It is the beginning of the 21st century in the streets of East London (where grime originally emerged, in Bow) and the whole of England sees garage music starting to weaken and lose lymph. Instead, from every end there is a new beginning and from then came to life something that was more than just a musical current, it was a cultural revolution that would take course of the entire century: the birth of grime.
Grime as a genre was born from a number of different sounds. You can trace parts of drum and base, garage, hip hop and dance hall as early influences. The hyper take on the 140 BPM zone, packed with half-time beats at one moment into string driven 4×4 kicks the next. Grime is also one of the genres that, while the producers are definitely important, features the MCs as the biggest stars.
Grime remains an underground phenomenon, even if acts like Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Wiley and Skepta have received mainstream love. This year however, Austin Daboh, Spotify’s senior editor announced that grime would now be recognized as a music genre in its own right.
The lyrical content in Grime has always been about protesting against the “system”, but its politics haven’t only been those concerning the ballot box; they are politics of the community – a community that party politics rarely engages with any depth greater than lip service. Grime stalwarts including Durrty Goodz, Bashy, Neckle Camps and Ghetts have long paid homage to figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela in their body of work. And while their music often plays with violent imagery, plenty grime MCs have, at some point, appealed to fans to reject conflict and instead work positively for their communities. Perhaps the most notable example of this was Bashy’s 2007 single for Black History Month, Black Boys, a self-empowerment project of epic proportions, which displayed the scene’s ability to transcend the me-first world of MCs and behave as a cohesive musical community. Bashy recorded six different versions of the song, featuring more than 20 MCs. “Look, no we ain’t hooligans, just young talented Nubians,” he rapped on the original, bigging up Apprentice winner Tim Campbell and barrister and TV personality Shaun Wallace as role models alongside the likes of Wiley, Kano and Dizzee Rascal.
Grime as a style tribe can be understood as a rejection of garage’s well-documented excess. Garage’s substances of choice were cocaine and champagne, its threads equally as opulent. Garage was a culture of blowing all the money you made in one night, and your clothes had to look the part. Many UK garage clubs in the late 90’s banned trainers, tracksuits and baseball caps, and these became the chief pieces of the Grime style tribe. This style tribe was born out of frustration with ritzy elitism of garage. Early Grime MCs and producers left garage, they felt garage didn’t represent or speak to them.
The Grime style tribe was completely about force. Versace out, Nike in and silk shirts out, tracksuits in. This is well documented on Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy in the Corner’ album cover and Grace Ladoja’s ‘Air Max-The Uniform’ short film.
Air Max 97 is the go to kick for a “tracksuit mafia” look, with this came the collaboration between Skepta and Nike paying homage to the revolution of the Air Max 97. The hybrid of London and Marrakesh provided the inspiration for this collaboration. The upper of the Air Max 97 SK has iridescent polyurethane-coated copper/rose gold leather paired with black sandwich mesh and an HF weld of the swoosh logo (instead of an embroidered swoosh). It draws inspiration from the vibrant Moroccan city and the colours of the 1999 Air Tuned Max, including the yellow air unit.
The Grime style tribe is a very easily adoptable trend with designers like Nasir Mazhar taking inspirations from it in his S/S 2013 collection, where he brought in grime artists for a performance in the showcase. In 2015, the designer recruited Skepta as one the muses for the A/W 2015 collection. The track-suit mafia trend would be argued to be a trickle up theory example which suggests that the style was adopted from ‘the streets’ going up to designers and brands, be it taking inspiration from the style tribe and incorporating it in their collections or collaborations between brands and prominent grime artists.
With the trend’s easily adoptable style because of its cozy girl/boy aesthetic, comfort, and functionality we have seen it emerge in the South African street-wear culture with street-wear designers tapping into it and giving it a local look and feel. But we saw the initial emergence of the trend in the early/mid 2000’s on taxi drivers and the coloured youth community as ‘sportswear’, with “secret Nike” track pants (features a hidden Nike logo in a zip vent at the bottom of the pants, which creates a bell bottom pant silhouette when you unzip it revealing the “secret” Nike logo), track jackets, trainers and Nike dri-fit caps. Arguably taxi drivers inherited the style tribe for its functionalities and to maintain ubu’gcokama (being stylish).
The Grime style tribe is a globally appealing trend and it will live forever within the street-wear culture, adjusting to and representing more decades to come. Grime, serving as a genre and style tribe has a strong cultural stance. Powers to Grime as the genre that reflects the politics of its environment and age.