The Best Grime Song Ever


Wiley- Nightbus Dubplate (a/k/a The Movement Diss)

With the recent release of Ruff Sqwad’s White Label Classics, and the general feeling of nostalgia about the early days of grime, it’s fair to say the retrospective period in regards to the first era of grime music has begun. All good things must come to an end, and if anything grime has certainly seemed healthier in the last couple of years than it had in the ones preceding it. But, to act like grime in 2012 is the same as grime in 2004 is slightly ridiculous. To me, 2007 is the end year on the first wave of grime. The tight-knit scene build around crews appearing at raves and hosting radio shows could not last as people grew up and needed to make some money. By 2007, MCs realized that straight grime wasn’t paying the bills and were either trying to make pop records or dropping off the map entirely and getting day jobs.

My pick for the best grime song of all time, Wiley’s war dub for The Movement, was never commercially released, which is fitting. The best grime was never about the money, at least not directly. Or more accurately, the best grime was very difficult to monetize. Listening to pirate radio is free. Going to a rave is relatively cheap, and when you’re talking about Eskimo Dance circa 2003 with about 50 people on the mic throughout the night, I am guessing most MC’s were lucky to get drink tickets or cab fare home. So, it’s fitting that the best grime song of all time was a diss track leaked to the radio.

Grime was birthed on frenzied sets on pirate radio and at crowded raves. The point was to deliver devastating bursts of flow, not write entire songs.  You might only get 8 bars to spit before someone grabbed the mic away, so telling a narrative that unveils itself over 3 verses is probably not in your best interests. Witness the reload Tinchy Stryder gets at Eskimo Dance after spitting 5 words:

Grime has always been, at its heart, an insider’s community. The early days of grime oriented pirate stations like Rinse FM and Deja Vu weren’t streamed online, the primary audience was the kids in the surrounding tower blocks.  The essence of grime is untranslatable to a 3 minute record. So, unless you’ve listened to pirate radio or been to a rave, you’ve missed out on a lot:

Many MC’s who could destroy a rave could never figure out a way to package that talent in a way that would make the UK record buying public take their wallets out. The best grime songs can recreate the energy of a pirate session, but a record will never be as unpredictable as a live rave or radio show. It’s similar to how early hip hop records with a live band replaying a disco loop for 10 minutes were removed from the block party reality of a DJ cutting up and rocking doubles on breakbeat records all night. The recording is a recreation of something that already happened.

So, the fact the best grime song ever is not a traditional song, but a six minute burst of bars directed at enemies makes a lot of sense. To those outside the grime scene the song is obtuse: full of Christian names(Justin, Kane, Nyomi), local streets and places (Roman Road, East Street), and even a sly reference to Wiley’s habit of not showing up for raves he’s been booked at (“And we all know, that you are harder to market than me. And I don’t even turn up”).  But, to those inside the scene, it’s like hanging out at the barbershop, chatting with a particularly animated barber who seems to know everybody’s business. The reference to marketing is worth noting, because this is before Wiley had any big hits in the UK  and many were talking about how he blew his big shot at stardom with a first album that had no pop songs. Not yet having figured out to break through himself, Wiley still thought he was farther along than Ghetto!

This song is the culmination of a feud between Wiley and The Movement, a hip hop style collective at the time newly formed by Ghetto, Scorcher, Wretch 32, Mercston, and Devlin. The entire history of the back-and-forths of the various dubs can be heard on Logan Sama’s “War Report” mixtape (a free download), a collection of dubs leaked to Logan over a period of a few months in the summer of 2006. Wiley was dismissive of The Movement’s hip hop style posturing(“The Movement’s like D-Block, why are you like D-Block? You’re from England, you batty!”) , but what their feud is about isn’t important, the crucial thing is that it got very personal. No one in grime delights in the back alley gossip and home truths necessary for a good diss track like Wiley does and this tune is no exception:

Tayo, I’m bigger than your wifey’s breasts,
I’m so familiar with your wifey’s breasts

The way the lyrics go from taunts about life and death situations (“Even if you had a leng you just wouldn’t buss it, your friend got killed in your face and you ain’t done justice, revenge is a must, if you was gonna buss your chance passed and you missed it”) to silly non sequiturs (“I’ve sussed it, must be the same old kid in the dinner hall, primary, eating apple crumble and custard”) in a span of about 20 seconds is pure Wiley.

Wiley has said it himself, that more so than other MC’s, he lives for war. He sounds so much more engaged in this track than he does on any other studio recording. You can tell this actually means something to him in a way that a guest verse on some electro tune never will. At times he sounds possessed, the words coming out in gleeful torrents.

If you need proof that Wiley is a better war MC than a pop songwriter, check the song above, “Playtime’s Over.” from the album of the same name. It’s the same beat as the Movement dub, but with standard bars about the rap game. Compare Wiley’s delivery here to his Movement dub; he sounds half-asleep. This track is only 2 and a half minutes long, compared to almost 6 minutes for the dub, so it’s likely Wiley knew the difference himself.

The beat he uses on this track, Nightbus, is one of my favorite Wiley instrumentals. It’s one of the last beats he made that still had elements of his classic “Eski” sound of 2002-5 (which is undergoing a bit of a revival now). The way the track plays with rhythm is masterful, with the sparse snare meshing with spastic kick drums and hand claps. The almost waltz-like triplet breakdown at about 1:22 in kills me every time. Considering that Wiley was flooding the market with instrumental releases on the Southside label around this time, it’s odd that this track didn’t get a vinyl press.

Lastly, the ending, where Wiley talks the track out, was censored when it was played on Logan Sama’s show. Logan cut the bit where Wiley says,  “So what about when your bredrin got stabbed and he died? Blud that’s not funny, I know your bredrin’s resting in peace, he’s gonna haunt you.”  I can’t remember when exactly Logan first played this tune out, but it was definitely some time in between November 2005 and November 2006. Those dates are important because the first is when Crazy Titch allegedly killed a music producer named Richard Holmes and the the latter is the date the “alleged” was removed by a court of law and Titch began serving 30 years to life.  The initial spark that lead to Holmes’ shooting was a song recorded by an MC associate of his that dissed Titch’s half-brother Durrty Goodz.  So, perhaps in light of how serious lyrics were taken on the road at the time, Logan decided to err on the side of caution. I hadn’t heard the uncensored version until recently and it takes an already ridiculously personal song and just pushes it over the top.

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About peter

musings about music, culture, food, and more... twittering, tumbling, and instagramming: @PgunnNYC http://axchem.tumblr.com/
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