Are You Grimey Enough?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ll have heard Grime everywhere- from daytime radio to the BRIT Awards to the main stages of festivals this summer.
Although debatable for some genres, Grime is undeniably political. It emerged from a group young black working-class people who felt alienated and ignored. Picking up the mic gave them a form of expression and a voice.
As Grime’s popularity has soared, its fan base has widened. MCs sell out shows in both large and small venues up and down the country. Even your mum probably knows who Skepta is.
But can these new, white, middle-class fans ever really understand Grime?
I recently attended a panel discussion on the politics of Grime, held by the Leeds University Union as part of Black History Month. Leeds Education Officer Melz Owusu was joined by 1Xtra presenter/journalist Sian Anderson, local MC Dialect, Complex UK and academic Monique Charles, who has just finished her PHD on the politics of Grime.
The panel covered a huge range of topics from distinguishing Grime from Hip-Hop and the reasons for its mainstream success to the lack of female MCs and the impact of the closure of Fabric.
But the discussion kept returning to issues surrounding who can listen to grime, who can create it, and who can fully understand it. The panel defined Grime as “black working-class music,” but recognised the involvement of all people within the scene.
As a middle-class student, I’m hardly justified in saying who can and can’t listen to Grime. As the panel pointed out, grime isn’t big enough to pick and choose its listeners. Claiming you listened to Grime whilst you were in the womb doesn’t make you more of a fan than anyone else.
I have noticed a lack of understanding about the importance of Grime for working-class black communities, but that’s not to say you have to be integrated into this community to connect with its music.
I fell in love with Grime when I moved to rural Cambridgeshire, where I felt alone and misunderstood. As one of only a tiny handful of ethnic minorities in the area, my family experienced both outright and subtle racism and I had a lot of built up anger.
Grime became my escape and my therapy. I’d spend hours and hours trawling YouTube watching old grime clashes, learning lyrics and educating myself on every aspect of the grime scene. As I grew older I became fascinated by grime’s political impact and how it was a voice for people whom the government had tried to silence.
I’m not black or working-class and living in one of the safest parts of the country, I could hardly relate to the lyrics about growing up in the streets. These MCs were like me because they were angry, they felt ignored, they wanted change.
As Sian Anderson brilliantly put it, anyone who’s been through a certain struggle can relate to the content in grime. But it’s so important to understand that Grime has a political significance within the Black British community, not to mention how it’s been shaped by the particular struggles of growing up as a young black person in the city.
The more we talk about the politics of Grime, the more credibility and longevity it will have as a genre and a culture. Let’s encourage more discussions so that it will be widely known what Grime really means to those who created it.