ve probably seen a video on Channel U. Now known as Channel AKA, (with what some might argue, slighter slicker visuals), Channel U was the one-stop place to see Grime videos on TV when there was no way MTV would have playlisted a young tracksuit-wearing Tulisa in her N Dubz days (I Swear, anyone?). Channel U was the first time that I saw most MC’s faces after hearing them on Rinse, and picking out the fittest was just a whole new way to enjoy the music.
D IS FOR DUBPLATE DRAMA
The first lady of the grime scene, Shystie was the frenetic speed spitter in dubplate drama – Channel 4’s show that shed light on grime and pirate culture back in 2005 - 2009. Dubplate Drama showed the trials and tribulations of being an MC just trying to get a deal, and showcased some of the best talents in the scene including Dappy, Tim Westwood and Noel Clarke, and you could txt in to vote on how it ended.
E IS FOR ELIJAH AND SKILLIAM
The grime duo who met in uni and took over the Rinse FM airwaves are now the last word in grime Djing. While DJs like Logan Sama, Cameo, Target and Slimzee are heritage selectors, the duo are continually pushing the sounds forward and brought back Grime to the clubs. Setting up their prestigious label Butterz, they’ve gone on to champion talent from Swindle, Royal-T and most recently, female producer Flava D and have a quarterly residency at Fabric. Butterz is the label.
F IS FOR FORM 696
The infamous risk assessment form known as Form 696 has now become synonymous with the grime scene. The controversial form, which many saw as a slight on the scene – and racial discrimination - as a whole was used to shut down countless raves.
G IS FOR GIRLS
While BBK famously implored more females to populate the clubs in "Too Many Men", what I’m actually talking about are female MCs. Often controversially left out of grime’s history when it comes to accolades, the girls have contributed some of the best bars and beats of all time. From old-school greats like Shystie, to the new world order of Lioness, Roxxxan, A Dot and Flava D, the girls are the often unsung heroes that you need to get to know.
H IS FOR HYPERFRANK
Hyperfrank was one of the pioneering voices of the scene, through her website Hyperfrank – as the name suggests, a seriously frank look at MCs. (Think Popjustice for grime MCs, but with better insults). Her, alongside fellow blogger Joseph Patterson and Vices’ Prancehall and forum culture which included Iamshystie, Myspace, Grimedaily and Grimeforum were central to the scene, where people could chat, meet up IRL in the rave and of course, slew everyone with a wifi connection and a shitty screen name.
I IS FOR ICE RINK
One of the early Wiley riddims, "Ice-Rink" was the beginning of forming a sound that is now recognised the world over. "Ice-Rink" is a reminder that while Wiley has become the scene’s favourite eccentrics, his Eski-beats were the reason that he’s as heralded as he is now. Introducing himself and his crew Roll Deep, if Grime was a museum, "Ice-Rink" would take pride of place.
J IS FOR JAMMER
Aka the Grime Rasafari aka the Murkle Man aka the Big Man That’s Not 30, BBK member Jammer is as relevant to the scene as fruity loops (programme, not cereal) and pirate radio. Calling himself the ‘professional instigator’ of legendary clashing series Lord Of The Mics, Jammer has been responsible for orchestrating iconic clash moments in the scene, including Kano v Wiley back in 2004 and the painful but thrilling viewing of Kozzie destroying poor old Sox back in 2012.
K IS FOR KANO
Kano, along with being the unofficial grime heart-throb, bounded onto the airwaves with his anthem "Ps & Qs" back in 2004. The track was a massive underground hit, and is evidence of the sheer number of anthems in the scene. The now grime luminary was making a name for himself as part of N.A.S.T.Y crew, but "Ps &Qs" was his breakout moment, which has contemporary crowds experiencing the same thrilling nostalgia as Dizzee’s "I Luv U", and Wiley’s "Wot Do You Call It." Kano’s since gone on to enjoy an acting career on Top Boy, but for me, he’ll always be the boy that fiercely declared that ‘he had punch lines, kick lines, hit lines and deep rhymes’. And he was right.
L IS FOR LONDON
It wouldn’t be a grime list without a shout-out to the place which provided the life force of the scene. London has birthed pretty much all of the most notable talent and is constantly name-checked in tracks. From Frisco asking what endz you’re repping, to Kano’s ode to the capital, "London Town", London is mecca for grime-fans, and there’s even rumours of people doing grime pilgrimages to places like Limehouse Estate, Roman Road and Rinse FM. Not sure what they’re expecting to find there, but each to their own, eh?
M IS FOR MERCURY
As in, Mercury Music Prize. One of grime’s biggest moments took place back in 2003 when the then fresh-faced 19-year-old Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury for best album with Boy In Da Corner, beating the likes of Coldplay and Radiohead. That, for many, was the moment grime really arrived at the party, and 11 years later, it’s still skanking on the dancefloor.
N IS FOR NOVELTY
While for a select group of Daily Mail journalists grime was the buzzword for screwfacing black boys, violence and a new moral panic, in reality, the stars were busy making jokes and having the time of their lives. While column inches were filled writing about the ‘angry music’, stars like Skepta were employing the likes of Timmy Malett for the video of "Rolex Sweep", Nu brand Flexx were making a novelty conservative party anthem, and most recently, Tinchy has got the Chuckle Brothers on board to accompany a new track. Scary stuff.
O IS FOR OVERSEAS
While you might think grime is a London thing (untrue – the sound is thriving across the UK, thanks to the success of Brummy Preditah and C4) in fact, grime DJs get bookings across the globe. While the Japanese Grime Scene continues to thrill, bedroom producers like Pakin spitting bars in 140bpm in the furthest regions of the earth is testament to the sound’s impact.
P IS FOR PIRATE
As important as the MCs are the airwaves, and without pirate radio, grime wouldn’t exist in the form it does today. Such was the influence of Rinse FM that it was granted an FM licence in 2010. As Shystie famously recalls, fellow pirates Deja and Freek fm were some of the first platforms that many MC’s got their first break – spitting on the live phone-ins.
Q IS FOR QUOTABLES
Par! Seeeerious! Pow! Grime is responsible for some of the best quotables of all time, thanks to anthems providing colloquial additions. From BBK announcing that they were ‘Goin In’ in to people confessing their ‘BB Hype’ and more recently, Stromzy telling us about ‘Peng Tings On My Whatsapp’ grime has provided some of the best slang, even if it’s only lasted as long as the mixtape.
R IS FOR REWIND
What might be the most irritating things for grime rave amateurs is the most thrilling thing for grime veterans. The ‘rewind’ ‘wheel’ or ‘pull up’ depending on where you’re coming from, comes from dubplate and vinyl culture, and describes the process of quite literally, rewinding a track at the most exciting point in order to build suspense, and is met with joyous raptures from the crowd. Only the biggest and best tracks are worthy of a rewind, so if you hear the familiar screech of the vinyl, you know it’s about to go off.
S IS FOR SBTV
By now we all know the story of little Jamal Edwards, who was given a camera for Christmas, used it to film grime MC’s spitting bars, built up a much-desired music platform and now is valued at around five mill. While I remember the thrill of sitting round a laptop obsessively waiting for a new F64 (a segment in which MC’s would spit 64 bars non-stop) SBTV was actually a continuation of a thriving online video culture. Before SBTV and Charlie Sloth’s Fire In The Booth, Tim and Barry, and Risky Roads (who got his camera from his nan) were already documenting the best bars and pars in the scene.
T IS FOR TRIM
Trim is one my favourite MCs of all time, not only for his lyrical abilities but because he was instrumental in moving the sound along. Working with James Blake on the Harmonimix series on tracks like Confidence Boost, he grew his popularity with the dance/Pitchfork crowd and showed that grime could branch out into both the pop and cool-kid dance world.
U IS FOR UNITY
Seeing as the scene’s so small, it makes sense that collaborations would be a pretty frequent occurrence. And they are. While some are just of the ‘feat artist’ variety, the best ones group together the best talent to jump on one track, or to remake an existing one. My favourites are basically everyone on Fekky’s recent smash "Still Sittin Here", when 1xtra got a load of MC’s to recreate "Juicy", and "Pow" 2011.
V IS FOR VIBES
The reason that grime music is the best music is pretty simple – it’s the best music to be played out live. From the iconic grime nights at Dirty Canvas, to Wiley’s Eskimo Dances, to the old school Chockablock nights at the Egg, to the more recent Butterz nights at (the now defunct) Cable, grime has a long history of making people lose their shit in the rave. Live MCs, tracks being wheeled, crowds singing along to anthems – the frenetic energy in the club is integral to the scene. Some of these vibes were the reason that Lethal B’s "Pow" was banned form being played for a period – because organisers worried that the power of the track made people go in slightly too hard.
W IS FOR WILEY
The elusive godfather of the scene might be a fuckery to lock down (I’ve spent a notable chunk of my career waiting around to interview him) but Wiley is the eccentric lynchpin of UK Grime. From the opening bars of "Wot Do You Call It?" to his more iconic Eskibeats, Wiley can talk on Ustream, have a statue made of him, or release all his zip files in one go as a fuck you to his label. Whatever he does, we got love for him because his raves are the best (Eskimo Dance), his bars are the best (“budududadada” anyone?) and so are his tweets (“I'm not 40 u dusty tramp go tell ya mum i said your house smells of mash potato"). All hail the Godfather.
X IS FOR PULSE X
One of the greatest instrumentals of all time, thanks to the legendary Youngstar this track has been sampled, spat over, and played out at pretty much every grime since the beginning of time (well, 2002). This track is part of the fabric of the scene and once you hear it, you know the levels are about to get turned right up.
Y IS FOR YANNICK BOLASIE
Premiership footballer Yannick Bolasie recently showed just how widespread the influence of grime is. He clashed Bradley Wright (Ian Wright’s son) in a Lord Of The Mics battle earlier in the year after being long time fans of the scene. If you haven’t seen it you should, if not just to see some of the best football related slews I’ve ever heard.
Z IS FOR ZIP FILES
Wiley famously gave away all his zip files back in 2010 in a characteristically 'fuck you moment' of sticking it to his label. While getting 203 Wiley songs for free was exciting for fans, really the message he was sending was that grime came from DIY culture, and while the money and status of labels was great, he didn’t need them. While we’ve seen grime ‘go mainstream’ thanks to the pop successes (and flops) of Tinchy and Tinie, most of the scene has retained the essence of independent spirit. Crews like BBK make tracks and use it to support the scene (JME has never signed to a major for instance) and clashes and raves still go ahead like they always have. Wiley was making a statement back in 2010 that has stuck – Grime is here to stay, and it will always be on it’s own terms.