If you've ever spent a hungover afternoon hopping between old Westwood freestyles and Lord of the Mics clashes on YouTube, there's a decent chance that you'll have happened upon a curiously growing phenomenon: Americans recording themselves reacting to grime videos. Reaction videos on YouTube are by no means a new thing, and it's not hard to see why creators find the format attractive. These videos are not only quick and easy to produce, but their very premise ensures that they piggyback off existing content in a way that's friendly to YouTube's recommendation system. Unsurprisingly, music has been a rich source of inspiration for the online reaction community for some time, with Big Quint and Anthony Fantano among some of the bigger YouTubers to post reaction and review videos.
But how has UK grime – the deep history of which remains a relatively niche concern, despite its growth in the past couple of years – found itself becoming the new hotness among American YouTubers? The answer is simple: vociferous demand among grime listeners from the UK. Regardless of the level of enthusiasm shown in the reaction videos themselves – and this runs the gamut from genuine, boyish excitement to brazen piss-taking – the one thing they all have in common is a comment section full of earnest recommendations for the next video, for someone across the pond to listen to Wretch 32, Krept and Konan's "Fire in the Booth" or P Money's Dot Rotten diss.
But why are thousands of Brits watching Americans listen to grime tracks they've already heard, and clambering over one another in the comments to tell them what to listen to next? The era in which grime artists made mugs of themselves in an effort to break America mercifully seems to be over, but are fans now guilty of doing the same thing on their behalf?
Some viewers seem almost evangelical in their appreciation of Americans making reaction videos. "Mark my words bro, when UK rap gets lit in US [sic] your name will go down in history as one of the people who helped to propel it into lime light," reads a comment from YouTube user 'Young ReeZy', on TooBluntTV's reaction video to JME's "96 Fuckries". "You will be an iconic figure in this community amongst SBTV, Skepta, JME and anybody else." This is the top comment on that video at the time of writing, with 132 likes. Another fan, known as dlord, told us that "it's a good thing because the internet has opened up a gateway for people across the pond to hear what we have here in the UK. Granted they are not used to it, but it's interesting hearing how they take in our music, positive or negative, as it's always been one-sided before, where we listen to American music and take it in."
But what's the view from the American side? In an effort to better understand the Anglo-American relationship between these YouTubers and their audiences, and what both sides get out of the exchange, we spoke to three of the most prominent US YouTubers reacting to grime music today.
Noisey: Why do you think British people are so keen to see Americans reacting to grime music?
Trendy Marley: That's a question I'm still trying to figure out myself. Most Americans don't appreciate grime music. I don't know why UK people are so keen to see Americans react to their music when most don't even give reviews, they just watch the video and at the end they say "thanks for watching."
But I just think it's because the UK is inspired by American music, and they want us Americans to appreciate their culture too. But most Americans don't care. I just really love grime, drum 'n' bass, UK rap, UK hip-hop and UK trap – it's all great music, and better than American music right now.
Do you feel free to react honestly, even though calling something shit might lose you subscribers?
Hell yes! If I don't like something, I will say so. There have been times when I've said I don't like a song or an artist's music as a whole, and my fans accepted it. Other reactors hit me up asking for advice all the time and say "man, your fans are so loyal to you!"
Do you reckon American viewers would care as much about a British YouTuber reacting to US rap?
They honestly wouldn't care, I'm just being real. Americans watch other Americans. I don't know why they don't watch British YouTubers' reactions, but there are some successful people like KSI that Americans love.
Noisey: Have you been surprised by how many people in the UK have been watching and recommending new tracks for you to react to?
TooBluntTV: At first I was surprised and I didn't know why they liked what I was doing. Later on I realised it was because I am an American going out of my way to listen to songs from the UK – and that I actually liked them.
Should Brits care whether or not people in the US are into grime?
Yes and no. Yes because it's a great way to expand the audience, and no because grime doesn't need validation from the US. It's as real as it gets.
Based on your videos, it's fair to say that not every American likes grime as much as you do. What's the worst reaction you've got from someone when playing them a track?
From my experience, most Americans don't like grime. They like UK hip-hop more. They usually say the grime tracks are too hard to understand and that they can't keep up with the flow.
After immersing yourself in grime for so long, do you ever find yourself using UK slang and getting weird looks?
Yes, I often call people skets and I use words like 'peng' and 'bruv'. People usually tell me to "speak English, bruh."
How do you feel about other American YouTubers who react to grime? Do you think some are just pretending to like the music for views?
From what I've seen, there's just a few who seem to actually like the music. As for the others, they're just in it for the popularity, begging for likes and subscribers. Wastemen.
Noisey: Grime has become a popular subject for reaction videos, particularly among American YouTubers. Why do you think this is?
Rilla: The reality is that this current genre of video is very popular right now. I initially discovered grime back in 2011, when Lethal Bizzle came out with "POW 2011", but I think Drake definitely helped to put these artists on the map in the US.
But there is also another way I suspect this is happening. I noticed that YouTubers from the UK had started making these diss videos back and forth, some responding using grime or UK drill beats – a perfect example of this is here. I did a reaction to the same exact video, and a few commenters suggested I react to some grime artists. The fans just keep that ball rolling by suggesting more and more content for you to react to. So, when you have that sort of momentum it's easy to just keep the format and keep creating content your audience wants to see.
How much do you feel YouTube is helping to break down cultural barriers by facilitating this kind of dialogue?
Years of listening to grime has helped me better understand the thicker accents which are found in particular areas throughout England. It's also helped me understand some of the laws, the issues that people on the streets over there are facing, and how similar yet different the issues are compared to here in the States.
But the reason I would stand against it actually helping is that, at the moment, the majority of my viewers are actually from England. And as much as I would love to spread grime here in the USA, I haven't discovered a way to get American viewers to watch these videos too. So, I'm actually at the drawing board looking to start creating content actually geared towards tags, terms, and things that we as Americans would search to find new artists and looking to create content around helping Americans discover grime.
Do you think it all points to a British craving validation from the US?
I just think it's interesting in the same way as those Buzzfeed videos of Americans eating particular dishes which are authentic cuisines from around the world. It's just like sports, where you're against a different team and you want to show that pride and badge of honour in being from somewhere that someone else is not. I think on a deeper level we all crave a level of validation.
Answers edited for length and clarity.
You can find Matt on Twitter.