About fifteen million years ago on the Internet (a/k/a at the beginning of January of this year), my friend Skinny Friedman issued an errant tweet claiming something to the effect of, “Grime is going to be big in 2013.” Though he was joking (I think?), that got me thinking. I can see where he’s coming from–Grime comes from England, where there’s little between dance music, hip-hop and straight pop music. In an America where Skrillex has beats on A$AP Rocky albums, Hudson Mohawke is getting work with Kanye, and Pitbull went from rapping about slinging yayo over Lil Jon beats to slinging Bud Light while rapping over David Guetta, we’ve basically got cats and dogs living together, musically speaking. Additionally, every single day hip-hop becomes more accepting of global styles, specifically Dancehall: it seems that there’s always room for a Dancehall single or two on rap radio, and you can hear its vocal effects and sonic drive in the work of Future (who T-Pain just anointed as the next T-Pain by getting mad at him on Instagram). But while America kinda-sorta likes Dancehall and Britain really likes Dancehall to the point where the two styles are basically two sides of the same coin, for whatever reason Grime hasn’t crossed over to these here shores.
To this day, when you think of “British Rap,” the only reliable points points of reference are probably Dizzee Rascal, The Streets, and maybe Wiley and Lady Sovereign. The extended narrative of British rap (as America sees it) is this: Wiley’s the dude who started Grime with his Roll Deep crew, Dizzee was the breakout star whose charisma and uniqueness (and Bun B cosign) fascinated us for a couple years, and The Streets is that British white dude who we were unsure was ever an actual rapper at all, and Lady Sov was the female rapper who Jay-Z tried to make a thing. But really, the flagbearer for British hip-hop in America has always been Dizzee, and once he realized he could be a ginormous pop star in Britain by abandoning Grime wholly, people in America haven’t really fucked with it like that.
But guess what! There exists a veritable shit-ton of reasons to like British rap music! Especially if you’re a hip-hop fan in 2013! Here’s the elevator pitch: the beats are heavy as fuck (think neo-Bay beats as made by a drunk Lex Luger, but completely different from that), Grime MC’s themselves have more personality per capita than American ones and can rap real fast in a British accent which is either off-putting or the coolest thing in the world, and Grime has Wiley. Like I said, Wiley’s the dude who pioneered the sound, will make a song about quite literally anything, and when he first got Twitter decided his handle should be @vneckjumper, because he was wearing a v-neck sweater (he’s since changed it to the boring/coherent @wileyupdates).
Anyways, with all that in mind here’s a few British rap songs you should listen to that hypothetically could have been hits in America if life were totally different here. Not gonna include Dizzee’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” because of this video of a bunch of XXL Freshmen (including Lil B!) rapping over it, and I’m also not including Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out” because one time in 2011 my friend J.J. and I were driving around in the middle of the night in North Carolina and heard this on the radio. Even without those two, the best Britain has to offer is way better than whatever hipster bullshit your Tumblr dashboard just told you to listen to.
I have no way to prove this, but I think Diplo might have kindasorta ripped the foundation of this beat off for “Pon de Floor.” Either way, those artificial finger-snaps sound awfully familiar.
Kano Feat. Demon & Double E
Hey, speaking of Diplo! This song features one of the earliest original Diplo productions, lilts in all the right ways, and has the right marriage of breakbeat and bassline that it deserves spins at club nights all throughout America.
In America, we listen to Chopped and Screwed music when we want to hear really, really slow rapping. Not in the UK! They just listen to Giggs. He’s got a deep-voiced molasses flow, and people love him for the same reason they love Young Jeezy–because he is unequivocally about that life. This is basically Giggs’ version of “Every Day I’m Hustlin’.” Also, Giggs’ second album is available for free on DatPiff despite having been released by XL.
“Over the Top”
Skepta is the best-kept secret of Wiley’s Roll Deep crew. He used to be a DJ, and has a really strong sense of rhythm whenever he raps. This is from his Microphone Champion LP, which also features songs about wearing Ed Hardy clothes (“Ed Hardy Party”) and how there are too many men at the club (“Too Many Men”). Skepta, it could be argued, is a literalist.
Lethal Bizzle Feat. JME, Kano, Chipmunk, P Money, Wiley, Face, and Ghetts
Back in 2004, Lethal Bizzle made a song called “Pow” that allegedly got banned in lots of clubs in London because people kept beating the shit out of each other. It is by far the best thing he’s ever done. Instead of trying to top himself, he just remade the song in 2011 with lots of hot MC’s from 2011. Wiley’s verse is the best, because he’s literally just rapping gibberish.