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Grime is Alive and Well and Living in London

Spooky. Photo by Jun Yokoyama

Grime rose from the streets of London in the early 2000s, an inner city sound that took the bass-heavy futurism and syncopated rhythms of drum and bass and UK garage, and stripped it down to brutalist slabs of sound. It mirrored the brooding tower blocks the scene’s leading producers inhabited—often harsh, melancholic, and beautiful.

Unlike previous UK dance scenes, grime was defined as much by MCs as it was by producers. A host of characters became stars on the mic, with lyrics that pivoted between Jamaican patois, hip-hop bravado, overly-hyped aggression, and surreal comedy.

Grime spent a brief moment in the limelight: MCs Dizzee Rascal, Kano, and Wiley attracted mainstream interest, but the scene lost its momentum as file sharing became rampant, and independent record shops closed down. By 2010, grime artists couldn’t earn a living independently, so they signed major label deals that rarely worked out. Scene leader Dizzee Rascal started dropping dubious rap/disco hybrids, Ruff Sqwad’s Tinchy Stryder produced light EDM chaff, and Wiley’s crew Roll Deep churned out Ibiza-house-anthems-by-numbers. The sonic innovation that characterized the scene’s early days was blunted by major labels chasing short-term cash and shepherding grime stars down pop dead ends.

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