Grime Music a reflection of London Working Class Culture

As an avid Grime fan, listener and producer myself, there is no doubt the origins of Grime is London and without its inequality between rich and poor, I honestly find it hard to believe there would have been a creation of the music now known as GRIME. The video posted below is of Big Narstie one of Grime’s earliest and current rappers and it highlights the importance of the music for the youth of working class families born in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Big Narstie on Grime:

This is an interview on 1xtra Charlie Sloths – Fire in the Booth, he gives a little bit of grime history which is not quite accurate about the first Grime single, but he does give an accurate account of grime of how it was viewed and how the scene moved as it became more accessible to the public. He also does give an accurate account on how rappers used the scene. He talks about the working class and grime music and the reality of the working class youth when it comes to education, violence and money. He talks about grime music progression and distribution and the his own successes as well as other rappers and how artist have struggled to make a living of Grime. And how grime has become an influence outside of working class London.

Big Narstie Keeps It Real About Grime (BBC Radio 1Xtra, January 30, 2015)

Introduction Into Grime Music 

The most common misconception when it comes to Grime music is that it is a sub genre of music. Grime music does in fact draw a lot of elements from various types of music including, Garage, Jungle, Reggae, Hip Hop, R&B, House and Rock. In doing so it has created its own sound like none heard before. Grime arose around height of Garage era of music era in early 2000s.

Garage music started out a subculture but with its increasing popularity it fast became apart of the dominant culture, placed in the popular culture category. This meant a lot of the activists and subjects who had the power to direct the creative control of the music had lost power to the power holders. The power holders were now dictating the direction of garage music and this meant the activist and subjects were losing out, so new artist found it hard to break into the now popular culture and for fans, pirate radio stations and DJs the music started to become similar and female vocals became the norm on garage songs. More music being released under major labels and some garage artists did not fit the mold the major labels were looking for this meant some had to find a new genre of music.

MJ Cole’s album Sincere is an example of big cooperation taking control of garage music. He released it in 2001 after his major single Sincere (1998) the album was released by Island Records a division of Universal Music Group

MJ Cole – Sincere (Album) (Island Records, April 17, 2001)

For some this was Grime, the most notable artist to switch from Garage to Grime was Wiley who was part of the Pay As U Go Cartel who had a Garage hit with their song Champagne Dance, Wiley is now seen as the “Godfather of Grime” and who is still currently active in the Grime scene. Grime itself has stayed a subculture in society even with its increasing popularity and relative success it has been form of music the dominant culture does not wish to accept but keep as an emergent culture element, exploiting it success and trying to change it.

Grime Music: 

Before I go into next section I will show you some examples of Grime Music some instrumentals and songs:

Davinche – Buzz Light Year (Dirty Canvas E.P., Paperchase Recordings, 2004)

Davinche – Buzz Light Year. A Grime classic and is a prime example of hyper Grime music.

Musical Mobb – Pulse X (Pulse X, Inspired Souds Records, 2002)

Musical Mobb – Pulse X. The first ever Grime song to be released.

Mastermind Trooperz – Monsta Riddim (White Label, September, 2005)

Mastermind Trooperz – Monsta Riddim. One of the first Grime songs on Channel U

No Lay – Off With Your Head (GRM Daily, September 21, 2012)

No Lay – Off With Your Head . One of the few females actually doing Grime on a consistent basis.

Grime Music a reflection of London Working Class Culture

As there has been only been one academic approach to Grime as culture I will be attempting the second one. The first is by Simon Wheatley, Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time of Grime (2010) it is photographic book. There has been countless video documentaries to grime so the primary sources will be the music, my own knowledge and experience, videos, magazines and newspaper articles.

Grime music in the early years were only released on 12 inch vinyl because it was cheap and easy because there were often local vinyl presses, also it gave producers, DJs and MCs a way or releasing their own product under the own label. Most vinyl presses started out as white labels producing only around 10 to 20 copies to give out to DJs on pirate radio stations. Only is if the white label was successful, it would be released under a label, but even then only 300 to 500 copies were pressed and often the vinyl would be released as a limited edition.

The release of the first Grime vinyl was in June 2002 by Musical Mob – Pulse X (Inspired Sounds Records) it was released under his own record label. The song itself paved the way for the Grime sound, known and loved today. Grime is typically known to be produced at a speed of a 140bpm and the a typical grime song would be split up into either 8 bars,16 bars, 32 bars and sometimes even 64 bars. After a typical verse of 16 bars, there would be an 8 bar chorus and this would be the repetition until the song ended.

The song Pulse X by Musical Mob paved the way for the grime sound through it simplistic but thoroughly enjoyable set up. The song itself is produced at a 138bpm, but if you try to tap the beat such as I did it could easily be mistaken for a 140bpm. Pulse X is split up into 32 bars of near complete repetition until 3:44:8 minutes where the beat changes slightly.

Musical Mobb – Pulse X (Pulse X, Inspired Souds Records, 2002)

And one month after Wiley’s famous Eskimo in July 2002 instrumental was released, though he had done vocals in 2002 most notably for his single ‘I will not lose’ though released under the genre grime it was not. It is not known how the name of the ‘Grime’ was created but there is a strong suggestion that Wiley’s famous Eskimo instrumental was the first single released under the name ‘Grime’.

For the first year or maybe just less, Grime was mainly instrumentals releases. Until 2003 when the rise of Grime crews came about most notably N.A.S.T.Y Crew (Natural Artistic Sounds Touching You), Ruff Sqwad and Roll Deep all hail from East London. This is when MCs were first became and integral part of Grime. Grime unlike other genres of music, allows instrumental makers to be on the same or even higher levels than actual rappers of the genre, many MCs chose a beat because it make by and specific producer or fans would listen to MC because of the beat the rapper was spitting over. For most genres of music this is unusual most producers are not in the actual lime light when a notable or artist is using their instrumental.

Living Conditions

Grime music like I stated previously is like none other heard and literally cannot be compared to anything else because it is was unique London sound, that was born and bred in a working class back drop of the youth born in the 1980s and early 1990s, so much so it is an integral part working class youth culture.

This is evident in Simon Wheatley’s book it shows the background in which Grime music was created and how they lived. Where activists of the music lived is a without a doubt a reflected by where they lived. More often than not it was council estates that were run down and not taken care of. Highrises that were in poor areas with not a lot of jobs prospects. Families within these estates were often poor and did not have regular jobs and were assisted by the government with funds. Estates were left to rot a became a haven for drugs and crime, and drug users were not uncommon. Most families were migrant families from the England’s Common wealth and in the early 90s saw a massive influx of families from the African continent.

With crime rate and drug abuse high, saw the rise of criminal activity became a way of life for many of these youth and this portrayed in their music. And because the money that could be made from criminal activity, these estates became a vicious cycle. School without a doubt became less important. There is phrase often repeated on the estates that shows the mindset of youth.

‘There is only three ways to get out, music, shoting (selling drugs) or sport’.

Education for many youth is just not a factor and this is because of their peers and where they live.

Pictures From Simon Wheatley’s Book : DON’T CALL ME URBAN! The Time Of Grime

Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010)

20150720_161841 Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) p. 25

20150720_161913  Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) p.69

20150720_161941  Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) p. 71

20150720_161958  Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp 72-73

20150720_162120 Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp. 22-23

20150720_162212  Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) p. 51

20150720_162246 Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) p. 66

20150720_162333  Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp. 92 – 93

20150720_162345 Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp. 96-97

20150720_162512Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp. 142-143 

20150720_162538 Simon Wheatley ‘Don’t Call Me Urban! The Time Of Grime’ (Northumbria Press, 2010) pp. 164-165 

Music Of Resistance

In 2002 the Grime music is created and what it has done so successfully is represent the working class culture within London. The movement started in East London with the likes of Wiley an Kano. Quickly gathered moment among from working class youth in all areas of London and saw within the first two years saw an abundances of music made. With the most famous being Lethal Bizzle’s song POW (Forward Riddim), that drew a lot of media attention when it peaked at number 11 in the UK charts in 2005, it became the bench mark of Grime music culture and showing the youth what their music could achieve with hard work and ambition.

POW! and grime music itself became a of resistance to power holders so much so that still to this day 11 years on that some promoters still tell DJ’s not to play POW! That one song is literally the galvanizes people from all different backgrounds as a symbol of resistance for UK music, that one song is reason why so many people feel in love with Grime music and made the power holders in music, the middle class and high society aware of Grime like none other.

The cultural resistance is reflected in the music with aggression that is often misplaced towards other youth, but is portrayed through lyrics and instrumentals. Instrumentals are often hyper and at a bpm of 140 with a repetitive structure, this seen above. The structure and the pace of music is a form of resistance because, grime music allows youth with very little or no musical skills at all to become musicians via computer software such as Fruity Loops now known simply as FL Studio. Via this type computer software they were able access instrument sounds that were previously only accessible via the actual instrument.

The structure itself is almost unrecognizable and I would argue is unique to Grime itself a short 16 bar verse with and even shorter chorus of 8 bars. The bpm of 140 is nearly at drum and bass tempo, something that is not seen in any other genre of music that could be put in the ‘rap’ umbrella of music. Grime there is no platform sound to follow or rapping technique. To the middle class and higher society it would be seen as a destruction of music because no actual instruments were used and music itself was initially completely unrecognizable.Much like punk was seen a resistance of music in the rock and roll genre. Unlike punk which is a sub genre, Grime is in a genre all by itself much like dubstep, the is music something that unless you as a person who lived and grew working class London in the early 2000s, it is hard to relate to it.

Literal Reflection

Grime & Violence

The music is very much a reflection of the society at the time. There was a rise in gun crime and stabbings especially among working class youth that were born in 1980s and early 1990s between the years 2001 and 2010 there was a heavy gang culture that revolved around territory were peopled lived, this is heavy reflected in lyrics and instrumentals. So much so there were Grime songs made about territory. Among highlighting as well as glorifying the violent culture among working class youth and grime music brought attention to the growing drug culture and the money that could be made from it. The drugs that were portrayed most in the music was cocaine, marijuana and heroin.

There is no doubt that gang culture was heavily portrayed in Grime music and with it, real life gangs and criminal activity one of the most notable gangs that was reflected heavily in grime was ‘RSG’ or Roadside Gangsters notorious and active in South London.

An article of a youth killing involving Roadside Gangsters.

Taboola ‘Gun Pair get 30 years for killing teenager they mistook as rival’ (EveningStandard, 24 May, 2013)

Roadside G’s – Come to da Roadside (White Label, 2005)

Roadside G’s – Come to da Roadside. One of their earliest Grime songs in 2005

Roadside G’s – Baddest (tempaboi06, 28 December 2014)

Roadside G’s – Baddest. This video was put to show that Roadside G’s are still an active and very real gang despite their first video nearly a decade ago. The video was put up on December 28th 2014.

Devlin Feat. Ghetto, Wretch 32 & Scorcher – Dealers (The Movement, Tempo Specialist’s, 2006)

Devlin Feat. Ghetto, Wretch 32 & Scorcher – Dealers. This song is literally glorifying selling drugs and actively talks about the money that can be made from it. As well as all the violence that goes with selling drugs.

UGC – Rep your Ends (White Label, 2005)

UGC – Rep your Ends. This is a song all about territory and how each other area viewed each other. They have a representative from each area of London. North London, South London, West London and East London.

This does not mean the music did have political views and tackle other issues i.e relationships. The political views within Grime music still today is very much that the government neglect the poor society this is not unique in itself and is seen in various different music the world.

Grime & Women

What is unique to Grime music and London culture is the language used towards the other sex. The language was very local slang and varied depending on what area an activist lived in. For example ‘bizzle’ and ‘grim’ in East London slang for a promiscuous female. Whereas in South London activists have more known terms for a promiscuous female ‘slag’ ‘sket’ ‘hoe’. Even though Grime is heavily male dominated and often used to vulgar words to describe the other sex.

The music was not completely negative towards female sex, this evident in probably the most recognizable Grime beat ever, Flukes – Wifey Riddim. The instrumental was covered by various MCs most notably is Tinie Tempah version. ‘Wifey’ is slang to describe a serious partner, when it came to describing females in London slang in a more positive light the language was not locally based.

Tinie Tempah – Wifey (White Label, 2006)

Tinie Tempah – Wifey. This is the song that rose Tinie Tempah’s fame and is a representative of language used to describe a long-term girlfriend.

Flukes – Wifey Riddim (White Label, 2006)

Flukes – Wifey Riddim. The highly covered instrumental that helped a lot MCs make a name for themselves.

Wiley, JME & Ears – Grim (White Label, 2006)

Wiley, JME & Ears – Grim. This is song that a representative of how many youth viewed young females and the language used is very local to East London.

Grime did often highlight the problems minority had with authority and government. Working class minority youth were frequently stop by police and victimized with stop and searches. The constant stop and searches left a permanent scar on the working class minority and the police over time were seen as the enemy.

Bruza & Bashy – Fuck the Government (White Label, 2005)

Bruza & Bashy – Fuck the Government. The song is an anti authority and the title name speaks for itself. The song lyrics talks about the gap and between the rich and poor. And is representative of how many working class youth feel about the government and how they do not feel valued under the current society.

Mitchell Brothers – Routine Check (The Beats Recordings, Warner Music UK Ltd, 2005)

Mitchell Brothers – Routine Check. This is a song about how police victimized minorities with stop and searchers by telling them it was a ‘Routine Check’. Minorities were often victimized if they were seen in cars, the police perceived to beyond the scope of their wealth. If seen in cars the police though beyond their wealth, they would often assume it was obtained by illegal activity and often carried out searchers without probable cause.


The movement of music as I have stated earlier was by vinyl mainly white labels in the early years and many of these vinyl’s were played on pirate radio such as Rinse FM, Heat FM and DEja Vu FM. Rinse FM is now a licensed radio by ofcom but for many years it was a pirate radio station that helped bring Grime music to thousands and often had MCs on the radio station rapping as well as instrumentals.

Up until 2004 grime music was only really readily accessible through vinyl and radio stations because the music though growing quickly was very hard to get a hold of because the limited releases and even though MP3s were widely available on computers and MP3 players. This was until the emergence of the MP3 phones, CDs were still too expensive for an artist to distribute their music unless they were signed by a label. The only two grime artist signed to labels was Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. Even though Dizzee Rascal had made a name for himself and planted himself in Grime’s history with his mercury winning album in 2003, Boy In da Corner. Grime was still a heavily underground and did not appeal to the masses.

MP3 phones completely changed the distribution of music instead of having to wait for a vinyl releases or putting their music online waiting for downloads. Artists were able to make music and directly distribute to their fans via bluetooth on phones. This type of distribution saw a lot of unknown grime artist gain fame amongst youth. An artist to gain fame via this type of distribution is definitely, Scruface now known as Scrufizzer, his instrumentals were famous around youth and were sent around notoriously. This strengthen the Grime culture because it enabled the music to distribute freely and widely without a restriction of CDs and Vinyls. Without a doubt the MP3 phones had if not the biggest impact and most significant impact to Grime music distribution.

The second most significant impact on Grime music was Channel U launched in 2003 now known as Channel AKA as of 2009. It gave a wide distribution of low-budget music videos on sky to local Grime/HipHop artists. The music videos were often made locally by groups and artists, even though the videos were cheap on probably made on a budget, the music was never restricted and it allowed Grime music thrive. One group that thrived of this was Mastermind Trooperz. Mastermind Trooperz became a Grime crew favourite after their classic song ‘Monsta Riddim’. And after featured prominently on the channel for years after, and it even had their own film company because of it.

An interview with a Trooper favourite Lioness:

Splash! TV – Lioness Interview Part 1 (Grime or Rap, ‘Bearman is married’) (Splash!TV, May 9, 2010)

The third and final popular distribution of Grime music was seen in DVDs and CDs even though an individual would find it too expensive to release his or her CD in the early years of Grime. Compilation CDs and DVDs were popular and often backed by local media company for a fee. Early compilations such as Lord of The Mics and Lord of The Decks were all backed by a local North London company All-Media Music.

Grime music is a lot more than London based music it literally reflected London working class culture.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s