Here are we now, a few years into the great grime revival. Stormzy took a 10 year old instrumental into the Top 10 (and spawned a hoard of parodies and memes) and people from all around the globe are fervently tuning in to Rinse, Sub FM, and Boiler Room and chopping up their own edits of grime classics from back in the day. Grime has been established as an international music, with a producer like Rabit from Houston, Texas at the forefront of the music.
But, this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2004, grime was a proudly provincial music, with both its artists and its fan base basically limited to London, and with established strongholds in the East. Most of the bigger groups of the time were based around people who grew up or went to school together in East London.
Roll Deep were all from East London, as were most of the other leading crews like Ruff Sqwad, N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, East Connection, and Boyz in da Hood. Some exceptions to the primacy of the East were Meridian Crew (featuring Skepta) from North London or, slightly later, the OGz from South London. Songs proudly proclaimed neighborhood origins, usually with groups NOT from East London most eager to let people know that there was more to grime than just postcodes that began with the letter “E.”
(The importance of East London in early grime can’t be fully explained without writing a sociology book, but certainly the fact the grime’s premier record store, Rhythm Division was in East London as were leading pirate stations Rinse FM and Deja Vu, helped make producing grime music a part of growing up in the area)
The fan base was equally localized. Although people like Dizzee Rascal and Lethal B became nationally known in the UK at that time, grime was still a niche music even within London itself (and you weren’t likely to hear any grime if you went to cities outside of London).
Grime primarily existed only in a London network of record stores, raves, and anyone who lived within the broadcasting range of a pirate radio station. There were no reliable streams for Rinse, not much of the music was on Youtube or even on music torrent sites. The only place grime really lived on the Internet was the RWD forum, which was a wonderfully insular group of people that would openly mock anyone who was middle class or not from London, as this post from Dubstep forum in 2007 illustrates:
im starting to get into (grime) music but need some help in finding aritsts/labels of a specefic sound. Basically, does anyone know a decent forum? not one thats full of 12 year olds typing ‘GoNa BanG YoU Up BlUd’ and who know sweet FA about the music (which unfortuantly seems to be common place).
To which someone replies:
just go to rwd forum anyway. so what if someone threatens to shank you in the eye.. it’s only the internet, nothing’s really gonna happen to you!
Everyone on RWD forum did indeed talk like a roadman from the ends, but there were bits of genuine insight and knowledge mixed in with the aggro. The best thing that happened on RWD forum was when Wiley himself registered and went on a binge, posting constantly and getting into petty online battles with everyone there and saying things like: “Bruv pick up your grandma she was doing a wheelie down Roman Road” and “ive got volkumes of instumental albums come on i make beats in my sleep wake up and then really make the same tunes i heard in my sleep im a wizard.”
So, in 2006 when New York producers Team Shadetek released a grime record, it was not well received in England. I remember it was stocked at leading grime store Independance Records in Lewisham and touted highly on their website. Within a few months, it was listed at drastically reduced price, not the sign of a hot seller.
On RWD forum, people were dismissive. In retrospect, it’s hard to see why. Sonically, the track sounds like a mix between Roll Deep’s Shank Riddim (aka When I’m Ere) and the Forward Riddim (aka Pow!). Vocally, the song relies on solid ragga inflected vocals by 77Klash and a nice hook by Jah Dan lifted from Courtney Melody. Anyway you slice it, it’s an energetic grime tune that has aged better than many tracks that came out around that time.
In New York City, the record got a great response when I played it in grime sets. Of course, this was helped by the constant shout outs to Brooklyn, which encouraged sing-alongs, even from people who had moved to Brooklyn the previous week. One might presume that the same localism that made the record popular in New York City, might have prevented it breaking through to the insular London grime scene.
Oddly enough a couple years after its release, it caught a second life in Brooklyn, as it became a favorite among a certain subset of young BK kids who liked to use a sped up version of it as an accompaniment to their juke-style dance routines.
What’s oddly fascinating is that the shouts of “Brooklyn” that may have doomed the record to get dismissed in the UK were NOT what made this song appealing to these Brooklyn kids. If you watch the clips, they are dancing to the instrumental, and it’s the propulsiveness of the 808 claps that seems to have won them over.
Team Shadetek continued producing grimey music, in 2007 coming out with a 10″ featuring songs vocaled Jammer and Skepta (probably recorded when Skepta played his first NYC show at Rothko in January 2006 (damn, was that really 10 years ago?), but I could be wrong).
Team Shadetek split up soon after the release of this record. Matt Shadetek continues to produce music, appearing on Grime 2.0 compilation on Ninja Tune a few years back.