Two decades ago, a rebellious new sound filled with angst and frustration was born on the streets of East London. Rooted in garage, jungle and American hip-hop, but with a British accent and attitude of its own, grime emerged from the bedrooms of young artists in Bow and Newham in the early 2000s. It rapidly grew in popularity, spreading organically through mixtapes, word-of-mouth and playtime on pirate radio stations.
Just as American hip-hop reflected the experience of life on the streets in America, grime would become the reflection of life on the streets of East London. Some of the earliest and best known names in the grime scene came from Bow, namely Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder. It would become more commonly referred to as grime after music journalists described the sub bass-heavy sound as ‘grimy’.
The trio, alongside artists like Kano from East Ham and Skepta, were largely responsible for bringing grime into the mainstream in the early 2000s. Dizzee Rascal’s album Boy in Da Corner won widespread acclaim and won the Mercury Prize in 2003. However, by the late 2000s, grime’s playtime had already started to decline as dubstep and electronic dance music grew in popularity. Grime artists began to adopt elements of more commercial pop and dance sounds to achieve success; the best example of this being Dizzee Rascal’s “Dance wiv Me” that went to number one in 2008.
It would not take long for grime to have a resurgence. Skepta’s fourth studio album Konnichiwa, released in April 2016, entered the UK music charts at number two and would win a Mercury Prize. A new wave of MCs such as AJ Tracey, Novelist and Dave, who grew up listening to the first generation of grime artists, would also start emerging. Stormzy’s debut studio album Gang Signs & Prayer, released in 2017, became the first grime album to go to number one in the album charts. Two years later, Stormzy would perform on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury wearing a stab vest designed by Banksy, becoming the first grime artist to headline the festival. He would go on to describe it as ‘the most iconic night’ of his life, and paid tribute to 65 artists who paved the way for him and the grime genre. It should come as no surprise that the first names on his list were the boys from Bow who started it all.
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