The 2016 Mercury prize was a year of firsts. It was the first time Hyundai had steered the show as sponsor, David Bowie’s ‘Black star’ album was the ceremony’s first posthumous nominee and it was the first time Grime had a double-edged sword to fight the competition; with Grime’s experimental electronica indie bwoy Kano’s ‘Made In The Manor’ shortlisted as well as Grime’s man of the moment often hailed for the ‘resurgence’ of Grime Skepta with ‘Konnichiwa.’ Both very different but equally important albums to the genre. Konnichiwa expressed the frustrations felt from police profiling, Skepta’s self-doubts and money hungry label execs all against the backdrop of grit, killer hooks and unapologetic rawness. Konnichiwa has a unique cross over ability whilst remaining true to its Grime roots. Konnichiwa is a classic Grime album visiting various situations and exploring Skepta’s differing mind-sets in his everyday life which plays like a movie.
In comparison Made in the Manor is what I like to call – Grime’s first classical album, it’s big, brassy and it sounds like it’s from another era. Kano’s ‘MITM’ spans a lengthier time period than ‘Konnichiwa’ with Kano reminiscing to when he was a yute running round in the “T-shirt weather” with his “screw ball ice cream.” It’s an elegant and timeless body of work tinged with jazz elements complete with booming and sometimes moody horns running throughout which give it a nostalgic feel which is a theme which runs through the entire album. One thing K-A always delivers is blast it loud and smash up the place bangers and here he provided a triple threat (R.S has competition in the hood!)
With Grime gifting our ears with epic releases in 2016 it should have come as no surprise that not only one but two superior albums made it into the Mercury prize shortlist; but I was surprised as there had been no Grime artists nominated since Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 ‘Boy in the corner’ which went on to win becoming the first ever Grime album to scoop the prize. When Dizzee won 13 years ago the industrial sound of ‘Boy in the corner’ was fresh, strange and other worldly. Grime was still in its infancy toddling around in its nappies sometimes making a mess which needed to be cleaned up and sometimes getting it just right – ‘Boy in the corner’ was one of those moments we watched with British pride. I remember thinking at the time of Dizzee’s Mercury music prize win (as it was called back then) ‘Is this just a load of big wigs and toffs jumping on a new trend to appear current and relevant? ‘Are these posh peeps trying to capitalise on what they view as their next money-maker’ I didn’t want my cynicism to be proven correct as ‘Boy in the corner’ deserved to win, it’s a blueprint and reference point of the genre but unfortunately my suspicions were correct. Not long after Dizzee’s win the mainstream media aired Grime and dismissed it as too violent and dangerous, with this Grime retreated to the underground from which it came.
Grime heads know Grime never went anywhere it just went back to the endz after its brief stint in the lime light, beats’ were still bubbling and raves were still going off it’s just that the mainstream and middle classes muted the sound of what was happening underground. Over the last few years the buzz of the underground began to surface until the buzz became so loud that the sound of the streets couldn’t be silenced any longer and mainstream media unblocked their stuffy ears and listened in the direction of the continuing noise that refused to go away. Such is the momentum of the genre, we’ve seen Grime artists win MOBO’s and a BRIT (only the one mind you), we saw Eskimo dance reppin’ on a world stage at the Red bull culture clash, we’ve watched artists embark on international tours and we celebrated with GRM’s rated awards (Grime’s only awards ceremony) for its second year running. Month after month Grime reaches a new pinnacle of greatness in its revved up and revived journey often parking at the top of UK singles and album charts it was only a matter of time before Grime brought the heat and raised the temperatures on planet mercury as Dizzee’s win was becoming a distant memory.
As I watched the Mercury prize ceremony I was gassed to see two of my favourite artists in the same venue amongst the brief case clutching, Hugo boss suited music money men execs and it felt as though ‘the other half’ had finally opened their ornate gates to Grime and welcomed it into their exclusive club. The Mercury Prize is the highest accolade for a UK artist to obtain, it’s like the golden crest on the gate of an earl or a lord, it gives the winner critical acclaim as a musician. In its 22 year run the Mercury prize has favoured indie and rock bands, every now and then they choose a controversial winner to keep people on their toes but rarely does the ‘underdog win’ go to a rap or Grime artist, this year Kano and Skepta were up against the prolific and mighty David Bowie whose death left a void in many people’s consciousness that I thought the panel may award him the prize as a final farewell and lasting tribute to such an iconic artist. Then there was Radiohead who are the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Mercury prize having been nominated 5 times and leaving their tables empty-handed every time or maybe with bottles of whiskey to drown their sorrows (they definitely look like whiskey men to me!) I was certain the panel would give them the prize out of sympathy. As I watched Kano perform with a live band I felt proud that 2 legends from the endz were shortlisted alongside David Bowie, Radiohead and Laura Mvula as musicians in their own right, to me Grime had already won just by being accepted.
As an unrecognisable Jarvis Cocker took to the stage to announce “If David Bowie was looking down on the Hammersmith Apollo tonight he would want the 2016 Hyundai Mercury prize to go to…SKEPTA” I leapt out of my seat with joy nearly tearing down the lamp shade hanging from the ceiling with my gun fingers! As a shell-shocked Skepta took to the podium it felt like this was really Grime’s time to shine after being cast aside in the shade for so long and even Skepta’s mum was basking in the spotlight as she whined and danced on stage to celebrate her son’s win, Skepta might have to reissue Konnichiwa and title it KonnichiMA as his mum’s moves became meme famous. So with another moment of glory given to Grime what does this mean for the future of the genre? Dizzee’s win (although much deserved) felt like an introduction to Grime and the institute jumping on the bandwagon to capitalise on a fresh new sound whereas Skepta’s win feels like affirmation and recognition from the music industry that Grime is a worthy contender and winner against more contemporary ‘safe’ acts which have won over the past 13 years between Dizzee and Skepta’s win. It cements Grime as a respected genre which can more than hold its own and stand equally alongside indie and rock acts. But what makes this win extra special is that it has come at a time Grime has proven itself to be a genre which is able to stand the test of time, it was blasted from the main arena back to the trenches and it refused to die silently, against all odds it rose up stronger and battled on with no backing from major labels or fancy advertising and marketing campaigns to take its rightful place on the winners podium, it felt that after a long hard road of rejections and inacceptance, Grime had arrived where it belongs – At the very top.
Just a few hours after Skepta’s win I noticed “Everything you need to know about the mercury prize winner” articles pop up on twitter and tweeps asking “Is this like a whole new genre then and where did it come from?” The renewed interest in a scene which has always been the mouthpiece of British culture made me realise what an incredible movement the now inquisitive people had missed out on and all the while it was happening right under their noses, they just didn’t pay attention. ‘Konnichiwa’s’ Mercury prize win opens a brand new chapter in Grime’s increasingly bulging book beginning with iTunes finally giving Grime its own category; let’s hope the next chapter for Grime is its inclusion in 2017’s BRIT awards.