Kano: Wiley, it’s mad. He is clearly a visionary. For me, in terms of my career and loads of other people that I’ve seen, he likes to help others, he likes to see people in a position that he believes that they could be in. He likes to encourage people, to see them fly. He’s always been around. Since my early days, he’s been there to encourage me and help me and direct me. Something he doesn’t do for himself! He’s a mad character, but he’s got some genius about him.
JME: Wiley, he loved music. He loves music still, so much that he always wanted to be the best, 100%, so to do that he always positioned himself with the best, in his position. Any artist he thinks is good, he’s bringing them through with him on his journey, whether it’s Dizzee Rascal, whether it’s Trim, whether it’s Scratchy, Manga from West London, me and Skepta from North London. If he thought they were talented, he brought them with him.
Wiley: In the world of man running out and spraying bars, no one aint’ chatting to us. They’re not. Americans are not. They’re rapping. They’re chatting to us if they’re in the booth, in their car. They’re not chatting to us on a stage, running out, only ragga man are. And that’s where we got in from in the first place.
(Above quotes from the books This is Grime by Hattie Collins and Olivia Rose and Eskiboy by Wiley)
If we take the birth year of grime to be 2002, with the release of Pulse X (and pirate radio sets from Wiley, Dizzee, God’s Gift and others that sound miles beyond garage), that means that grime is at least 16 years old. Think about where the leaders of other musical youth movements have been 16 years onward. Without much exception, they’ve been years past making interesting music and usually bitter and irrelevant.
Look at what Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, or basically ANY OTHER PUNK MUSICIAN were doing in 1992... Chances are, it was embarrassing. What were Rolling Stones or the Kinks up to in 1980 (ok, shots fired, some of the Kinks later material has some strengths… actually, what’s a better reboot of a riff from 15 years before, the Kinks revamping “All of the Day” with “Destroyer”, or Wiley sampled his own “Colder” riddim on “Bang”?)?
What was your favorite rapper doing 16 years deep into the game? Ok, if it was Jay Z, the answer is “putting out the Black Album.” Jigga is in this, as he is in many things, an outlier.
16 years is a lifetime in pop culture years. Kids who were grime fans in that first era of Sidewinder tape packs and the RWD forum are now easily old enough to have wife, kids, Vauxhall Astra, etc.
Grime doesn’t quite work as a direct comparison to Mod or Punk, because it never really had mass acceptance across all of England, and it’s more popular now than it was 15 years ago. In terms of pop culture movements, it doesn’t fall into easy analysis.
I say all of this to make myself feel better about going to see the Grime Originals night in London on March 28. A grime night with a nostalgic theme? Why not, I’m old. And no matter what grime is in 2018, there’s no arguing that the both the MC’s and the productions of 2002-2005 are the foundation sound: the basic of everything that comes after. There is such a fetish about that era, and although it may have been a decade and half past, most of the principle players are still around, active, and possibly more deserving of exposure than some of the artists who’ve come since. So, I packed my carcass off to London and hoped it would be worth the while.
As usual, London never lets you down. While waiting in an absurdly long line to get screened, frisked (natch), and admitted, the guy right behind me gets in a punch out with some random spaced out guy who came up to him and started grabbing him and saying “I’m with you, bruv, I’m with you.” Other guy started throwing bombs at dude’s head, people scattered, and security (to their credit) took the spaced out guy out of there and took the guy behind me to the front of the line. Proper. I think the security guy had to put down his bag of Monster Munch to intervene, which was probably a real inconvenience.
Our American credit cards don’t work at the bar, as everyone else waves their card over the bar like a magician and walks away with a drink. We eventually scrounge change and go outside with our drinks to smoke. Hey, who’s hanging outside smoking? EVERY SINGLE MC. Look, here’s a picture I took of Riko making Sharky Major and Chronik laugh:
The opening sets happen, Sharky Major comes out. He’s wearing a T-shirt with Stormin on it, and not for the last time tonight, Stormin is shouted out. If you need a reminder that it’s not 2003 anymore, this is as good of one as any.
Sharky has new song with the words “Grime Originals” as the chorus. Probably not destined for immortality, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. Speaking of enthusiasm, who is that guy in the back of the stage, jumping around like a nut? OH IT’S WILEY!
Although he wasn’t on the flyer, Wiley was on stage for most of the night; dancing, throwing gun fingers, making faces. He grabbed the mic for about a minute, which to be fair, was about as long as he was on the mic at an Eskimo Dance I saw him at, where he was most definitely on the flyer. It’s worth noting that the many of the better MC’s present (Riko, Killa P, Footsie) weren’t on the flyer either.
It’s hard to convey how much visible enthusiasm Wiley has for grime. He basically showed up just to have a front row seat to watch every other MC and shout along to their lyrics just like any other fan in the audience. Clearly, something like this charges up his batteries. When Maxwell D did his “Serious” bars, I thought he was going to go through the roof.
I’ve been to punk and rap shows where the performers have less enthusiasm for THEIR OWN material than Wiley had for everyone else. In fact, everyone on stage seemed to enjoying themselves thoroughly, clearly excited to be at an all grime event, and caught up in the energy of the other MC’s.
After the first set, everyone goes outside to smoke and I meet God’s Gift for the second time in my life. There is mild confusion when I tell him the first time we met was in Rhythm Division in late 2006 and he was going around the store talking shit about every MC in the scene like “Oh, you think your a roadman, then why are you at uni?” He was quite gracious, although he made sure to tell me he wasn’t talking shit, he was talking the truth, and then I forgot that in the UK “chatting shit” means you are saying something of no content, not trash talking. I realize now, I should have asked him if the famous tape of him rushing Wiley on Rinse (about a month after I met him the first time) was WWE style antics or the real deal.
Lady Leshurr makes a nice guest appearance, but would have been nice if she traded bars with everyone else.
Too many highlights to mention, but was great to see Roachee spit the “When I’m ‘Ere” bars and Maxwell D do his “I’m From A Place” hook.
A little bit into the second set, I realized Chronik was standing behind me watching the stage. Like Wiley, he is clearly a fan of grime, but he’s not nearly as animated about it, heh. At best, a good bar would get a gunfinger to the chest, but his normal expression seemed to be one of detached bemusement.
During his time on stage, Nasty Jack took his shirt off. Clearly, in the 10 or so years since Wiley’s war dub against him (“What kind of being takes his clothes off in a Sidewinder?”), not much has changed… At one point he gets in a tiffle (not quite a tussle) with some blond kid, until Chronik sort of loomed over both of them and deaded it. Chronik finally got on stage maybe an hour after this, spat for about 1 minute and killed it.
It’s strange to watch these videos back now. Jet lag, alcohol, and the excitement of being there certainly affected my memory, but all in all, it seems as I remembered it. It’s hard to remember the exact order of the sets, unless there are certain signifiers (i.e. Chronik was in the crowd before he performed). Roadside G’s did a set before the rest of the MC’s that didn’t quite catch the crowd.
One thing that is worth mentioning it the strange adrenaline of being at an all grime event. Five or six hours of straight grime is definitely a special experience. Other all night events I’ve seen like Eskimo Dance had a DJ playing US hip hop between sets, or the Rinse shows would have some 2 step or UK funky mixed in. But, this was basically ALL grime, which is interesting. It’s hard, as both a performer and a listener to keep that intense energy going at that high a level for that long. If you watch these videos and wonder why your favorite MC didn’t get showered in reloads, just try to remove it from the context of a 30 second clip and think about in the middle of an entire night of grime. The energy ebbed and flowed throughout the evening, but the space was packed out all night, with the crowd shouting along (Big up the Youtube comment brigade who I’m sure knows more of Griminal’s lines than the audience in the videos, in which case, get off your computer and get on a plane like I did).
It sounds petty, but I’m glad Skepta (or anyone in BBK, but especially Jammer, heh), Stormzy, Chipmunk, or Big Narstie weren’t there. Nothing against any of them, but they would have changed the energy in the room. It’s good that grime has raised its public profile, and it’s good people are making a living off it, but there’s a danger of the above names (plus a handful of others) becoming synonymous with grime. Skepta and Stormzy ARE grime, but they aren’t all there is to grime. A night as vibrant as this without their presence shows that there are many sides to grime and many names that should be known.
One difference between now and the old Eskimo Dance / Sidewinder days is that so many MC’s bars aren’t rave bars. There’s nothing wrong with spitting a straight verse, but in terms of the original grime energy, there’s a clear contrast between bars that are for home listening and rave listening. I remember in 2006 when Skepta put out “Duppy,” reading a comment online about Wiley’s bars that said, “I don’t want to listen to some idiot yell ‘Tiger Tiger!’ over and over.” But, you hear those bars live, people lose their minds. The stageshow vibe of running out and spitting left grime in 2006 or so (when Form 696 essentially put a stop to live grime in London), so anyone who came up after that simply was’t molded as an MC in that way.
Lastly, I want to point out that all the DJ’s, but especially Rude Kid, Spooky, and Spyro did a masterful job. DJing an event like this is totally different than DJing an all instrumental set or a radio show. It’s not easy picking tunes on the fly, transitioning them in a way that doesn’t throw the MC off, and pulling reloads at the right moment. There’s a danger at a “grime originals” night to beat the same 5-10 songs into the ground (Rhythm N Gash ad nauseam), but all of the DJ’s played a solid mix of acknowledged classics, hidden gems, and newer tracks, also mixing in newer remixes of older tunes to keep things fresh.