Steven Gamble (BIMM Brighton, UK)

“This is London city, we the hottest in the world”: cultural perceptions of the London scene’s ‘grime renaissance’ [BACK]

Abstract: 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 and 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.

Biography: Dr. Steven Gamble is Head of Academic Studies at BIMM Institute, Brighton, and the author of How Music Empowers: Listening to Modern Rap and Metal (forthcoming from Routledge). Following study at the Universities of Surrey and Oxford, he completed a PhD in Music at Kingston University London. Focusing on experiences of listening and fandom, his research has been presented at conferences such as IASPM (Europe and UK) and RMA, and published in Popular MusicMetal Music Studies, and the Journal on the Art of Record Production. His upcoming postdoctoral research fellowship advances the study of digital-native hip-hop.

9 thoughts on “Steven Gamble (BIMM Brighton, UK)”

  1. Thanks Steven, a really enjoyable paper. It links nicely with what Mykaell and Rodney P were saying about the ‘view from abroad’ of Black British music.

    I wonder if you could comment further on Swain’s rather Manichean distinction between the ‘badman’ and the ‘respectable’ Grime MC. What do you think about this? To me it seems a little simplistic, when many artists seem to slide between the two identities, sometimes even within the lyrics of the same song.

    1. Thank you Ruth. Agreed – I felt like Mykaell’s work and the Rodney P interview powerfully demonstrated many of the same ambiguities (or even generalisations) in the U.S. response that I aimed to spotlight here.

      I appreciate your question. I quite agree that it’s somewhat dualistic, and you raise a very good point about artists eliding those identities. We could take the critique further still – in many ways drill artists in particular forge an identity of respectability specifically based upon badman tropes. (I’m particularly reminded of what 67’s LD says in this interview with Mike Skinner at 6’20”:, “even if I have to do wrong to do right”). So it presents something of a false dichotomy. Even the popular idea of Wiley as grime’s ‘godfather’ perfectly encapsulates both respect (grime’s founding father) and the badman (the head honcho). The value of that quote, I think, is in recognising a sense of generational divide between older/established artists who shifted emphasis towards the respect they deserve and younger artists who lean heavily on the disrespected, nonchalant badman figure (as it has been mythologised).

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