Mind Your
Ps and Qs -
Exploring the
UK Grime Scene

Words by Ellie Rousseau
Photos courtesy of the Museum of Youth Culture

From pirate radio shows and bedroom producers, to London collectives and budget DVDs, we explore the beginnings of UK grime.

Rewind to the early 2000s and the emergence of grime networking underground through pirate radio stations, illegal raves, record shops and smartphones. High-rise tower blocks, rooftop aerials and a basement all in Bow E3; East London’s neighbourhood boroughs are home to grime’s DIY culture where its protagonists freestyle rhymed about the raw, everyday inner-city pressures. Early grime was a freedom of expression and a form of community fuelled by youth and honesty.

Harder and darker breakbeats were produced in bedrooms or pirate studios on the accessible software Fruityloops, evolving out of the UKG and Jungle sounds. Grimy sub-low bassline instrumentals allowed space for MC’s to rap over the 4-beat bars of a half-time, downtempo sound dubbing itself with the name grime. Wiley, known as the Godfather of grime, referred to his sound as ‘eskibeat’ due to its scarce and ice cold beats and he later produced the track “Wot Do U Call It” amidst the dissociation and confusion with garage beats. Grime artists connected and formed collectives such as Roll Deep, Ruff Sqwad, N.A.S.T.Y Crew, BBK. These crews provided a space to bring up new artists into the scene, establishing the sounds and brought about clashes (battle raps).

Not being much of a visual genre, the scene lacked face-to-name association as the grime crews were only heard through their homemade mixtapes or on the pirate airwaves such as Deja vu and Rinse FM (if the aerial wasn’t locked off by Ofcom). It wasn’t until 2010 that recognition was served when Rinse FM was the first pirate station to be granted a license.

Before that, in 2003, TV station Channel U platformed artists through a rough and ready lens of handheld digital video cameras and providing a platform for grime. DVD series like Risky Roadz and Lord of The Mics gave an up close perspective into the undocumented spots like Jammer’s grafitti covered basement and some of the illicit pirate studios that previously were kept hush (no snitches). By 2006, Jamal Edwards was on the scene using a handicam to film his MC mates spitting bars and uploading to his Youtube channel, feeding the online video culture with up-and-coming talent from the street or the clubs. He named the channel SB.TV (with the SB standing for Smokey Barz, his own MC name). Video culture tapped into those who couldn’t tune into the radio if they were outside of London - just how pirate radio played the tracks to those who were too young to get into the clubs.

Youth culture is often understood to be a reaction to the culture that came before, and early grime was a departure from garage, reflecting the everyman on the street: dark tracksuits, hoods up, Air Max, stickered New Era 59Fifty are all synonymous with the grime style code; less for the rave (no trainer club policies) and more for the everyday on the streets of London.