What real roadmen think of your new grime obsession
They’re all gassed about it
In the early 2000s, in council houses in the shadow of Canary Wharf, a new sound emerged. Punchy, aggressive, fuck the feds music for kids angry their version of living in East London was being ignored. Grime was the new sound of Bethnal Green and Bow.
Wiley, Dizzee, Lethal Bizzle and countless other grime pioneers from E3 dropped banger after banger, launching their careers into the charts, skimming the surface of mainstream pop. Stations like Rinse FM, Déjà Vu FM, and Freeze 92.7 championed this growth, broadcasting it across London.
Mercury prizes and sell-out events followed and soon tinny walkman speakers at bus stops all over London were blasting these angry, but intensely catchy tracks.
By the mid 2000s, grime artists were making money from pop songs. Tracks like Dance wiv me and Heatwave were attempts by the founders of grime to make money in a mainstream world.
Fast-forward to December 2015. The year of grime. Grime artists no longer have to make pop songs to make a living. They’re making grime music, and the masses are lapping it up.
In the last 12 months, Drake has collaborated with Skepta, Kanye performed alongside BBK and the UK’s best known grime MCs sold out a prom at the Royal Albert Hall, a far cry from the chicken shops and barbers of South London.
Up and down the country, in bang average regional clubs and suburban estates, a new, previously oblivious group is getting into the roadman sound. Middle class, incredibly white, university bound teenagers are getting into grime and becoming its biggest champions. The phenomenon of the “Ralph Lauren Roadman” is alive and only getting bigger.
Just as true beliebers are suddenly finding themselves in the eye of a storm of mainstream attention, the most vocal grime fans are no longer from ends like Norwood, Thornton Heath and Gipsy Hill, they don’t know what a Junior spesh is.
They got into grime in the last six months, live in Surrey and paid 50 quid for a tracksuit because they saw it in the “Shut up” video. They’re the ones splashing the cash for Skepta gigs and are helping to push Stormzy higher and higher up the charts.
But what about the original, hardcore grime fans? Those who are still in the hoods which guys like P Money and Krept and Konan worked so hard to get out of? We headed down to South London to find out what those left behind by the commercialisation of grime have to say about it.
Thornton Heath train station is an island of Edwardian architecture in a sea of beige, 60s buildings. As you walk out, the feeling it’s an area which has been through tough times is unavoidable. Between the budget phone card shops, rundown Tesco metros and shabby corner shops it seems, on the surface anyway, a dreary urban purgatory where nothing much happens and no-one really goes anywhere.
It’s not though, two of the biggest acts in urban music today, Stormzy and Krept and Konan are locals. They grew up in the area, went to the local school and still eat at Jamrock, a Caribbean restaurant just off the high street.
AJ, Carlos and Chris, all in their early twenties, grew up with Krept & Konan and Stormzy and have nothing but nice words to say about the current state of UK grime.
“Right now is the time for grime, it’s so safe to see big American names looking to the UK for inspiration.
“The world has been crying out for a ‘UK sound’ for so long, and grime is giving it to them, no wonder guys like Wiz, Kanye and Drake are fans.”
As avid grime listeners, the fact they are incredibly positive about the influx of new fans is telling.
“It’s not selling out, it’s making the most of the opportunity they’ve been given. They’re not changing the sound of their music, they’re making girl songs for girls, but rave songs for ravers, they’re just opening up the scene.
“Teens are where you make a living, it would be stupid to ignore them.”
And they’re not the only ones who think the Ralph Lauren Roadman is a good thing for grime. Ben, the manager of specialist grime record shop DNR Vinyl has been picking up on it for a while.
“Grime has been pushed to the forefront again in the last six months, for boys like Skepta, the work never really dried up, but it’s all been pushed into the spotlight in a crazy way.
“You see a lot of younger kids buying grime again, it’s gone full circle and is now seen as trendy again. It always happens with music with a niche following.
“It never went away for the people who really know about it, but the kids are back in it, which can only be a good thing for the people involved since day dot.
“When grime was around for the first time, just like garage, the internet wasn’t a thing. You can now open up YouTube, you don’t have to go to a record shop to hear grime.”
“Stormzy now gets millions of hits on his stuff, I mean 14,000,000 views on a freestyle in a park is just mental.”
He also agreed with the idea the popularity of grime shouldn’t be viewed as selling out.
Ben explained: “If you’re never going to change your sound, you won’t make a living and you’ll be tarred with the brush of not moving, not adapting.
“You’ve got to make money at the end of the day.
“But even with the success, they’re not dicks about it, you can only get so far on the ego and the attitude.
“Stormzy’s a proper humble, genuinely nice guy. He filmed a video in this shop and he was nothing but pleasant.”
It’s not just been a positive development for the fans and those who sell grime, those who are performing alongside the big names of today are also benefiting from the hype.
P Money is a 26-year-old grime MC from Lewisham, and everything he tells me reinforces what’s already been said. There’s no bitterness, no air of superiority over the middle class grime fans who have made the genre their own.
“What’s happening at the moment is beneficial to absolutely everyone.
“The UK is having a moment on the global music stage and it’s amazing. We’ve been helped by people like Drake’s crazy reach and finding our music is well received all over the world.
“I’ve played gigs in Japan where people who would never wear snapbacks and hoodies are all decked out and it’s crazy how much it’s spread. The rise of middle class fans to me, is a huge compliment.
“There’s no problem with new groups getting into the music we love. They’re the ones spreading it on social media, buying the songs and it’s all because of the internet.
“These days 1,000,000 views isn’t even anything special. Back when I was younger, no-one took being an MC seriously, no-one treated it like a real job.
“Now they look at my car and see how real it is. I was pulled over by the police a few days ago, and even they knew what a grime MC was. We now have a crazy position of power over kids from the communities we come from.
“People like me have as much influence over people from our neighbourhoods as their parents.
“At the end of the day, what we do is inspirational, it’s about making kids realise there can be more than a 9-5. And when people go on about selling out, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
“The hugely successful commercialisation of grime doesn’t make it pop. It’s not cheesy, it’s real and the sound will never change.”