Generation Grime - TV Review
In Three Words: Comprehensive, DIY, Authentic
Straight up, full disclosure, before I review a documentary about the history of Grime. My relationship with Grime is not as deep as I would like. As I have said in the past, my music consumption for (at this point) half of my life was whatever my sister or father listened to. The closest I got to Grime was Dizzee Rascal's "Boy In Da Corner" and that is pretty much it until I entered High School. (We'll get to that time in my life in conjunction with the documentary later on.)
I say all that to say that I was very hyped to see this. I have been making a concerted effort in recent years to add Grime into my regular musical diet. Lucky for me, we're at a, dare I say a "Golden Age of Grime". But I think it is always worth looking back. Grime is a very young genre, 15-20 years old depending on who you ask. But it has been through a lot in those two decades. Enter Sky Arts' "Generation Grime".
This is a documentary that is very reliant on oral history. From Wiley to DJ Target, Jammer to JME, Devlin to Jamal Edwards. Nearly everybody that you would want for this documentary is on this. And because Grime is so young, it gives everybody a chance to talk on every chapter, because everybody has been either there from the start or at minimum when it became a true force.
So let's get into the chapters themselves. It is cut into six parts. "Birth" goes way back, to the roots of Grime. Tinie Tempah gives a good base by talking about how the Generation in question are mainly 2nd Gen Caribbeans/Africans where their parents emigrated to the UK. With inspirations from Reggae artists like Dennis Brown & Bob Marley, came "Ragga", Dancehall, then came the true inspirations for Grime.
Jungle, Drum & Bass and of course, Garage.
Duane Jones says this and I think if you'd ask anyone they'd agree. There would be no Grime without Garage. The only difference between Grime and Garage according to Megaman (So Solid Crew) is that Garage is a "Musician based genre", saying that Garage producers are legitimate, smoother, melodic. Grime is more rudimentary on the production side. While most people would see that as a negative, it made Grime what it is. Throughout this chapter, people talk about how they could make a beat with a PC and bootleg programs, all in their living room. You know what that reminds me of. Hip-Hop in it's infancy.
Part 2 was named "Wot Do U Call It?", a nice homage to Wiley's legendary track. A nice plus for this documentary is that the chapters are dated. This chapter is between 2003 - 2005. JME starts it off by simply saying that it didn't have a name. That some people called it Grime but some didn't like that. Enter Wiley's aforementioned track that put on wax that this is not Garage, it is something else. It was only a matter of time before it gained a name.
One key moment in this chapter and the documentary as a whole, is how the people see Grime back in the day compared to now. With the scope they have now, they can make genuine connections that they would not have thought of at the time. The connection in this case, is the link to the Punk Rock 70's and how both Grime and Punk was a lashing out at the situations the respective generations were in. There is a legitimate connection there and could probably explain why Grime has gotten more mainstream in recent years. But we'll approach that later.
This chapter also covers the rave scene which Wiley labelled as the "Foundation" for what Grime is. You can definitely link that to the house parties in 80's New York.
From weekend raves, came Pirate Radio. Not being in that world, I don't think I could quantify the importance of Pirate Radio, but Dizzee Rascal made a great comparison, saying he sees going on Pirate Radio back then as big as the Olympics Opening Ceremony. So, yea, it was a pretty big deal. Devlin saw it as a proving ground. A place to hone your skills.
Even if you don't know anything about Grime, you can easily imagine the steps that these guys were taking. From raves, to radio, the next stage was obviously going to be visual. Giving these voices a face.
Part 3. "The Visual" (2003 - 2006) Now you would think when we're talking visuals, it would be just music videos right? No sir! BATTLE RAP! Or as the Grime artists call it, "Clashing". Now that people like Wiley, Kano & Dizzee have been in the scene for a bit, it was time to battle for dominance. Looking at these archives is quite a sight. The dingy setting, the surrounding squads, the energy just jumps out of the screen.
Now when you see this, it might remind you of battle rap in the Hip-Hop sense. But Jammer links it more to Danchall's "Twin Deck Culture" where two artists spit over instrumentals. Look it up, it's actually very fascinating to watch and way bigger in the Caribbean considering they're battling in front of thousands of people.
This is a very convenient time for this documentary to drop. Because a big part of this chapter is how Channel U (Now Channel AKA) was the first TV channel to rep for Grime and other facets of black music. It is convenient, albeit unfortunate, because news came a day after I watched this that Channel AKA is shutting down after 15 years. But lucky for Grime, the Internet has replaced TV in terms of where you can go for the latest and greatest, hence why Jamal Edwards, founder of SBTV, finishes this chapter talking about finding the niche and becoming the youngest person to ever get an MBE.
Part 4 is where I start to remember vividly what was going on. "Mainstream Money" (2007 - 2013) was a high point for some, but for the art-form, it's probably considered as the lowest point for the genre. Wiley, once again, started the trend with "Wearing My Rolex". It showed that Black British Music can top the charts. Tinchy Stryder, Wretch, Lethal Bizzle & more importantly for this doc, Tinie Tempah, took the major labels dribbling over them and ran with it. Some people saw this as selling out because if you remember the songs back in those days, they were not Grime. It was pop, club like beats that just so happened to have rappers on the track. I was in High School at this time and my people ate this all up. N-Dubz was constantly blasted among my peers, so was Tinchy and Chipmunk. Sonically, Grime lost their way. Wretch and Devlin make the same point in this part, saying that back in the day they didn't have much, so when a label gives you a 100K advance, what are you going to say?!
Another major flash-point for this era was society at the time. With the Tottenham Riots in 2011 and other incidents, the police implemented the 696 form. It's only until recently that the form has been scrapped.
But think about that. For some genres, that would kill it off. A genre that is barely 10 years old at the time, given a form that basically cuts off any attempt to have a rave, that could have crippled Grime as a culture. But it didn't. You could say that it only gave the culture incentive to get back to their roots and try it their own way...
Part Five, "The Reload", (2014 - 2016) is all about Grime coming back home. This was led by Skepta with "That's Not Me". It says it all on the tin. Saying to the labels and official radio stations that this isn't how we do it. It won the MOBO Award for Best Video and Skepta said that he made the video with only £80. This was the rebellious nature of Grime at it's loudest. Doing it on a shoestring budget but still creating fire.
"Generation Grime" is a great cover of a genre that is only just beginning. Grime as a music genre has this raw energy that can't be matched, the culture has moved a society, influenced the culture and society. In the final part "The Takeover", (2015 - 2018) there is a mention of how Grime nearly got Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister. Hip-Hop took 30 years to have that kind of political power.
The only negative I have with this documentary is the fact that there is only one female artist in this, Shystie. I find that a bit sad, I'm sure they could've gotten many more women in this. Julie Adenuga for example, he would've been perfect for this considering she's part of Grime Royalty. But apart from representation issues, this documentary paints Grime in the light it deserves. The movement has grown at such a rapid pace, I am genuinely surprised that they have evolved this quickly. I say again... Grime isn't even 20 years old yet. Who knows where it'll go.
I highly recommend this documentary, regardless if you know about Grime or not. Grime may not be your music, but the hustle and the DIY nature in Grime's DNA is something we can all respect.