It’s starting to feel pretty official. Grime is no longer a compelling facet of the London sound. It is the London sound. And it’s fast becoming the UK sound. There may also be a thriving UK rap scene bubbling away, but when US journalists want to know what Britain sounds like right now, what they are saying is: tell me about grime. When you try to identify a standout British genre that is still mutating, transforming, and growing, rather than stagnating and re-hashing, the answer is grime.
The newfound popularity is no surprise; while grime may have never gone away, it is now that wider audiences seem to be naturally gravitating around cultures that feel real and have resisted being softened. Grime may have struggled with both of those challenges over the years, and as Dan Hancox wrote for Noisey earlier this week: it hasn’t been an easy journey for the scene and its forefathers. But it's here: bigger, fiercer, and more independent than ever.
Last night, Skepta celebrated the release of his long awaited record Konnichiwa—an LP that cements the scene's new stature—packing a sold-out Camden KOKO with a crowd ready to create swirling mosh-pits from the get go. First, when Frisco to came out to support, and even more when it was just DJ Maximum alone on the decks. You can imagine that DJ Maximum, of all people—a mellow guy and BBK loyalist with an evil skill for selecting—might have thought at some point, during grime’s quieter days, that perhaps two hour sets at student unions were going to naturally become the bread and butter of his touring diary. Or maybe he always had faith; who knows? But few would have predicted that come 2015/16, he’d be touring the States with Skepta, opening for Drake in Toronto, and dropping tracks like Kano's “New Banger” in a sold out KOKO—the song itself new material from an MC who had officially "retired" from the game.
There were no hints of bitterness or reflection on grime’s struggle and redemption at last night’s show though. It was all about celebration, like you’d walked in on one of those open door birthday parties that accidentally went viral on Facebook. Almost every MC you could wish to see perform live in a year, or maybe a lifetime, was there to support Skepta. Shorty and Frisco were ever present, Jammer and JME lit the place up whenever they could get their hands on one of the three mics in rotation, Novelist jumped up to deliver his verse on “Lyrics,” Chipmunk happily steered for two tracks, and D Double E suavely glided out under blue lights to smoothen out the opening bars of “Ladies Hit Squad.” Even the godfather Wiley turned in a rare appearance, before Solo 45 swerved onstage like a car without any brakes, screaming “Feed 'em to the lions! Feed 'em to the lions!.” Fuck Louis Thomlinson, if ever there was a potential Euro 2016 song for the England team that would have the knees of Slovakian defenders turning to ice cream, then it's that.
If Skepta could have described the atmosphere in KOKO himself, he'd probably have said it was "very spiritual and very crunchy." Despite Konnichiwa being out for just over a weekend, everyone in the building knew every bar—less surprising when it was announced onstage that it was currently number one in the UK album charts. By the end of the night, there were enough MCs and guests onstage—including a hectic Lethal Bizzle—for it to feel like there was no stage at all—just a huge mass of bodies thronging around whoever had the mic.
It was a celebration, of course. But it also looked like a show of power; like BBK were parading their military strength ahead of some forthcoming world domination campaign. As far as independent labels go, it’s hard to think of another British imprint that could sell out KOKO in minutes, sign a superstar like Drake, score a potential UK number one, and yet still retain every quality needed to make sure they remain subversive, exciting, and most importantly, underground. There have been numerous special moments in the last two years as a result of grime’s resurgence—the whole scene onstage with Kanye in 2015, Skepta and JME at Brixton, Drake and Section Boyz in Shoreditch, Adele and Nas co-signing Stormzy—but this... this may well have been the one. None of them flex like BBK.
You can see the rest of our photos below.