Today is Valentine's Day which means, like any other day, you fall into one of two categories: getting laid or not getting laid. You might be in the second category out of choice – in which case I congratulate you on your self-restraint – but let's be honest, if you're reading this you're probably not getting laid for some other reason. Maybe you're stuffing your face with Love Hearts while channelling the wilted rose emoji. Perhaps you've just been dumped? Or you've been ghosted? If you've just been cheated on then I hope you've set up a £0.01 standing order for every day you were together with the ref: LYING PRICK. If you haven't: I've read about it, it sounds counter-intuitive but works, and is totally worth the money – especially if other forms of retaliation have gifted you with a restraining order.
Now, while I'm the last person to suggest turning back the clock on the sexual revolution, I wonder if there's something to be said for 19th-century romantic relationship navigation. Y'know, the era of courtship and lifelong marriage and all that shit. When couples took their time to get to know each other and then stuck with their significant other even if they grew to hate everything about them. Why? Because abandonment reflected badly on their core being. Also it was almost impossible for women to divorce men because the patriarchy.
Still, relationships and morality were a little more entwined than they are today for better or worse, and as far as most poetry was concerned people really had to put in work if they wanted to hook up with someone rather than blanket-send the same gif of Mr Krabs to 30 people on Tinder and hope for the best. In a modern world where even Beyoncé, as close as you will get to sentient perfection, has to dedicate an album to putting her man back in his damn place, you might laugh in my face when I tell you old romantics still exist. You might laugh even harder when I tell you men like this still exist. And, although you're probably already choking on those Love Hearts, let me tell you something else: these men exist prominently within grime.
Sure, grime lyrics may largely be a mixture of sends, batty appreciation, and shouting "pow!" or "pop!" in a powerful manner. But if you think about it, grime culture is predicated on many of the same principles as 19th-century courtship: loyalty, honour, pride. These sentiments may exist within male-centred crews, but there is ample evidence of men doing the right thing by their partners as well. So fling your tissues and that scratched copy of The Notebook in the fucking bin. Here are some realistic bangers to restore your faith in humanity and take ownership of Valentine's Day for your single self: to help you dream of OTT romance and even bigger Ds.
Skepta – "Text Me Back"
In an age when silencing someone by slapping the 'Do Not Disturb' setting on their message thread is a legitimate way to exit a conversation, texting a crush is rooted in a thousand anxieties. So Skepta's declaration: "Sometimes I don't text you back/ But I never mean to disrespect you," is a welcome sign some men are aware of the pitfalls of leaving "read" receipts on. In a way, it's fair enough. We're all busy adults here. We have things to do, like our taxes and shitting. Sometimes, like Skepta, we're averse to technology too. "Man, I hate this phone/ Kiss my teeth when I hear the ringtone," he goes on, making his commitment to keeping in touch with his lady even more romantic on the occasion he does reply. Cute!
Scorcher – "My Diary"
If you're unlucky enough to also be an Aries, you know all about falling for emotionally unavailable people. Scorcher is one of those people. But even emotionally unavailable dudes can be reflective, which, on dark days like today, can make the difference between having faith they might one day mature into an Idris Elba or hopelessly crying into your cornflakes. With choice metaphors like "I feel like I see a rose in the floor, in the soil / and then I took it out the soil and didn't give it water and it died, you get me?" Scorcher is more on his way to grown feelings than most of the love interests in the latter half of a 90s romcom. You know he means it too: nobody uses an acoustic guitar line that sounds like it was cribbed from a Taking Back Sunday session unless they're truly in their feelings.
Klashnekoff – "Black Rose"
This is some real Romeo & Juliet shit. Klashnekoff and his gf are still in school when he gets her up the duff. "Your brother's vexed, your dad dashed out your mother's place/ Said when he die, don't want to see your face at his grave/ But fuck him anyway," Klash raps, in response to news of her family disliking the pre-graduation pregnancy. Who knows how Klashnekoff's girlfriend feels about her relationship with her family, but it's clear he isn't going to flake: "I speak through my actions/ And treat you like diamonds on consignment/ Protect you from the parasites and pirates/ And prepare to get violent for our love." Hell yeah! That's some true badass monogamy right there.
Sway feat. Stush – "F Ur Ex"
We've all been where Sway and Stush are here, going at it over suspicious messages from former flames. Sway is being fairly respectful here as far as jealousy goes but it's also a bitter reminder of how much dating practices have changed, not least because he refers to everyone's least favourite social media platform as "Facebook dot com". Back in the day the only thing you had to worry about was an ex texting. Now, unless you're combing every app your new lover has every night like a concerned parent rifling through their teen's sock drawer for weed, it's impossible to find out who else has their eye on them. Do yourself a favour and find you a guy with a Nokia 3210.
Kano – "Nite Nite"
You know when you spend months on end alone, yelling "YEAH RIGHT" at Jennifer Aniston films and warning all your mates that their relationships will never last because almost half of all marriages end in divorce, then suddenly you meet someone who isn't terrible and spend every waking hour at their house in your pants ghosting all the smirking face emoji texts you're receiving. This is what's happening here. Lyrics like "I don't know why/ I can't commit to girls/ And I tell them white lies/ I'll find out the hard way cos she's got my favourite smile," make 19-year-old Kano come across all troubled 90s heartthrob on this early 00s track. In turn, fresh-faced collaborator Mike Skinner declares: "I used to call her 'ladybird'/ Cos she always played red in Connect Four", which might not be his most erotic line but does contain a nice bit of wordplay that makes you want to pinch his cheeks. From "maybe we can hold hands in the park in the sunshine" to the pitched-up harmonies on the chorus, this is grime's Hallmark moment.
Tinie Tempah – "Wifey "
Here, pre-"Pass Out" era Tinie Tempah pays homage to the very womanly virtue of patience: "Hold tight all the females who stuck by their man/ Through thick and thin/ You know we ain't always our best init/ And I know you had to put up with a lot of shit init". Quite. There's nothing like a bit of healthy competition of 'who can be the most emo' either as Tinie shouts out and tries to one up "Nite Nite". You can almost imagine him punching his chest when he wrote, "And you know how Kano spoke about her / I like her too much to leave, cause I feel like there's no hope without her". Someone go back in time and give him a hug for fuck sake.
Bugzy Malone – "Beauty and the Beast"
The self-proclaimed painter of words, Mancunian MC Bugzy Malone doesn't usually come across as your typical softie, but listen to this track and you'll hear an echo of the ol' James Brown conviction that while it's a man's world it would be absolute nada without a woman or a girl. This is especially true when she has to pay you into the cinema, like Bugzy's gyal did before he started stacking paper. "I was struggling sleeping/ Then she got a nigga dreaming, and then helped me achieving," he says later, in case you needed any further proof that behind every great man there's an even greater woman bailing him out and rolling her eyes.
Stormzy – "Birthday Girl"
You only need to check Stormzy's latest for the MC's celebration of women, but on "Birthday Girl", the sugary sweet ode to his longterm girlfriend Maya Jama, the MC goes all out, impressing with both his thoughtfulness, ability to multitask and video collage of her own selfies. He may be off on tour, but Stormzy manages to plan a VIP night out for Maya's b-day with guestlist for her mates, champagne on her table and most importantly this extra heart-melting message: "I hope God blesses you this year/ And I hope you're havin' an amazing, amazing, amazing birthday/ Lots of love/ Love you always". Your move, lads.
Gage – "Crybaby Remix"
Aside from making the perfect soundtrack to the angry phase of a breakup when you feel compelled to throw all your ex's stuff out the window, Gage's remix of Abra's "Crybaby" is the sonic equivalent of when a man rolls up his sleeves and actually tries to understand a woman. In other words, a tribute. The spine-tingling production on this version of the track feels like that magic moment when two people suddenly "get" each other and here Abra's despair turns into hope in audial Technicolor.
Skepta – "All Over The House"
Let's not forget that this happened though.
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