Grime Music: Background information when reading African Europeans

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African Europeans

An Untold History

by Olivette Otele

African Europeans by Olivette Otele X
African Europeans by Olivette Otele
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  • First Published:
    May 2021, 304 pages

    Aug 29, 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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Grime Music

This article relates to African Europeans

Print Review

Graphic featuring the word grime repeated in different colorsAs Olivette Otele references in her book African Europeans: An Untold History, many Black British artists find music to be an effective and far-reaching medium in which to address and explore their heritage and life experiences as people of color. Grime music has become one of the hottest and most vibrant genres to emerge in the UK in the last two decades. Born in the early 2000s, grime takes its inspiration from a wide range of music genres, such as hip hop, electronic, dancehall and garage.

Grime's most noticeable features include its distinct machine-gun-like rapping over a rapid breakbeat of around 130 beats per minute with an element of electronic sounds mixed in. UK artist Wiley, aka Eskiboy, is recognized as one of the major pioneers of the genre, and when it first emerged it was referred to as "Eskibeat" in honor of Wiley's unique style. Other pioneering artists in the genre include Skepta, JME and Dizzee Rascal. While rooted in East London, grime has spread its branches throughout the UK, and artists across the country bring their own unique regional flavor to their music. Current favorites on the grime scene are artists such as Stormzy, Dave, Bugzy Malone, Aitch and Lady Leshurr. It is a mostly male-dominated music scene at the current time, but superstars like Lady Leshurr promise an opening for women who have the courage to work in an industry that too often sexualizes female artists. Stormzy uses his platform to highlight racial inequality and pledged a £10 million (about US$14 million) donation to racial justice and Black empowerment organizations in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd in the US. Discussing the donation, Stormzy told the press, "The uncomfortable truth that our country continuously fails to recognise and admit, is that black people in the UK have been at a constant disadvantage in every aspect of life - simply due to the colour of our skin."

Much like rap music in the U.S., grime is controversial. Song lyrics often describe the experiences of young Black Britons living in deprived areas of their cities, finding the means to survive. The very name signals its raw, dirty and gritty aspects. With the alarming increase in knife crime in the UK in recent years, some grime artists have been banned from performing in Britain. Indeed, going back to the early to mid-2000s, government authorities have called grime rap lyrics "appalling" and claimed many grime musicians glamorized killing. It is the most recent incarnation of grime music that calls itself "UK drill" that seems to be the most troubling. As the New Yorker reported in 2018:

"Where grime is verbose and cathartic, U.K. drill traffics in a cool heartlessness, a sense of menace that wafts and oozes. Authorities have been troubled by drill's singular lyrical fixation on slashings and stabbings, and by episodes in which gang attacks were prompted, if not prophesied, by songs. U.K. drill is unusually grim, suffused with a nihilism that expects little of tomorrow."

But artists counter that their lyrics capture what daily life is like on the streets. In many ways, grime music is an empowering political outlet in a place where Black voices feel marginalized and ignored. "Grime is more than just a genre of music: it's a form of political and social rebellion," wrote Morgan McMillan in The Edge magazine in 2020. Indeed, many Black British grime artists view their art as a means to bring racism and discrimination in the UK to the forefront of social consciousness.

To get a sense of the grime sound, check out the video below featuring Wiley's 2007 song "Eskiboy."

Grime music graphic, courtesy of Hip Hop Database

Filed under Music and the Arts

Article by Peggy Kurkowski

This article relates to African Europeans. It first ran in the July 14, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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