When another year is over and grime fails to register anything more than a ripple on the zeitgeist, will we recall that it was the sound of tomorrow… today. Disorderly and defiant, grime is an unfamiliar, yet intoxicating narrative from the utterly paranoid, jittery, and jagged minds of upstart MCs and has been blaring from UK streets since 2002. It’s a hyper-stylized manifestation, the ferocious future of hip-hop and it’s the most urgent music in the world. It’s electronic beats fed through low-grade personal computers in the back rooms of Central London high schools and it’s also too futuristic, too unstable, and too damned British for the world to embrace.
Run the Road is flawed. Not by any measure of the material appearing on it, since in that case it’s a welcome flare-up of outspoken innovation. No, it fails because it modernizes rap for an audience that rewards imitation. As fans and critics, we’re to blame. New school MCs parody hip-hop’s glory days and everybody’s stuck on the comfort of cruise control. Meanwhile, on the highway of popular music, grime blows by with a focus — as ours should be — on the road ahead.
Hacked up and jerky, album opener “Cock Back v1.2” pistol-whips listeners with the butt of a gun. It’s viscous and savage like gangsta rap, but it sounds different, and it’s just as addictive. Words scurry from the lips of Terror Danjah so fast, you’d think they where his last. And it’s that fury — part Caribbean dancehall, part South South Bronx, part jungle — that impending sense of speak now or forever hold your peace, where grime finds its grit.
The sound of tomorrow today draws from polyphonic ringtones and rattles up against Oriental wind chimes (as on Roll Deep’s ambient crew cut “Let It Out”). It scrounges for samples in the claustrophobic landscapes of video games and buckles under the crushing intensity of its thick, driving bass heavy rude bwoy riddims.
Kano’s “P’s and Q’s” boasts a sense of paranoia, a heavily synthesized backbeat that darts between the left and right channels, bold and anthemic, over an imposing, yet hypnotic bass line. If Wiley and Dizzee Rascal are grime’s Rakim and Nas, then Kano, with his nonchalant gangsta braggadocio, is Jay-Z. Cocky and confident, he dominates on the album’s most palpably kinetic track.
Grime artists possess the jerkiest of flows, frequently using their voices to grind against the grain of the beat with nearly indecipherable cockney accents. Theirs is a still developing hyper-riddim, disconnected and manic, fueled by grime’s highly combustible beats. For proof, seek out Durrty Goodz’s hyper-aggressive blur of “Gimmie Dat’s” thief mentality or female artist No Lay, who obliterates “Unorthodox Daughter” with a scathing, feral verse.
Amidst this collage, the voices that shine are the participants who lash out in as many different directions at once. Occasionally, it fails (as on Ears’ “Happy Dayz”), but overall this compilation is epic. Those familiar with grime’s mainstream poster boys will be happy to see contributions from Dizzee Rascal (“Give U More”) and The Streets (“Fit But You Know It” remix), however lackluster they are in contrast with the passion of their lesser-known counterparts.
In small pockets of the world, even smaller factions of open-minded listeners appear ready to embrace grime. Others will never know its liveliness, its propulsive essence, and for them grime will be but a passing blip on the radar screen called pop culture. Run the Road is a definite signal booster, the beginning of a wave that’s ours to roll back, and while I hope that its successful, I don’t, because this music is what it is because it’s starving for attention — and once the world take’s notice, there is no going back.