Grime: Punk politics for today’s youth

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Image courtesy of The Fader

As JME, Novelist and Akala take to twitter to protest, we take a look at Britain’s modern-day anarchists

Last week Grime superstar, Akala took to Facebook to defend his decision to back Labour in the upcoming UK General Election under a status titled “My thoughts on the upcoming election.”

In response to the announcement of next month’s snap-election, Akala published a 2,300 word essay featuring the words: “Corbyn may not have the ‘electric’ personality that electorates are concerned about in these days of celebrity culture, but politics is not –primarily – about personalities, it’s about policies… With all the usual reservations and scepticism that we should have when approaching politics I will be voting on June 8th and I’ll be voting for Corbyn’s Labour.”

Followed by fellow Grime starts, a number of artists took to various social media platforms this week to publicly display their political opinions.
Viewed by their millions of followers, JME and Novelist also conducted a public conversation with Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, who replied in response, “Thanks for the support @jmeBBK – if you haven’t already please do what he says and register to vote”

“It doesn’t surprise me that their political views are very left-wing when you look at their backgrounds, especially with Akala’s frequent event attendance on a number of political issues.” states Jack Woodward, DJ and producer who goes under The Moniker CA$TL. “A huge amount of new Grime fans are left-wing youths, so I think it can only influence their fans for the better.”

As well as using online platforms to promote their views, this week JME, AJ Tracey, Novelist and Akala came together to create a “Grime for Corbyn” campaign.
Plastered  on the walls of underground stations and phone boxes around London, pro-Labour posters appeared all over the capital featuring the faces of well-known Grime stars alongside the words ‘We support Corbyn’.

DJ and producer, Kristopher Rahim Afful-Brown, also known as Mr. Krabs, discussed the recent political statements of today’s Grime stars, “I know some that think just because Grime is popular that the artists should keep politics out of it, but Grime has always been about the struggles kids have growing up in less fortunate areas. People should start understanding that majority of these lyrics you hear are coming from real stories, real emotions and how they are just fed up with how the system is run against us.”

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Image courtesy of @danhancox

Merging hip-hop sounds with electro beats and early Jamaican influences, a fresh sound emerged from London’s East End and soon adopted the title, Grime.
Grime rebelled against the glamorisation of British culture with an honest portrayal of working-class London. Early pioneers including Mike Skinner and Wiley represented a “sex, drugs and on the dole” lifestyle. The rawness of their lyrics revolutionised British music and formed a movement founded upon the ethos of authenticity.
With its fast paced beats and at times aggressive lyrics, Grime shares the attitude of the Punk trend that prevailed in London’s youth scene during the 70s. A subculture that represented a generation who felt misunderstood, The Sex Pistols, addressed and rebelled politics through their anti-establishment lyrics with songs such as ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ and ‘God save the Queen’.

Today’s Grime artists such as Boy Better Know members, Skepta and JME, as well as Kano and Stormzy may not have the filthy attitude of Sex Pistol’s Johnny Rotten, however, with their anarchist attitude and honest lyrics, the authenticity of Grime stars has garnered them the title of twenty-first-century Punks.

“Grime is punk in so many ways. But not because Grime was established as an anti-establishment movement, it evolved out of necessity. The kids who made Grime were the type that would be turned away from clubs, dismissed by radio stations, turned down by record labels. Nobody would give them any opportunities.” explained Jack Woodward.
“It’s a reflection of how even to this day, some types of music are actively looked down and discriminated against by the masses, so rather than try to change that, Grime instead adopted a DIY mentality.”

Branding themselves with relatable iconography and honest lyrics, the consolidation of Grime confronted and rebelled against the affluent culture of 90s London, dominated by the glamorisation of celebrity culture. 
Disregarding the statement look of 1970s Punks, an authentic uniform originating from the streets directs the focus from branding to the lyrics and their meaning.

Last year, Boy Better Know frontman, Skepta, released Konnichiwa, a radical album that tackled political conversations such as street crime and police harassment. The album’s tracks featuring the lyrics ‘Tell the President we ain’t forgot, tell the Prime Minister we still remember. Man don’t care what colour or gender, nobody’s votin’ for your corrupted agenda.” Ranked one of the best albums of 2016 by a number of newspapers and platforms, Skepta was awarded a Mercury Prize for the acclaimed album and won Best British Male at the NME awards earlier this year.

Since its debut in 2002, Grime has reached international heights and become Britain’s loudest musical export since Punk-Rock. Global artists such as Kanye West and Drake continue to praise and promote the sounds coming out of the streets of London boroughs, Tottenham, Lewisham and Bow.
Regarded as the birth place of Punk, New Romantic, Mod and Skinhead, London’s global power and multiculturalism continues to influence and generate new sounds, styles and subcultures. By adopting the ethos of Punk, the anarchist and anti-establishment attitude of Grime has solidly established the revolutionary movement as the one-and-only existing British subculture of our time.
With the snap-election approaching, we can only expect the neo-punks of London’s Grime scene to make plenty of political noise in the next few months. Look out.

Words by Emily Gallagher

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