A conversation about Grime
Discover Open Mic, a series of articles that celebrates Hennessy’s cultural richness and the passions of our communities. This month, British music journalist Hattie Collins and Grime expert Hyperfrank discuss the evolution of Grime culture.
Hattie Collins started writing about Grime around 2003 after discovering the then-unnamed genre through her friend, journalist Chantelle Fiddy. Hyperfrank became interested in the genre as Grime transitioned from UK garage to its own lane in 2000/01.The two knew each other through their respective blogs but did not meet properly until 2008 when Laura did work for the magazine Hattie was then editing, RWD. The two met over ice cream and Hennessy and ginger (sounds weird, works well) on Zoom and reminisced about the early years and the beginning of a community that became a culture.
HC: We first met in 2008, which feels like a long time ago now! There was such a sense of community throughout the scene; of course, the MC’s and producers were all working together, but there were relationships between the writers, bloggers, photographers, stylists, designers, and videographers too, right? There was a very organic community forming in the mid-00s.
HF: It was such an interesting time because very few people were documenting the scene and even less were making money, there was never a core intent to break into the “industry” because it was so out of reach. Now you can start an Instagram, YouTube or TikTok account and build an audience quite quickly. Back then, a lot of editors and people with power would commission writers that had never stepped near a grime event to write and interview the artists. I remember Joseph “JP” Patterson (Editor's Note: Founder of Trench mag and Editor-in-Chief of Complex UK) and I staying up until 6am pitching artists that magazines, newspapers and online platforms now put on their front covers. There was a huge divide but the internet really changed that.
HC: When I pitched MCs and rappers to newspapers, I was told so many times ‘Oh, we can’t do another rapper, we had [award-winning, chart-topping] Tinie Tempah in the issue last week’. Yet they’d do pop and indie bands over and over. It’s brilliant to see grime and rap artists getting the coverage, festival stages and brand deals they deserve, but that was fought for hard by the grime MCs that came before. It was incredibly hard for the grime community to be taken seriously and to be respected by the world of mainstream media.
HC: It took a number of years, but that has changed now, thankfully.
HF: I’ve had some great conversations with D Double E. One that specifically stuck with me was about accepting myself more, being open to change and not being scared to take risks. I think I’ve been shown more love and acceptance than anywhere else I’ve gone, especially as a queer person.
HC: I love that there are more queer people in the scene now - you, me, Leshurr, Dotty… um, loads of others (laughs). Skepta has been so supportive - I loved when he wore a pair of shorts with the Pride rainbow on them at Wireless back in 2017. And I’ve seen and heard him advocate for queer people on various occasions. I know we touched on that earlier - on the barriers that were put up in getting the music heard.
HF: A lot is changing now because of how the internet has forced the power back into the audience's hands. They have to let people at the table, or they’ll build their own. Our whiteness and how we’re seen definitely played a part in us having more opportunities and the privileges that come with that. My late friend Thembi Jozana helped me realize how best to use the passion I had for the culture and how to use that social and systemic privilege to help get creatives paid as well as get them the respect they deserve, connect them with opportunities and help document the beautiful energy and community that brings us all together. I’m not sure how well I’ve done with that, but it’s something you must actively work on daily, to make sure things are aligning and not just telling yourself a story, to feel better about where you sit within this space and how much you’re taking up.
HC: I’m consciously stepping aside more than ever to pass work over to other people, whether it’s people of colour, or queer and trans people. I’ve been fortunate to be able to use my voice for two decades and as such it’s important that I make space for other people. It’s also really important for me, when I am in an editing role, to not commission Black writers solely to write about Black culture, or Queer people to only write about Queer culture etc. I try to push myself to think things through more thoroughly and reexamine where things are at, here and now. There’s always so much to learn.
HF: And unlearn!
HF: We started this conversation talking about community. Given how subcultures have changed during this digital age and the dissipation of a live industry because of Covid, is there still a community within grime?
HC: I sense there’s as much, if not more, albeit on different levels. I love seeing Leshurr all over the tele, DJ Target too, he hosts two BBC TV shows, Narstie has an award-winning show on Channel 4 and of course Big Zuu’s cooking show. All of these shows bring in figures from grime, as well as rap or drill. Grime is in mainstream culture now, from cooking shows to comedy.
HF: UK drill and rap has been able to rise higher thanks to the foundations that grime built. You can hear the influence of grime sonically in the UK drill productions and of course this cultural DIY energy that we’re seeing flourish in new lanes online has been passed down from generations; from early reggae sound systems to jungle, garage and grime. This new era has built up a generation of entrepreneurs, executives, artists, producers, designers, managers and creatives. It’s the reason we now don’t need to rely on traditional media, we now have our own media platforms with an audience of millions at the touch of a button. So many artists leading the UK music industry got their practice hours in the grime sphere. I think the core scene is having to reestablish itself and go back to the basics. Like it always has been done.
HC: As Jammer - a grime artist - pointed out on a panel recently, Stormzy, a grime artist has had two number one albums, the last one being in 2019. Even if it wasn’t 100% grime in sound, it certainly is in spirit.
HF: The future for grime comes down to everyone playing their position. I also feel it’s important that the really successful grime artists find ways to bring newcomers through. That said, we might not see a lot of it publicly. Behind the scenes I see a lot of support between established artists and new ones, whether providing resources, support or connection to people who might further a newcomers career. You’ve got great platforms like Girls Of Grime, Grime Originals and more building nights and platforms to bring through new talent. Then exciting emerging artists like SBK, M.I.C, Tia Talks all the way through to Mez continue to help build the future wave while Spyro. A.G, Manga, Big Zuu and Novelist build their legacies by building bridges with international grime movements in Prague, Japan, Australia, Brazil and beyond. By breaking down doors, whether you’re from Brighton, Toronto or Tokyo, you can use grime’s energy and DIY ethic as a beacon to tell your story and tap into the communities around it to help spread that story through generations to come. The legacy of grime is just getting started.
About Hattie Collins
Hattie Collins is an award winning journalist, broadcaster, and published author with over 18 years of experience in the music industry. She currently hosts a radio show on Apple Music 1 called Proud and is Music Consultant on the forthcoming BBC1/ Netflix drama series, "Champion. As well as working with a number of brands including Hennessy, Hattie wrote the 2016 book, 'This Is Grime'.
About Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan
Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan is the executive editor of TRENCH mag and an Assistant Producer in TV & Film, with a renowned reputation for accurate and high-engaging content around UK Black music and underground DIY scenes. They have an honest approach to researching, producing, and documenting youth culture, delivering culture-shifting work within UK grime, rap, and drill music since 2006. i-D Magazine recently revealed: “It's thanks to the likes of Hypes that grime is still alive and thriving.” Laura’s recent documentary work ‘Together. We. Rise’ [The story of the GRM Daily], won ‘Best Popular Factual Programme’ at the Broadcast Digital Awards 2021.
About Dan Evans
Dan Evans is an illustrator from London, England. His work includes t-shirt design, book covers, magazine editorials, advertising campaigns & character design. His work references pop culture, especially hip-hop music, football and movies.
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