Ever since I first heard Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner, I’ve wondered why grime as a genre hasn’t been able to gain real traction in the United States.
The hip-hop influence prevalent in Dizzee’s music made it accessible for those not familiar with grime, and I always imagined grime's uptempo production would be a welcome addition to the listening habits of the States’ growing EDM fan base.
I felt the same way about Skepta when he started garnering some attention on this side of the Atlantic, but the Tottenham emcee’s 2016 release Konnichiwa—while widely praised—barely cracked the U.S. Billboard 200 (it spent one week on the chart, when it peaked at No. 160) and had no charting singles.
Compare that to the album reaching No. 1 in the UK—placing him in competition with Beyoncé’s Lemonade—and it’s clear that the US has not yet caught onto the grime wave, despite what the critics and tastemakers may lead you to believe. Even with a very public endorsement from Drake and a BET Award for Best International Artist - UK, Skepta’s buzz stateside has yet to amount to anything beyond a coy curiosity.
With fellow grime emcee Stormzy’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer arriving on February 24, I have to wonder if he’ll be treated with a warmer reception than previous grime artists who attempted to break through to a U.S. market.
While Skepta is a grime veteran with multiple radio singles in the UK, Stormzy has had a much more meteoric rise and is still a favorite of many hoping to see a grime artist attain success in the states.
Having not yet released a studio album, Stormzy has sold 1 million singles worldwide, has over 110 million views on YouTube, has influential co-signs from the likes of Peter Rosenberg and Adele, and is currently scheduled to perform at least two major U.S. festivals this year—Coachella and Governors Ball.
If an established veteran like Skepta couldn’t fully break into the US market, my hopes for Stormzy are low despite his surging buzz. Blog features and excited influencers are one thing, but as we’ve already seen in Skepta’s case, these factors don’t necessarily translate into commercial impact.
For example, Wiley—the Godfather of Grime—just released his eleventh and rumored final studio album Godfather last month to critical acclaim, peaking at No. 9 on the UK Albums Chart (the highest-charting of his career). The album didn't even chart in the U.S.
I hope the best for Stormzy, I really do, but the unfortunate reality might be that America just isn’t ready to hop on the grime train yet.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram