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Grime is Blowing Up in England, But America Remains Indifferent

"The most urgent British music subculture since punk" has not yet found a home stateside.
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At this year’s South By Southwest, I interviewed Stööki Sound for the Hundreds. The British production duo — comprised of Jelacee and DJ Lukey — have tasked themselves with bridging the gap between U.S. trap and grime music.

The decision seemed like a worthwhile tactic they could use to break into the States: even with cosigns by Drake, Kanye, and A$AP Mob, grime remains a niche genre in America — but by combining trap and grime, Stööki is attempting to bring something new to something U.S. hip-hop knows well.

But the move could also be construed as continually softening grime music for American ears — and this is something they touched on themselves in the interview.

“Grime is becoming a lot more accessible with people like Stormzy and Skepta making more easily digestible grime music,” Jelacee mentions, pointing to Skepta’s song “Shutdown,” though noting that the song still has the same aggression grime is known for.

In the past, grime has frequently been called a subgenre of hip-hop, but that obviously isn’t the case. Just like how hip-hop is a lifestyle and culture, grime is also indicative of its own larger culture, which has deep roots in pirate radio stations like Rinse FM and Deja Vu, its own method of freestyling, and its resident seminal album, Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in The Corner. It’s a young genre with origins that only date back to the early 2000’s. There’s even a difference in the BPM (beats per minute) count between grime and hip-hop: while hip-hop stays between 85 to 95 BPM, grime hovers around 140.

Grime’s BPM, its telltale aggression, its agitated and almost hurried sound, might actually be the reason why most American rap aficionados still can’t get in tune with the British genre. It’s different than rap, and maybe that’s what they expect — rap. Grime has its fans in the U.S., but the genre is really making a splash across the pond, in England and the U.K.

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Today, i-D features director Hattie Collins and photographer Olivia Rose released the first-ever book on grime, called This Is Grime, a genre that i-D has called, “The most urgent British music subculture since punk.” That, I think, is a correct sentiment: grime has really been making strides in its birthplace. Last night, seemingly for the first time, BBC’s prime time news covered grime’s rise in popularity, as well as the second year of the grime awards show, the Rated Awards.

Grime music is widely appealing because of its homegrown nature. The genre eschews labels and anything corporate, instead opting for independence and endurance. And that’s an ethos that American hip-hop listeners — the ones who are looking out for grime — can get behind, especially as the culture here also begins to renounce labels and embrace independence (i.e. Lil Chano From 79th).

The hope remains that grime continues to find success abroad so that the rest of America will listen.

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By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Instagram

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