Grime Week on Noisey has focused heavily on the future of the genre, and to properly predict the future you have to understand the past. The beats and production are where that dark and murky identity comes from, but it's within the spoken bars of grime's greatest that you get a window into the wit, aggression, style and realism that makes it more of a movement than a genre. From nine-minute first person road rap freestyles to Trim sending for anyone he can remember, we've been through the lot.
The panel consisted of Noisey writers and Vice writers, plus some familiar faces in Detroit rapper Danny Brown, Sian Anderson from BBC Radio 1Xtra, grime media pioneer Risky Roadz, and many more.
This an imperfect list. Youtube doesn't have too many handy features for highlighting freestyle bars, and yes; this would have worked better as a radio show, but press play at the right times, and it might as well be. These, in our shared opinions, are the best bars ever rhymed in grime...
20. Wiley on Lethal Bizzle's "Pow"
"Don't tell him who's gonna start charting / Drop my new style like (Boodoodoodoodadadada)"
Do you realize the insane amount of power it takes to jump in the cypher, rap literal nonsense, and then drop the mic like it's nothing? This is what Wiley pulled off with his verse on the redux of Lethal Bizzle's Pow. Where the rest of the crew is trying to run laps around the track, Wiley pops in and says "boodoodoodoodadadada" a bunch and ends up sounding better than everybody else on the damn song. It's a powerful lesson in knowing that sometimes it's not what you say, but how you say it.
Drew Millard - Noisey
19. Kano - "P's and Q's"
"We're still gully, the only pop you'll hear from us is POP! POP! POP!"
One of - if not the most - underrated lyricists on God's Green Earth, this might be the most perfect Kano song to date. Also a fan of the flow which changes about 8 times in the track and I love how Kano puts words wherever the fuck he wants, leaving a beat or two or more before beginning a bar. If this had come out around the same time as "Pass Out" it would have gone to No 1, I swear it. K-A!
Hattie Collins - Journalist
18. Flowdan on The Bug's "Skeng"
"Black, black, black / Funeral start everybody in a black / Puppa in a suit and mumma in a frock"
For me, there’s no other MC that sounds like Flowdan. That distinctive murky low-pitch timbre, several octaves deeper than anyone else, is the personification of dread. Although an original member of Roll Deep, it’s Flowdan’s later solo collaborations with The Bug that represent his best work. This is much slower than grime, closer to dubstep, but that didn’t stop it becoming a rave anthem. Flowdan describes “Skeng” as the first time he used his what he calls his “Fat Mac 90” flow: drawing out and repeating single words with bone-chilling menace. There are other Flowdan bars truer to the pace and sound of grime (“Dis Side Bwoy”, “No Gyal Tune”) but few capture the genre’s darker side quite like this. When it comes to instilling dread, Flowdan is the master, bleakly foretelling his victim’s funeral scene like a patois grim reaper. Pure malevolence.
Adam Bychawski - Thump
17. Southside Allstars - "Southside Riddim"
"Roehampton, Tooting Bec Common / Lyrics like this, blud, ain't too common"
Nyke probably won't go down as a legendary MC. In fact, he's barely even YouTube-able save for a few guest appearances on fellow South London whiteboy Nikki S's novelty geezer grime tunes, like "Oi Oi Saveloy" and "SKA Riddim". But his appearance on the Southside Allstars (surely the closest thing to a road man Band Aid) has lingered longer in my memory than most of the stuff on Boy In Da Corner. His verse eschews all genre conventions, as it's basically a just list of places in South London. It sounds bizarre, but something about his percussive, venomous flow manages to make these Zone 3 backwaters - full of bus depots and first-time buyers - sound like WW1 atrocity sites rather than the up and coming spots that the Evening Standard property section would have you believe they are. There's always been a sense with South London that it somehow does things differently, and Nyke's ordnance survey of the ends paints a terrifying picture of what's often been called "Bandit Country", purely through the wet-lipped conviction of his bars. God knows what Nyke does now, but I'm pretty sure he isn't an estate agent.
Clive Martin - VICE
16. D Double E - Street Fighter Riddim
"Cos I'm shocking MCs like Blanka / I got money in the bank, I'm a banker / You ain't got money in the bank, you're a wanker"
You can read about the records that changed D Double E's life over on i-D right now and, to be honest, I find it hard to see past the Bluku Bluku bad man as one of the best MCs grime has ever produced. On this witty smackdown he uses the scene's ever visible relationship with video game culture to sick effect, with the neatest moments coming when he quickly shifts between East London IRL and Street Fighter character traits: like coming through in a beat up Honda to give a man a hundred slaps like E. Honda, or rhyming the brand of his vacuum cleaner (Dyson) with the evil overlord M. Bison.
Joe Zadeh - Noisey
15. Skepta - "What D'ya Mean"
"Yeah I’m gonna speak on Merrick’s behalf / Murder charge aint a joke and laugh / You think that you’re shower, but you can’t even jump in the bath”
The intro of Skepta’s "What D’ya Mean" freestyle on Aim High 3 is one of my favourite bars of all time. It’s barely eight bars let alone sixteen, but I don’t think anyone can really argue with it. It's Skepta at his best; grime at its best; and if I didn’t have to eat and go to the toilet, I’d probably never stop rewinding it.
Fred Macpherson - Spector
14. More Fire Crew - "Oi"
"Step on the mic 'nuff thugs get vexed / When I bang girls I use the Durex / What next? I rock the Club Rex like Aztecs / What venue's next? Bop straight through with my Avirex"
Growing up in the Essex suburbs, More Fire was my first exposure to grime, being one of the few songs of that time to get into the charts. It was just explosive. I'd been listening to dreary shit on Top of the Pops, where every blended into another, and then that distorted sound of the instrumental started up with Bizzle's first verse - that was my awakening.
Daisy May Hudson - VICE
13. Merky ACE - "I'll Never Quit"
"Trust me we won't give back none / Might take a few pictures with a fat one / Heard his version and it was a swag one / That's why I went home and I wrote this one"
GREEEEZE ON 100.
Sian Anderson - 1Xtra DJ
12. President T - "Dis Likkle Yute"
"Dis likkle yute, I had to warn / Talk about how he nearly drew for the sawn / Funny how I caught him on Sunday mowing up his grandma’s lawn”
Prez T has given us plenty of classic bars over the years, all delivered in his deep, conversational and off-kilter flow with a dark and dry sense of humour, but I think this might be the greatest “calling an MC out on their bullshit” bar of all time.
Paul Gibbins - Journalist
11. Skepta - "Not Your Average Joe"
"Yeah, my name's Joseph, but I'm not your average Joe, though"
I was born into a pitiful, fearful, creativity-sapped generation that will never produce anything of any worth and as such I'm a total sucker for things that reference other things because references do all the work for me while allowing me to feel like I'm in the know. In this instance, I know what Rolos, Pizza Hut, Pizza Go-Go, yo-yos and Boy Better Know are. Knowing that I know these things that Skepta's rapping about makes me feel great.
Josh Baines - Thump
10. D Double E and JME on "Serious Thugz"
"I’m not Pee Wee Herman / I’m not gonna spit no lyrics in German"
Obviously I've got to have BBK, then there's D Double E, cemented in the foundations of grime, plus JME and Skepta (on production) who must have one of the strongest gene pools in history. They're always trying to think outside the box and their imagination is what keeps pushing the limits. I love that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony sample so much.
Daisy May-Hudson - VICE
9. Escobar – "96 Bars of Revenge"
"I respect the gun man / You respect the money man / Why respect the money man / When you're a gun man"
These 16 bars are indicative of everything Esco stood for. A blindingly furious roadman ethic, storytelling, screwfaced hooks, speedy, lyrical tongue twisters and above all musicality. He did everything his own way and did it better than anyone else.
Joe Bish - VICE
8. Wiley on The Streets' "Don't Hide Away"
"The last ten years were cold and not lovely / Life was ugly, hard like rugby / Even if I had a big house in the country / I wouldn't stay caged up like a monkey"
Of all the things he's great at - wearing Rolexs, wrecking people's aunts on forums, eating all the pies - Wiley's best asset is his unparalleled ability to rhyme on the same syllable for days on end. Sometimes it's even the same word, a la his classic start to the Kano clash on the first Lord of the Mics. On "Don't Hide Away", Wiley takes on a journey from "ugly" to "junkie" via big houses in the country and throats getting lumpy. A verse like this makes you realize that 95% of the time lyrical content is an irrelevance: do the words falling out of the rapper's mouth sound good? Yep? You don't need anything else.
Josh Baines - Thump
7. Dizzee Rascal - "Face"
"Let's talk about over-excited brehs on the road / Who brake all street honorary codes / Can't get a real name for themselves / Living off reflected glory / Living off face"
We asked Danny Brown for his input, and he just texted us the title of this song, and this: "Dizzee made the best album the scene has ever had and took it to a level people probably didn't think possible for a grime MC."
Danny Brown - Rapper
6. Ghetts' Freestyle from Risky Roadz 2
“What’s happening? / What’s really good, cuz? / What’s crackling? / I’m big in the hood, blud / Still battling / Still trying to push drugs / So when I see feds, they only see legs”
Ghetto’s freestyle, for me, is the iconic one from Risky Roadz 2, that’s the one that made everyone step back and go "Whoa! Ghetto’s on it." I remember filming that and coming away from it thinking I can’t believe I got this on camera. It was unique as well in terms of how long it was, how he attacked it and also Nocturnal’s beat.
Risky Roadz - Director
5. JME - "R U Dumb"
"Don’t make me get vexed, or you’ll find out about my tourettes"
I mean, apart from the awesome "suck out ya mumma bumbahole and your fadah's battyhole crease" intro, this is one of my favourite Jamie Adenuga verses, mostly because he switches the first letters around - "Tell your girl stop ringing my phobile moan... Jeez, I can't even shop to the bops." Also he rhymes anorexia with dyslexia, and he drops all of his 'poomplex, dickhead, wasteman' ad-libs so that's another win. Produced by Skeppy, this is also hugely worth noting for my fave Wiley bars ever (though they can be found on other tunes too): "Yep Yep yep I eat lamb curry and roti / I'm a war MC they can all quote me / I might punch you in the boat-y, when you get up everything seems float-y..." Shhhhhh-huuuuuuu-tttt ya mout ruuuuude boiiiiii...
Hattie Collins - Journalist
4. Trim - "The Lowdown"
"His names Storm but we'll call him scabs / In school he wanked over porno mags"
Trim is an absolute beast on the mic, but The Lowdown is arguably his finest moment. This 16, about a minute and a half in, takes Stormin to task. The best thing about Trim as a war MC is that he simply does not give a solitary fuck, whether he’s calling Wiley a paedo or offering to buy a drink for whoever shanked Fumin. In this case, he gives us The Lowdown on how Stormin ended up with scabs on his face, and about how Trim pissed on his clothes and stuff. It’s still the deepest burial in grime history.
Paul Gibbins - Journalist
3. Wiley - Morgue (feat. Roll Deep)
"I bring two out / Take your whole crew out / You ain't got a crew out here / Ya just new out / I got the brand new Nike Shoe out / Oi, wheres Wiley gone? He just flew out"
I personally think this is the best because of the energy and rawness in Wiley's voice. I remember watching the Roll Deep In At The Deep End DVD at a young age and clearly remember seeing all of Roll Deep in the studio all having a good time. Wiley's 16 was so firey in comparison to the rest of the crews and made the track a standout in my opinion.
Quann - Photographer at Wot Do You Call It
2. Roachee and Dirty Danger - Move 2 Dis
When I first saw this clip I typed out Roachee’s first few bars and sent them to a friend via Hotmail.
“BARE MAN KNOW I GOT THE LENG WHEN IM ERE, IM A LENG MAN, CREWS GET PENG WHEN IM ERE, BEST STOP CHATTING SHIT ABOUT SKENGS WHEN IM ERE, COS I’LL DUN 10 MEN WHEN IM ERE. BARE MAN KNOW I GOT THE MASH WHEN IM ERE, MASH MAN, CREWS GET HARRASSED WHEN IM ERE…. [more shanks, skengs, gunman stuff]… SHANK, SHANK, SHANK WHEN IM ERE!”
That plus the rolled down Nike beanie… what’s not to like?
Bruno Bayley - VICE
1. Skepta's "2008 Westwood Freestyle"
"Man wanna go to the mountain? / Go to shows in a tour bus? / Next time make an ALBUM not a CD full of war dubs / And if you want a beef? / Just call us”
C'MON, THERE ARE NEVER ANY WORDS FOR THIS WHOLE FREESTYLE! IT'S JUST SENSATIONAL!
Sian Anderson - 1Xtra DJ
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