Despite emerging on the underground music scene in the early 21st century, the impact of grime within mainstream culture today is inescapable.
Described by the BBC as the “most significant musical development within the UK for decades”, the genre has produced award-winners and number 1 hit-scorers in rappers Stormzy, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta, amongst others.
It’s been applauded by hip-hop rappers Drake and ASAP Rocky in the States and mimicked across the world.
READ MORE: The 1970s London neighbourhood that declared independence from the rest of the city
Wiley, who has self-appointed himself as the ‘Godfather’ of the music genre, was even awarded an OBE by Prince William a few years ago.
“Grime is the only music genre going that’s for the people, by the people,” grime fan Daniel Harwood tells me. “It’s not ghost-written by men in suits, or about imaginary heartbreak or breakups or whatever. It’s real and authentic, that’s why people like it so much.”
It’s authentic- and it’s also distinctly London.
“I find it so funny how Americans are into it now,” Daniel’s friend Joe adds.
“Like, it’s such a London thing, grime. It’s proper East. It’s like EastEnders being watched by the Kardashians, it cracks me up.”
The genre, which is played on mainstream music stations across the world, clubs in every capital, and features on main stages at festivals, started off restricted to UK pirate radio at the turn of the 21st century.
(Image: Vincent Cole)
What set apart grime from contemporary music at the time wasn’t just how it was played, but what it was about.
Unlike the R&B and hip-hop dominating the charts, grime was “in part, a reaction to how posh the world of dance music had become by the late nineties,” Hua Hsu wrote.
“They didn’t conceal their accents – something that European rappers of the eighties and nineties often did… These were anthems for clubs that did not exist, with the hiss of ungrounded wires discernible in the background.”
Going back to grime’s roots, perhaps it doesn’t do it justice to even refer to it as a London phenomenon, but more locally, a product of East London: specifically Roman Road in Bow.
“We made the genre everybody’s on, but it’s all come from Bow,” Wiley put it on his track Bow E3 in 2007.
And one location played a particularly vital role in the formation of the genre.
(Image: Press Association)
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Rhythm Division was a bright blue record shop on Roman Road, Tower Hamlets – today, a coffee shop – that served as the geographical epicentre of the birth of grime, the beginnings of grime artists, including one of the genre’s biggest names, Dizzee Rascal.
“I think without Rhythm the scene would be very different now,” said Risky Roadz, who has been recording the journey of the grime scene for two decades now.
“It was more than just a record shop, it was where everyone congregated and spoke about ideas and what they was gonna do. It was way more than just a shop. The place is special.”
Roman Road itself was a place of both home and inspiration for Wiley.
The rapper has previously referred to the road as “nurturing” when discussing where young rappers would meet up and freestyle.
In fact, his first music video for Wot Do You Call It? was filmed there.
That isn’t the only video shot on Roman Road- nor is it even the most famous.
Skepta’s break out song and accompanying video, That’s Not Me, was also filmed along the Roman Road. Today, the video has over 17 million views on YouTube, forever cementing E3’s rightful place in London music history.
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