SKEPTA AND THE RETURN OF THE BLACK PUNK ETHOS

by Candice Nembhard

Grime’s re-emergence into mainstream channels of music should be viewed as nothing less than a testament to the masses of hungry music listeners searching for an angry energy tandem with their feelings of creative distrust with the music industry complex. Whether you see its re-surfacing as positive or negative; its influence has grown so much so, we are willing to finally give it long overdue credibility.

Although online platforms are reaching artists far and wide, the tunnel vision of industry heads have inundated listeners with re-packaged 90s RnB, Detroit and Chicago house samples and what can only be described as corny pop/rap collaborations. In and amongst the discussion of popular music, its pros and cons is a subtle growth of the bubbling DIY spirit that has transcended from the likes of NWA in Reagan-era Compton to a Boy Better Know (BBK), Akala, and Lil Simz appreciation in a post-Brexit, multicultural Britain.

The UK has long tried to distance its current musical offerings from the sounds of the windrush, which oversaw immigrants not only stepping into London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bradford to work, but bringing along with them the rough cuts from roots reggae, patois dialects and Hindi love songs. Its influence is best characterised in Don Lett’s Culture Clash radio show on BBC 6 Music; where the voice of punk and the morale of rudeboy unite.

it came from active and frustrated voices with little to nothing in their pockets

Letts’ work with The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and alongside fashion ventures and influences at London legendary club The Roxy, pioneered a sense of hybridity among young Jamaican immigrants and white working class punks in Thatcher’s Britain. The disparity felt among young people gave birth to some of the greatest and most honest music Britain has produced; it came from active and frustrated voices with little to nothing in their pockets. Undoubtedly this spirit was overshadowed by its aesthetic but as Letts noted: Punk is not mohawks and safety pins. It’s an attitude and a spirit, with a lineage and tradition.’

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© gadventures.com

The ethos of championing your own lane is something central to many immigrants; of which the feeling may have been lost in the corruptive hedonism of the 80s. That being said, emerging in late 90s/early noughties London was remixing of the sounds of garage into to the grit of grime. Beats became less stylised, drifting away from the dreamlike vocals of Shola Ama to hard hitting bashment-style lyrical insults, quick wit and camaraderie. With the help of pirate radio and homemade recording studios, a new culture clash emerged; Lord of the Mics; honing in on a musicality that could only ever come out of minority voices in London. Skills that have honoured the likes of Wiley and Kano, from their low budget debuts to godfathers of grime.

The attitude of reclaiming their own space, governed by their own rules is something that I can only ever attribute culturally to punk; origins of which stem further into rock n’ roll, jazz, bluegrass and negro spirituals. The very heart of these emerging genres and styles of music was to pull out a mutual understanding between people and find comfort in a shared experience. This common ground between man defied any authority and instilled hope into the hearts of those within in.

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© capitalxtra.com

Skepta’s recent win at the 2016 Mercury Prize Awards definitely shocked some and encouraged others. The Mercury recognition for grime outside of the MOBO awards was granted to Ms Dynamite’s A Little Deeper in 2002 and Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner 2003. Recent co-signs from artists such as Drake have queried old school listeners as to the direction of grime and other self-made genres.  

So what is it about grime that keeps registering new fans? Undoubtedly it’s the drive to be better than you were and to never settle for anything less than greatness

Having briefly entered the music machine, Skepta and fellow BBK members have come out the other side with a firm rhetoric to never be swayed by industry heads; especially as many artists go and sooner or later return. So what is it about grime that keeps registering new fans? Undoubtedly it’s the drive to be better than you were and to never settle for anything less than greatness. Whether you’re a newcomer or an old-time two-stepper, the beauty of grime is never too far away from the madness of punk and disconcertment with an establishment that are finally taking note.

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