Steven Gamble (BIMM Brighton, UK)
When the ‘godfather of grime’ Wiley accepted an MBE in 2018, it seemed to signal the complete institutionalisation of London’s grime scene. This award, and its associations with monarchy, postcolonialism, and establishment values, was perceived by many as incongruous with grime’s pirate radio origins. The scene, born in London around the turn of the millennium, drew upon UK garage, drum and bass, and hip-hop to sound out expressions of black diasporic and multiethnic experience from marginalised London communities. Following moments of mainstream acknowledgement in the mid-2000s and mid-2010s, the titular quote from Stormzy’s number-one single ‘Vossi Bop’ boasts of the London grime scene’s international dominance while implying a unity (‘we’) that is far from evident among participants in the scene and associated media reportage. Combining digital ethnography with media discourse analysis, this paper spotlights the voices of participants in and outside of London’s grime scene to reveal contemporary tensions between authenticity and commercialism, underground and mainstream, and localism nand globalism.
On the streets of London today, commercial grime is contrasted with road rap and drill, which are perceived as more authentic cultural expressions of urban hustling. The British media fuels a nationwide moral panic about knife crime in London, tying grime to a mythologised urban deviance that conflates blackness, criminality, and gang culture. Recognising the music’s international commercial potential, grime has been dubbed the ‘next British invasion’ in the United States, while the music is aestheticised within cultural framings of US rap and perceptions of black British identity. Drawing upon a burgeoning body of literature on hip-hop and regionalism (Rollefson, Williams), and original research on grime (Bramwell, Charles), this paper demonstrates the tensions between how London’s grime scene is mediated, politicised, and understood by participants in London, other regions of the UK, and the USA.