Grime and rap from the U.K. are cutting through in a big way, as fans and artists alike flock to YouTube to celebrate the genres. Tallying well over 1.3 billion video views in 2016 alone, the platform has seen skyrocketing numbers for a new crop of artists in the last few years, with MCs like Kano, Skepta, and Stormzy delivering the sound firmly back into the spotlight after a brief hiatus. For its upcoming showcase at The Great Escape, YouTube will celebrate the scene’s growth with a lineup that includes Kano and his friends: Ghetts, Kojo Funds, Little Simz, and more.
The U.K.'s grittier electronic cousin to hip-hop, grime emerged in the early 2000s from the MC-led dance culture of U.K. garage. Wiley, an MC and producer from East London who had already had success with garage group Pay As U Go Cartel, pioneered the new genre in a series of 12-inch releases, with abrasive, minimal electronic beats that would come to define the sound. In 2003, Dizzee Rascal's classic debut “Boy in Da Corner” landed a Mercury Music Prize, and alongside the other seminal album of the initial explosion - Kano’s “Home Sweet Home” - sent grime into the British mainstream. An ensuing major label boom followed, but grime eventually moved back underground, ceding mainstream prominence to genres like dubstep and electro rap.
It took Skepta's back-to-basics 2014 classic “That's Not Me” (18 million YouTube views to date) and follow-up “Shutdown” (30 million views) to propel grime back to the mainstream, even attracting international attention thanks to the patronage of Drake, whose 2017 album “More Life” features grime stars Skepta and Giggs.
YouTube has been central to fans’ engagement with the grime and rap from the U.K. for more than a decade, helping to jump-start the careers of many of the scene’s heavyweights along the way. Stormzy’s seminal video for “Shut Up” has amassed almost 57 million views, while Episode 4 of Lady Leshurr’s Queen’s Speech series stands at 42 million. YouTube channels like SBTV, Link Up TV, GRM Daily, and The Grime Report have helped to drive the scene’s profile even more, with annual views of the genres tripling from 2014 to 2016 and on pace to hit a record high in 2017.
Here’s a rundown of the artists performing at YouTube’s Great Escape showcase on Friday, May 19.
With a recording career that dates back to the early 2000s, Kano has released five studio albums, appeared on tracks with Gorillaz and The Streets, had a starring role in gritty British TV series “Top Boy” and earned multiple BRIT Awards nominations. His most recent album, 2016’s “Made in the Manor” (Mercury Prize nominee), was his most popular to date, with lead track “3 Wheel-Ups” amassing 6.7 million YouTube views. Kano has one of the most popular grime channels on YouTube, with 3 million lifetime views.
Ghetts (originally known as Ghetto) first came to prominence alongside Kano in legendary grime outfit N.A.S.T.Y. Crew. His 2005 mixtape, “2000 and Life” (as Ghetto), is considered a classic, thanks to his intricate, energetic rhymes and a production style that mixed grime with hip-hop, while 2007 mixtape “Ghetto Gospel” saw Ghetts adopt a noticeably calmer style to show off his versatility. After five mixtapes, Ghetts’ debut album “Rebel with a Cause” was released in 2014, with lead track “Rebel” becoming an underground hit, edging close to 373,000 views on Noisey’s YouTube channel. His 2011 Ed Sheeran collaboration, “Drown Me Out,” has 1.1 million views.
Little Simz’ music is proof of the wild creative energy that surrounds her in 2017. After releasing four mixtapes and five EPs in just five years, she unleashed her debut studio album in 2015, “A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons,” a brilliantly dark journey into her psyche, anchored by granite-hard single “Dead Body” (1.5 million views on YouTube to date). Rather than repeat herself, Simz’ second studio album, 2016’s “Stillness in Wonderland” was a concept album based on “Alice in Wonderland.” No wonder Kendrick Lamar is among her growing legion of fans.
East Londoner Kojo Funds is representative of a new generation of British MCs who mix grime with R&B and Afrobeat, blending glorious pop choruses with hard-hitting production in a genre he calls “Afroswing.” His 2016 track “Dun Talkin” (a collaboration with fellow up-and-coming MC Abra Cadabra) has 9.9 million views on GRM Daily’s YouTube channel, while “Warning” has been viewed 3.9 million times since its release in March 2017.
Elijah and Skilliam
DJ duo and Butterz label owners Elijah & Skilliam are grime royalty. As well as DJing the length and breadth of Britain, their international schedule has seen them spread the grime gospel to South Korea, France, Spain, Holland, Norway, Croatia, and Japan. Their mix albums for Rinse (2011’s “Rinse 17”) and Fabric (2014’s “Fabriclive 75”) have become touchstones of the grime revival, while Butterz has released music by everyone from Trim to Terror Danjah. The duo’s Studio Session mix for SBTV with Japanese Grime Collective has 50,000 YouTube views.
As DJ for elite grime collective Boy Better Know, whose members include JME, Skepta, Wiley, and Jammer, DJ Maximum sits right at the beating heart of grime and has contributed to the genre’s global revival. In 2016, he mixed the “Grime Time compilation for Ministry of Sound and appeared on Boiler Room London with Skepta, Frisco, Shorty, Jammin, and A.J. Tracey, a set that has nearly 114,000 views to date on Boiler Room’s official YouTube channel.