We’ve seen the videos of those miserable looking hooded men waggling their hands and fingers in the air flanked by a pack of equally despondent teenagers in tacky tracksuits, and yet not many of us understand the nuanced world of grime, the child of hip hop.
As a middle-class village-dweller in rural Essex you may be surprised that I don’t experience the filming of such grime videos. However, I count myself lucky that this is the case. Simply, I see grime as the vehicle for troubled teenagers with many insecurities about themselves. I believe it acts as a vehicle glorifying the most sinister aspects of humanity to surface: violence, racism, misogyny, homophobia - the list goes on.
The timeless conundrum of whether music influences our behaviour may find more certainty when considering that the increasing popularity of grime is simultaneous with that of violent crime in the UK’s major cities. Craig Pinkney, criminologist from Birmingham University has refined this connection: In his words, it is not the lyricists involved in criminal acts but their followers who see the music as an unquestionably creative way of ‘disrespecting’ other artists and their followers. Grime artists reference guns, knives, ‘beefs’, and war to inflate their (perhaps already ballooning) egos in the face of rivals. Despite some artists, including J2K and Roll Deep, insisting grime remains “tense on a strictly lyrical level”, there are always outliers.
Artist, Terminator in ‘One Flow’ described wanting to “knife your mum…knife her in the lung”. Blay Vision’s ‘Alright’ says that “you boys better stack for your hearse so your mum don’t drown in debt”. DJ Bempah argues that “you can glamorise violent crime, but it can’t force your hand in committing those actions”. How naïve this assertion is.
Aside from the violence which grime, and now its much more disturbing child ‘drill music’ espouse, we turn to the other issues. Analysis has found that 22% to 37% of hip hop including grime contain misogynistic lyrics. This is not shocking given the reputations of some of grime’s biggest names: Even darling of the Corbynistas, Stormzy, concedes that “I’m sure a lot of MCs (artists) are derogatory towards females… I say the odd b-word or ‘sl*t’ or ‘sket’… I’ll have a word with the fellow grime massive” (2017).
Let’s assess whether Stormzy has followed through on this insincere gesture: It seems the “grime massive” hasn’t quite got the message: Solo 45 has only just been charged with rape and sexual assault of multiple women, AJ Tracey has described wanting to “take a bite” of a woman and keeping her silent about it, and Skepta often refers to women as “skets” with “big batties”, insisting they’re “all over him” – certainly a case of reverse imposter syndrome. These predatory bloated egos have, as part of grime, seemingly inbuilt tendencies towards misogyny and in the most serious cases (of which are the minority), violence towards women. Even grime’s prominent female artist Lady Fury has been charged with domestic abuse: Not a good look for an industry Stormzy characterises with “respect” and “love”.
Now we come to homophobia. It is indicting of the industry when artists including Syder were forced out from ‘The Square’ after coming out as gay. Similarly, Raury from Brum received unprecedented online homophobia abuse from other MC’s followers after announcing he too was gay. More broadly, grime’s parent hip hop has huge glaring problems with gay people with artists including Eminem, Lil Wayne, Vybz Kartel, and Max B often using derogatory words such as “f*ggot”, “batty man”, “homo”, and “lezzer”. It certainly seems accurate to assess that the parent’s behaviour rubs off onto their children. Karnage Kills, a gay MC admits that “grime is very homophobic” and a competition between “hyper-masculine men”. Karnage Kills also criticises the industry for its “prejudice-riven” attitudes towards women.
Lastly comes racism, most prominently anti-Semitism. Typical amongst Corbynistas lies rampant anti-Jewish bile, and Wiley is no exception. The Corbyn-loving “godfather of grime” comparing Jewish communities to the Ku Klux Klan marks an isolated but incredibly revealing aspect behind grime. Many of his Instagram and Twitter followers praised his telling of Jewish people to “crawl out from under their rocks to defend their Jewish privilege” – wholly ignorant of the fact that Jews still suffer widespread persecution across the Middle East, with rising anti-Semitism across Europe, the US, and China: Only 2% of Egyptian, Lebanese, and Jordanian Muslims view Jewish people favourably (Pew, 2011), and 34% of Europe’s most developed economies’ populations harbour anti-Semitic views (ADL, 2012).
Again, this stems from grime’s parent, hip hop: Glenn Altschuler identifies simmering resentment amongst low-income rappers towards the perceived success and authority of Jewish individuals. This animosity even stems back to Martin Luther King Jr’s accusation that Jewish landlords overcharged black tenants. These attitudes, Altschuler argues, have been adopted by grime artists, although I would say to a much-reduced extent.
Grime is not alone in any of these accusations: Country music to the blues, reggae to pop all have glaring blotches of the issues I have addressed. David Guetta has a song called “sexy b*tch”, Jay Z and Beyoncé’s ‘Drunk in Love’ seemingly glorifies domestic abuse, and Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ has described wanting to “eat Asian p*ssy with sweet and sour sauce”. Pitbull, Robin Thicke and Luis Fonsi all sing from a similar dark, predatory, arrogant song sheet with ‘Timber’, ‘Blurred Lines’, and ‘Despacito’, with the latter two alluding to and justifying rape and sexual assault.
We have a problem that we aren’t addressing: Whether that be because a song is catchy, or is sung by an artist we like, we are allowing archaic attitudes towards women, LGBT+ individuals, and those of a different faith to resurface, although ironically through a younger, more diverse, progressive audience. We must not concede one more inch.
Photo by Frank Septillion on Unsplash