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The Rise of Grime Music: From Criminal to Cash Cow

by Jake Hanrahan
14 October 2011 35 Comments

Dizzee, Wiley and the rest of the characters on the emerging Grime scene were once see as a danger by the press, now they front advertising deals and top the charts. Here's how it happened...

How Dizzee went from criminal to celebrity...

In the beginning MCs clashed on rooftops at illegal pirate radio stations in East London. Lyrics about violence and sex clattered over dark edgy 140bpm bedroom beats that no-one really had a name for yet. Fast forward ten years, and what was grime, has suddenly become a huge mainstream success. Although now household names; artists such as Chipmunk, Skepta, Devlin and Dizzee Rascal, were once frowned upon by the mainstream. However, many MCs have turned into award winning “urban artists” as they spit socially acceptable lyrics over what some would call “watered down grime”.

So how did grime go from being criminalised to celebrated? The main cause is debateable, but no-one can deny that the first iconic break through began in 2001 with So Solid’s, “21 Seconds” reaching number one in the UK charts. Granted they were a garage act, long before the term “grime” was coined, but this set the wheels in motion for what would be a steam train of dubplates, white labels and altercations.

After a few hits So Solid seemed to slip into decline. Around the same time artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, DJ Target and Maxwell D combined their crew “The Hit Squad” with larger ensemble “Pay as U Go”, in a bid to strike it lucky in the mainstream. Pay as U Go seemed sure to blow with their top 40 hit “Champagne Dance”. Sadly though, they fell apart. With So Solid getting arrested for rolling about with guns in their car, raves becoming violent, and the Master of Ceremonies feeling less “wicked” by the day, the mainstream success of UK garage slowly died out.

From here on garage started to change as it was pushed back underground. The youth couldn’t relate to champagne dances, oversized watch faces and diamond rings. However, the earlier bubbly beats influenced a darker uprising in the UK “urban” scene. Grittier beats known as “sublow” became popular. The edgy rhythms and deep bass of sublow influenced grime and were arguably the early beginnings of dubstep. After a barrage of raves, sets and pirate radio clashes, a beat called Pulse X by Youngstar was released in 2002. Some say this to be the first ever grime beat. The description of the genre feeling “grimey” eventually spawned the term “grime” and from here on out the scene exploded.

It wasn’t the unemployment and poverty that made the youth angry – according to the press, it was grime. In reality, grime simply gave them a platform; it was the Fight Club for the London youth.

Grime first hit the mainstream for all the wrong reasons. National newspapers claimed that the violent lyrics were spawning a generation of thoughtless murderers and criminal culture. They weren’t all wrong. Many looked up to MCs like D Double E, Sharkey Major and All in One, who spoke about criminal acts. However it seemed the press wanted a scapegoat. It wasn’t the unemployment and poverty that made the youth angry – according to them, it was grime. In reality, grime simply gave them a platform; it was the Fight Club for the London youth.

Despite the negativity, record labels had pound signs in their eyes. In 2003 XL Recordings signed two of the leading MC’s at the time, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, formerly of Roll Deep. Months after winning the Mercury Prize for best newcomer Dizzee (or Dylan Mills to his mum) and Wiley flew out to Ayia Napa, where Dizzee Rascal was stabbed six times. This was supposedly due to an altercation surrounding So Solid Crew. Legend has it that Dizzee grabbed Lisa Mafia’s arse, aggravating Mega Man who in turn cut him to ribbons. No charges were brought on anyone, but Dizzee’s tune “Respect Me” on his second album “Showtime” pretty much confirms the incident. Despite the near death experience, the controversy seemed to help Dizzee’s debut album “Boy in Da Corner” sell surprisingly well, peaking at number 23 in the UK chart.

The following year Wiley released his debut album “Treddin’ on Thin Ice” which bombed like an angry dictator, leaving Wiley without a label and Dizzee rethinking his next move. Treddin’ on Thin Ice seemed to lack any commercial appeal, most likely the reason for its poor response.

In the 2005 – after winning the NME Award for Innovation – Dizzee Rascal released his second album “Showtime”. This album proved to be a mixture of soft sounding grime, diluted almost. Long time fans were disillusioned with the album, but Dizzee knew what he was doing. The toned down lyrics and more familiar beats was all part of the plan. Showtime peaked at number 8 and gained Dizzee a more respectable standing in the media, as he spoke about leaving his life as a criminal behind.

Whilst Dizzee Rascal honed his business skills, other artists that were spawned of grime slowly came out of the woodwork. In 2006 N-Dubz appeared on our screens. They released their first video on Channel U. Serious grime fans laughed them almost out of the scene, but now we laugh on the other sides of our faces, as N-Dubz were paving the way to stardom. Their grime-turned-pop like beats sat under catchy commercial hooks and simple lyrics. Over time, this seemed to strike a chord in teenagers all over the UK, N-Dubz’ debut album “Uncle B” peaked at number 11 in 2007. The album later went Platinum and N-Dubz hysteria ensued, annoyingly exposing us to more Dappy than anyone can handle. It’s almost as if by toning down the aggression in grime, adding in some less threatening beats and turning the artists into caricatures, made this new form of urban music socially acceptable. Effectively using grime as a spring board or a quotable to garner more fans of “street” music.

If anything grime pulled a great swindle, effectively selling a watered down version of its past life to the children of its middle class critics of yesteryear

Pushing forward to 2008 and Wiley is back in the game. This time though, he’d learnt his lesson. “Wearing My Rolex” was his first mainstream single for a while and it came with a house styled beat and party lyrics. Many diehard fans were disappointed, but the tune was catchy and sold well. This got him signed and it seemed Wiley had the perfect mix of mainstream and grime. However, Wiley’s Naomi Campbell-esque fits of sporadic anger blew up as a lack of creative control had him leave his label a year later, dumping hundreds of unheard tracks onto the internet for free.

In the present day grime is currently sitting pretty. Forgers of the scene are finally being commercially recognised. Skepta now has a tune with P Diddy, Devlin has an advertising deal with Adidas and Chipmunk’s new single features Chris Brown. Not to mention Tinie Tempah, going from grime scene small fry to international success. Even die-hard grime artists – still in the underground side of things – feel the mainstream look is a good thing. I spoke with long time established grime artist “Discarda” who recently got back from a UK tour with chart toppers Roll Deep, he said “They [Roll Deep] done some commercial tunes on stage and it blew the roof off”. It seems everyone is warming to the haze of commercial grime.

Much like a catwalk model, grime grew up fast, lost weight and got exploited. In some ways, by losing its integrity, it became a huge success. Thankfully the underground scene seems to be flourishing. So who’s to say that the road from criminal to celebrity was such a bad thing? If anything grime pulled a great swindle, effectively selling a watered down version of its past life to the children of its middle class critics of yesteryear, before cranking the quality control back up again. Overall, the grime scene is coming into its own as the social trend of music changes. What seemed underground a few years ago is starting to become the norm, and with this, real music will surely prosper.

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image descriptionCOMMENTS

BillyBatts 2:45 pm, 10-Mar-2011

All true, but that's the way with all underground music, right? Replace each mention of 'grime' with 'hip-hop' and this article would still make sense. Same with Dubstep.

Jake Hanrahan 2:50 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Yeah pretty much. Each genre has it's own story though of how this happened so I thought I'd tell grime's version. Hope you liked the article anyway. Cheers for commenting.

terry 3:01 pm, 10-Mar-2011

I cant believe there's no mention of more fire crew's "oi". I can remember when that came at a garage night and it blew me away

Gordon 3:07 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Nice article, totally agree with all points. Its nice to finally have someone who understands the Genre writing about it. KEEP IT UP

Geoff Capes 3:45 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Decent read. Looking forward to reading more from you in the future

falik lunj 4:58 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Tight, informative article. No Yellowman though? What's he up to?

BillyBatts 5:38 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Yeah, perhaps I should have started my comment with that. Good read! Cheers!

Jack 5:41 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Good article and a nice overview of the relative rise and fall of the grime scene. I think the idea of grime "collapsing under the weight of it's own menace (as a viable 'alternative' genre" is pretty valid. The numerous stabbings, shootings etc made sure that any artist with a real edge wasn't going to get anywhere without toning it down. Boy in da Corner remains a favourite of mine, as are the Guns n Roses series by Ruff Sqwad but grime as it stands these days isn't of much interest to me.

Jac Bond 11:09 pm, 10-Mar-2011

Really good article.Nice one.

Jake Hanrahan 12:26 am, 11-Mar-2011

Cheers everyone, pleasantly surprised at the response. Yeah I know terry there's so many iconic tunes I could've mentioned but I would've been going on forever that way lol.

Jaseface 3:01 pm, 11-Mar-2011

Good — but incorrect: sublow was a west London 'micro-scene' (if you wanna call it that). Dubstep was very much centred on Croydon and the Big Apple record store, which birthed Benga, Artwork, Hatcha, Horsepower et al, and could be heard (it still can) at FWD in east London. Both were going at the same time and never the twain did meet, so to speak. Just sayin'...

Russ 3:59 pm, 11-Mar-2011

nice article. no mention of Bizzle and POW! though...that tune was huge!

Jake Hanrahan 9:08 pm, 11-Mar-2011

Ah cheers Jase, I remember hearing sublowish beats from Black Op's, beats like John E Cash's - Hoods Up, they came from west did they?

Jaseface 12:18 pm, 12-Mar-2011

Sublow essentially WAS Jon E Cash/Black Ops. For about 18 months he was churning out white label after white label on an almost weekly basis — most of it ace, all of it very much in the 4/4 'Pulse X' vein. Shame you could NEVER hear it in clubs because it would've sounded heave as fuck on a decent system. Was writing about all of that stuff back then — might look into getting those articles online through these guys...

Funzo B 12:38 pm, 15-Mar-2011

I think you need to listen to more of Sharky majors old lyrics because at one point he was probably the most positive grime artists. Also - Grime was not just grimey beats- people used to spit on garage - its more just people spitting on instrumentals. people used to spit with melodies etc... I think a dirty goods freestyle will educate people more.

Funzo B 12:45 pm, 15-Mar-2011

Also, chipmunk and Tiny tempah are new school- they've just hopped on- how could you mention them in the same paragraph as roll deep - &skepta. Ndubs were never in the grime scene- You need to do your research man - and its a scene which takes a bit more than a couple of quickly written paragraphs to sum up.

Jake Hanrahan 1:03 pm, 15-Mar-2011

They haven't just hoped on, Tinie Tempah had mixtapes released in like 05, people laughed at him mostly but he was around believe me. And Chipmunk has been about longer than that, see Fuck Radio sets, they're new yeah, but only relatively. You can't educate me about grime believe me, I'm not some middle class pregrad student looking to be "down with the kids" I know what I'm talking about Funzo. NDubz weren't in grime but they tried to be a part of it and fed off of it to get known. They even had a tune with LMan and Big Narstie. Of course it takes more than a few paragraphs but if I was going to write a whole book on it, it'd take up a lot of time and wouldn't fit into an easily digestible 1000 word feature. It's not me who needs to do research my friend, it's you who's missing the point.

Ben James 3:34 pm, 15-Mar-2011

Ok article. I think you've missed out a fair bit though. Acts like Ruff Sqwad, Ghetto, Scorcher, Mercston. Ruff Sqwad spawned Tinchy Strider and have been tipped for success this year. I think skipping forward to 2008 misses out a lot. 2005-2007 was Grime's peak for me. DVD's were coming out weekly and new mixtapes were always anticipated. A decent article nonetheless.

Will Scarlet 4:04 pm, 15-Mar-2011

Surely the only musical genre still awaiting record company sanitisation is Baghdad Doom Metal. Give it a few months and it'll be everywhere...

jack 4:49 pm, 15-Mar-2011


Jake Hanrahan 10:46 pm, 15-Mar-2011

Yeah I see what you're saying Ben but the thing is this isn't a history of grime article, it's about how the main commercial players made it successful in the mainstream market. There's a lot of stuff I missed out because I didn't want to go on and on and on, and because I wanted to concentrate on the people who were in the mainstream at certain times. Tinchy and Ruff Sqwad were hardly headlining festivals at times of "Move 2 Dis" but you've got a point, I should've mentioned Tinch.

Stephen Hernandez 3:10 pm, 16-Mar-2011

great article mate. I was a grime head from day still got my lord of the mics, risky roadz and practice hours dvds! theres too many artist to name eg crazy t, nasty crew & essentials even. The godfather of grime for me has to be D DOUBLE E...... oohhhhhh ohhhhhh dirt ty ty! hope to read more from you on grime keep it up

Jake Hanrahan 3:11 am, 18-Mar-2011

Cheers, Stephen! D Double, the first MC to get multiple reloads by groaning lol, probably my favourite MC still.

Jake Hanrahan 5:16 pm, 6-Jun-2011

I also pitched this idea to RWD Mag a while ago and just got an email saying I won a watch from it. Basically someone cut the bottom of the pitch off and put it as the letter of the month in RWD in feb lol. Have a look

SaneBoat 9:01 pm, 11-Sep-2011

BillyBatts is chatting crap. Anyway, your wrong with Megaman stabbing Dizzee. It was a member of North Star. The worst thing is that you missed out a very important year, 2004. The Forward Riddim aka Pow! was the track that made success and reached the Top 20 in the UK Charts but also gained some bad press because Clubs wouldn't allow the track to be played. Just like tracks made by The Prodigy before that. That was an epic hear in the history of Grime. Dark Garage (some would call it Sublow) was evolving into Grime in around mid 2003. If you wasn't listening to Grime after 2004, people would give you funny looks. What about Kano making a success during the scene as well? London was Grime and Grime was London.

Jake Hanrahan 9:21 pm, 12-Sep-2011

Yeah good point SaneBoat, I could've written about a lot more than that too, it's just a matter of word count and that but I should really have mentioned Forward.

D Double D 5:05 pm, 12-Nov-2011

Great article, to say that chipmunk hopped on is crazy. I saw Wiley at a belgian gig in 2007 and he brought on this kid from Tottenham who actually held his own and delivered a much crisper performance than Wiley. Not sure about tinie though, he was releasing slushy R&B numbers in his early days! Fav MC has to be Sway as he's my local boy, but the scene wouldn't be where it is without Dizzee. One thing that bugs me is why they call it 'urban'?! I mean do people in the countryside not listen to hip hop etc....

Mr Grime 10:10 pm, 12-Nov-2011

D Double D you've got it wrong. Sway was NEVER a Grime Emcee but did feature on Grime tracks alot, I can't deny that. UK Hip Hop was slowly growing when Grime was at it's peak.

Jake Hanrahan 12:10 am, 13-Nov-2011

Yeah Tinie had one good mixtape before being the only grime artist to make a proper video for Flukes' "Wifey Riddim" which was a bit gay tbh. I know, urban is a horrible word for it, but you have to use it to get across what kind of envelope the genre fits into sometimes. That bar i"What d'you call it urban? Urban!?" in Wot U Call It always summed it up for me lol.

Jake Hanrahan 2:35 pm, 13-Nov-2011

Yeah true, I think that Terra Danja download track was the first time he got showcased in the grime scene, but almost everything after and before that was UK hip-hop

D Double D 12:29 am, 14-Nov-2011

Yeah I wasn't really trying to say he was a grime MC (yeah I know this is a grime article!) But his talents are worthy of a mention.

Lauren Richards 7:56 pm, 16-Dec-2012

I found the comments interesting, people will argue forever about who's contribution has been left out, but this article is a good starting point. I saw this recently and it seems the US has 'hopped on' to our grime scene...

Lauren Richards 7:57 pm, 16-Dec-2012

cas 8:00 pm, 6-Jul-2013

I feel this painted a very limited untrue birth of the sceance you missed out so many people who formed the scean this is a very weak report on the scean. This scean was brushed under the carpet it had a major effect on the uk as a whole grime was a name that the media put onit as this moved so quick around working class britain. johny cash, nasty crew, roll deep, slew dem, east contection, more fire crew POW how did you miss that. Kano, skepta, I could go on forever I will documentate this whole scean as if anyone read this in 20 years this would of just been a poor veiw of a major time in our uk History not to forget the fashion and that how mobile phone tecnology and the internet had a major effect on the scean and the youth of 2000-2010

Angerrz 8:36 pm, 11-Feb-2014

Jake please write about what you know in future, not a bunch of stuff you cobbled from online forums or from your nephew. No offence.

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