Revisiting the Voices of Newham: Reggae’s Past and Grime’s Present

By Cammy Thomas

Last year in conjunction with The Grime Archive and Newham council, socio economic and cultural academic, Dr. Joy White and journalist / complex magazine contributing writer Chante Joseph, presented ‘Newham: The East London Grime Site as A Place of Emancipatory Disruption’ to commemorate black history month; October 2019. I was lucky enough to be invited to the presentation at Stratford library, East London, where I observed Chante and Joy break down the meaning of what it meant to be black growing up in a country your family chose to migrate to before you were born, the unique and challenging cultural differences faced, the feeling of being a guest in a country which is your home, and how the binding powers of our rich musical lineage helped us to articulate the frustrations felt, whilst creating a safe space for marginalised communites to express ourselves amongst people whom shared our cultural experiences, rich heritage, and the curious juxtaposition of being home, but feeling like an unwanted house guest who had outstayed their welcome.

Reload rebels gassing the crowd at Eskimo dance

Both Joy and Chante delivered such empowering and insightful presentations, they went on to spark interesting debate, viewpoints and stories from the fully engaged audience in attendance, jthat when listening back to the hours of recordings on my Dictaphone, I knew to let the content gathered go undocumented, would be a disservice to the hard work and sheer dedication involved in the 2 week event (Girls of Grime presented a musical showcase in week 2.) I knew that it was an event I would have to revisit in my writing to fully encapsulate the discussions which took place when the time was right; so here we are!

Musical Youth!

Dr Joy White’s presentation, opened with a video she played to the audience, the video contained interviews conducted with the now revered artists Ghetts, Griminal, Lethal B and Skepta, when they were at the inception of their careers back in 2010. Locally known, but not yet internationally celebrated, Ghetts confidently states he is an artist of many genre’s but he closely relates to and loves Grime so much he does not mind being labelled a Grime artist, Ghetts’ proudly announces he lives in Newham, which is home to prominent musical influences such as Marcus nasty. Lethal Bizzle tells Joy his first hit was in 2001 (Pow!), that he is from East London and it was growing up in an area surrounded by poverty which gave him the drive to thrive and achieve greatness. The clip of the 2010 interviews, ends with Skepta encouraging other young creatives to believe in themselves, he advises to turn to friends and family to motivate them when the dream seems out of reach.

Once the video ended Joy asked the attendees to imagine the borough of Newham 30 years prior, before mobile phones, Freeview and You tube, Joy acknowledged it is hard to conceive the black presence in Newham was non-existent before our grandparents / parents emigrated to the UK, making Newham’s transformation into one of the most multicultural boroughs an interesting place which represents what it means to be black and British. Grime, as a contemporary black British genre allows us to tell the story boldly and imaginatively and connects us to our afro diasporic history, grounding us within our roots no matter where we are in the world. Joy also recognised that in order to talk about Grime, you have to first go back to its forefather, reggae and sound system culture which travelled from the Caribbean with our grandparents on their wind rush voyages. Between the 1960’s and 1980’s, sound systems such as rockin crew and rampage, unwittingly sowed the first seeds of what would eventually become grime. Dr Joy expertly traced back Grime’s lineage to Garage, jungle and reggae and informed us that dancehall played a huge part in providing the foundational pillars to Grime, due to sound clashes, spitting over a beat and crews. Early Grime crews such as Roll deep and N.A.S.T.Y crew used this template which was absorbed by their parent’s involvement in reggae and dancehall music.

The LEGANDARY Rampage sound with DJ Target

Wiley, who was at the helm of one of the first ever Grime crews (Roll Deep) circa 2001, cited his dad for influencing his musicality, as he was part of a popular sound system in Wiley’s formative years. It was not just Wiley’s dad who instilled a strong musical influence in his offspring, other grime artists such as Jammer and Footsie had parents who were friends with each other, made music and toured with their respective reggae sounds. These artists watched their parents make music and form friendships, which trickled down to the grime kids and saw generational friendships form. The new generation of friendships were demonstrated with the crews Newham Generals, East connection and Nasty crew, who all inhabited the Newham borough. Joy credited the young demographic and multicultural nature of Newham, with providing the diverse backdrop for an authentic genre like grime to emerge and survive. Joy opined, the complex make up of Newham’s music, placement, community and culture, along with the advancement of technology, made it possible for artists to have complete ownership of their music which in turn enabled them to deploy D.I.Y marketing and advertising strategies which became synonymous with grime culture, thus making the grime scene, an emancipatory disruption, because it allows artists complete freedom of expression to craft and shape their identities and tell their stories. In a world with ever emerging social and economic disparities, it is a bold act of defiance, resilience and survival in the face of systemic adversity and oppression. This makes Grime, an emancipatory formidable force to be reckoned with.

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The immense Wiley Kat vs Lethal B

Caribbean vs African?

During Chante Joseph’s equally engaging presentation, she delved into the once harmonious relationship between Caribbean and West African communities who showed solidarity and camaraderie to each other when faced with the hostile environment the UK greeted them with, when both groups came to the UK to study; funded by their financially comfortable parents. The relationship between Caribbean’s and West African’s soured when Caribbean’s migrated to the UK en masse in the 1950’s, followed by West Africans later on. Chante’s research focused on pinpointing the specific reasons for the breakdown of the differing cultural diaspora’s. Chante discovered that when West African’s and Caribbean’s migrated to the UK, the British political system did not recognise their intrinsic differences, labelling both groups black, regardless of where they hailed from. By the time West Africans’ arrived in the UK, the Caribbean people who had settled years before, had secured employment, resulting in a lack of job opportunities for West African migrants. Tensions also increased because some Caribbean settlers who came to the UK before their African counterparts, had internalised the British post-colonial belief that West African migrants were uncivilised, which was of course nothing more than insidious stereotyping, which passed from generation to generation within both communities; causing an inevitable divide.

Interestingly, Chante divulged she grew up in the diverse area of Brent, London where she did not see a large West African presence in the area, meaning she did not understand the division until she went on social media. Chante likened the intense hostility and arguments she witnessed on twitter as “regular scheduled programming” due to its frequency. Caribbean’s were bullying African’s for the same reasons white British people would bully all black people, and West African’s viewed Caribbean’s as lazy because they took jobs which they were overqualified to do and accepted minimum wages. Chante surmised the fraught relationship between Caribbean’s and West African’s in the UK during this time, was a product of colonialism, a superiority complex of some white Brits., and societal brainwashing, which succeeded in pitting both cultures against each other.

Fortunately times have changed, and Chante recognises that her generation understands the tensions of the past, but are coming together to unlearn the stereotypes of the past and break generational curses. Chante opined that when she thinks of modern black British identity, it does not feel as Caribbean centric as it once did, she stated both cultures are now influenced by each other and borrow differing attributes of each culture to celebrate them. For instance our language is now blended and there is a cross over – terms such as ‘Oyinbo’ ‘Olluwa’ ‘Riddim’ ‘Dutty’’Gwarn’, are understood and used by both Caribbean and African communities. Our two cultures are not just merging by way of language, they are also merging musically, as Chante clarified during her presentation, afro bashment and afro swing are new genres which have emerged from the sonic fusion of two distinctive cultures.

Chante suggested that third and fourth generation African and Caribbean artists’ who grew up in the same areas, were now collaborating due to their close proximity and love of grime. Although grime is primarily influenced by dancehall and British-Caribbean culture, it was the UK’s first genre where Caribbean and African youth came together to create something innovative and authentic, whilst sprinkling specific elements of their roots and heritage into the music, which gave grime a texturised feel; with context. The conflation of both cultures can also be observed internationally with Caribbean Soca artists collaborating with afro beats artists, to create new sounds; such as afro Soca. Chante ended her presentation by acknowledging how beautiful it was that a narrative which was built on the foundations of hate between British Caribbean’s and British Africans, had now healed with the soothing balm of music and culture, which has ushered in a new era of understanding and unity; beautiful indeed!

Sheldon’s on Shellington St.!

Open mic night!

After both Dr Joy White and Chante Joseph’s informative presentations, they opened the floor up to attendees to ask questions and share their thoughts, regarding black British culture and identity. Impactful questions which led to interesting discussions from the event are outlined below. (For the purposes of this write up I will refer to a person asking a question as Audience member, abbreviated to A.M. Each time a new member of the audience raises a view point within the same topic of discussion, I will refer to them as A.M 2, A.M 3 and so on)

A.M: asked Dr Joy what the significance of Grime meant to the UK?

Joy: To me it was the first time that we have a grounded black British identity, whilst simultaneously drawing on our own Caribbean or African heritage and history, our own accents, our own words and all the words that you’ve grown up with from the communities around you, and I think that is powerful and liberating…if you are in that age group.

A.M: Why was there so much tension between generations in terms of UK Garage to Grime and also from dancehall to Garage, considering that they had shared experiences as youths, why was there a lack of understanding between generations, when the older generations would have educated emerging generations about their experiences?

Joy: I think that’s an interesting observation. I think the older generation forgets what it’s like to be young, we expect young people to be fully cooked and ready-made, knowing everything and we forget about all the uncertainties of growing up. I think in just one generation we’ve gone from young people being the future, to being an absolute nuisance and deemed snowflakes. We have forgotten, and I think the importance of grime is that it allows us to have those conversations, because when you begin to talk about the music and the history behind it, we start to understand where young people are coming from in their journey.

A.M: Thank you for both presentations, they were really inspiring to listen to. I’m very interested in the idea of emancipation in music, and specifically what it means to have emerged in Newham where the royal docks are. I’m trying to lean more into the significance of black British voices who were anti-establishment inhabiting the heart of empire in Newham, and what we can glean from that?

Joy: isn’t that what makes it exciting, I’m not a performer and I’m not from the generation from which grime emerged, but for me the fact that people were finding a way to place themselves and stake a claim to the place that they lived, in a way that I could not growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I’m sure people of my generation in the room can vouch for that. It touches on the subject of identity, in that even if you were born here (in the UK) you weren’t considered English and if you went to the place your parents are from, you didn’t belong there either, so you feel like you don’t belong anywhere. I think contemporary black music has allowed people to locate and root themselves.

Shower man!!

A.M: The term Black-British is a term that was coined in the 1970s and 1980’s, is that a placeholder term for something that we can’t describe? For example, I consider myself black British but I also consider myself Nigerian-British and Ghanaian too, but as I am getting older and becoming aware of what it really means to be black in Britain, I no longer like to term myself British, and I’d like to drop that term from my identity. I also feel I can’t call myself Nigerian, because I’ve only been there once in my whole life, so I don’t have a connection with Nigeria. Is there another term to describe our place here (in the UK) and who we really are?

Chante: Yeah, it’s a weird one and I don’t like identifying as British either, but the black suffix that is used as a way to ‘other’ us, has helped me to find a community. I’ve only been to Dominica and Trinidad once, I’ve never been to Jamaica so I can’t say I belong to those places, but the unique black British experience and sense of being, is something I do identify with whole heartedly. I remember when I was pitching my piece to Complex magazine that I presented here earlier, I spoke about being at the bus stop after school with my ‘Just do it’ (Nike) bag on my back, eating my 10p sugar sweets, this was my black British experience, and yes there were bits of my Caribbean culture sprinkled into it when I was at home with my family, but my relationships with my friends, whether they were Caribbean or African, we shared a common experience which was growing up Black British. Yes the term Black-British is there because we need to call it something, but I feel that from this term we have built an identity we can be proud of. I am part of a culture where I am accepted and it is so important to British history, but it can feel conflicting at times actually.

Cammy to attendees: I have had a very multi regional upbringing, first being raised in the West Midlands, later moving to Manchester, and in between spending chunks of time with my sister who grew up in Peckham, South London. I lived through the transitional period of garage becoming grime and remember it vividly. When I’ve worked with young artists from Manchester in the past, some feel frustrated that their identity and perspectives are not palatable to a London audience, there is a consensus that their black British experiences are not received in the same way and it is thought at times, the grime scene can be insular. Why do you think it is still difficult for artists outside of London to break through beyond only one or two artists at a time?

Joy: When I spoke to different people, they did travel about and go North and also to the Midlands back in the day. People moved around much more freely then, because they were not so confined by post codes and territories, but social ills began to make it difficult to move around. I hear you and I agree, it is a challenge but within the challenge, the D.I.Y nature of grime encouraged people to share their music and collaborate. Another thing people spoke about was how artists used to gather in flats and on street corners, these locations are not as accessible to young black people the way they once were, and the gentrification of Newham means social housing has changed.

A.M 2: Following on from the regional conversation, I have cousins in Manchester and Birmingham, and they said some artists didn’t want to come to London because they wanted to rep for their cities, to come to London meant they were selling out. I feel it also feeds into the ‘are you grime or UK hip hop’ dialogue because guys like Klashnekoff and Kano grew up in the same area, they went to the same schools together, I don’t think the artists themselves saw a divide, but the fans and the media did. It could be that mainstream media had too much influence on the narrative of grime and created a grime vs hip hop divide, because they didn’t understand the cultures they were observing. I do wonder if we are going to have to keep rewriting the narrative, because there aren’t as many black British journalists as there are white journalists.

Prepping your introduction  to the class of Déjà, headmasters Kano and Ghetts

A.M: Grime tends to get typecast as a hyper masculine space, I just wondered throughout your research, how would you define the role black women play within the genre?

Joy: When I was conducting research on entrepreneur in grime, I sent out a lot of emails to get women to talk to me, and it was difficult to get women performers to talk. Promoters and journalists were open to conversation, but as far as female grime performers went, it was very hard and I think sometimes there is a reluctance for people to come forward when in a predominantly masculine space. In the work that I do, I attempt to balance that erasure. It’s not that people are not attempting to write about women in grime, it is that it’s difficult to write about when people remain reluctant to tell their stories.

A.M: I can identify with what was said earlier in the sense of not quite belonging in Britain as I was born in the UK, but grew up in Jamaica. When I came back to the UK I experienced a lot of racism, and because of that I erased the British part of my identity. As I was approaching my 20’s, I considered the way I speak, some of the food I’ve eaten and the cartoons I’ve watched, this made me begin to embrace my British side, especially as I started to travel – people did not view me as Jamaican, they viewed me as British. I now embrace the British part of my identity as I think it is important and unique. Every country has a unique black identity, like America. I have lived in France and their cultural relations are where Britain’s were in the 1980s, racism is very intense in France, it’s in the media, it’s in films, and you can feel it. Britain has integrated much better than other European countries and we’ve progressed much further. The Black British identity is more important than ever now that grime is global, grime helped the black British identity go global, as evidenced in American you tube reaction videos. The angst some people experience being black British is very real. Are repatriations to Caribbean and African countries important?

At this point Chante asks to give her input to the previous question regarding women’s role in Grime and shares her experience writing for ‘Gal-Dem.’

There were too many man, time for some leng ladies! Still from DBT Remix video, by Lioness Ft. Lady Leshurr, Shystie, Queenie, Little Simz and Stush

My recording picked up again at the following – A.M – I find that some artists won’t speak to me but they will instead go to speak to another journalist, it’s almost like some artists are trying to assimilate into mainstream media, with a view to performing at the biggest venues across the country like the O2 which is great, but I feel these artists should also remember their roots. I think that’s where the generational disconnect comes from, because a lot of reggae and dancehall artists never got the opportunity to perform at the royal albert hall. I’m unsure if there has been generational conversations taking place between grime artists and the older reggae generation, but I feel if there were, the reggae old schoolers would most likely let some current artists know they should respect their roots and all involved. I’m sure Reggae had issues back in the 1970’s and 80’s, but there was certainly a lot more pride in knowing where the culture came from. Recently a white artist said the N word and the entire grime scene got onto him, which was great to see, but a few years ago, some within the genre were reluctant at first to call out Logan Sama. We are starting to see change but it’s not happening fast enough, it takes all of us coming together and being brave to talk openly about issues within grime, because grime is not above critique, there are many things wrong with grime, and there are also many beautiful things within grime. I think the genre was a hobby and passion for artists for such a long time, there is an assumption constructive criticism must mean negativity; when that is not the case. What are your thoughts?

Chante: I think that is why it is so easy to paint black journalists who call something out as criminals, and it can be difficult to have those conversations. There’s also the idea of ownership, there are a lot of artists who have white P.R’s and white managers, and if I reach out there is a concern they might not give me the time of day. I ponder whether grime has now lost its ownership as a result of becoming popular in the mainstream, I just think of Alex from Glastonbury and I’m wondering if grime is going through the same process as other traditionally black musical art forms. What can we do to remind people of where grime came from, even if we do remind people, there also needs to be ownership. I’m unsure if all artists have complete ownership of their craft. If it is a bigger corporation who manages the music, are they doing enough to protect its heritage?

Joy: I think it’s important that we keep having conversations and, we shouldn’t be silenced, even if our position is deemed to be unpopular. We need to keep writing, the more people that write the better. Grime is not above critique, but at the same time we have to recognise the value and significance of the genre. Nobody paid any mind to grime in mainstream media until it started to become popular, so don’t underestimate the power and the significance of what was achieved by young people who had very little around them to draw upon, just a passion and their parents record box.

Dapper Dons D Double E and JME

Drake the fake or Drake we Rate

A.M: I just wanted to ask people’s opinions on Drake *The room breaks into audible groans and chuckles * I’m just wondering if anyone agrees with the idea of him being termed a ‘culture vulture’ and what everyone’s take is on that?

Chante: Does anyone remember the first time that came up, the Mr. Vegas song, where the whole song was saying – “Mi nuh rate Drake ‘im a fake, im nuh know real, im a snake?” and I thought to myself, this isn’t the first time this has come up, where big dancehall artists are making diss tracks against him for attempting to co-op Caribbean sounds. We now see it happening here in the U.K because of his involvement with ‘Top Boy’, on the one hand I’m happy he’s helped, I get to see all my favs, its great content, but it’s the whole ownership thing again and to me that is a big deal. We know that the people starring in it have a lived experience, and they are re-enacting that again for the show and it could be causing trauma, and my issue with it is how much do they gain from it, and how much of it do they own.

A.M 2 – My friend gave an interesting take on it, she works in P.R and for all of us who work in media, you know how hard it can be to prove the value that you see in a story or a narrative and channel 4 didn’t renew the contract. If Drake didn’t have that chat with TV execs, I wouldn’t have stayed up until 4 in the morning watching the new series of ‘Top Boy.’ I think there are two things here, one is understanding the American imperialism of the Drake machine, and recognising there are loose transatlantic solidarities.

A.M 3 – If you look at other scenes like Neo soul and hip hop, it has been mutually beneficial for both artists to work together and those collaborations do so well, i.e. Angie stone and Omar, but I think with Drake he is a pop artist first and foremost, and when you are a pop artist you end up being an all-consuming machine where you are absorbing the underground sounds and spitting it back out into a homogenist mainstream sound, so I don’t think Drake as an individual is the issue, I think it is pop music and what it is in the 21st century. Drake is indicative of where pop music is now, and I think most black music in Britain is underground. I’m still not sure where I stand with popular black music that’s coming out of Britain today, because so much of it has been consumed by record labels.

A.M 4 – From my perspective Drake has been a positive influence and he played an important role in bringing grime to the mainstream. Between 2007 -2014, grime was relatively quiet and now it’s everywhere, and part of the reason for that from what I’ve seen, is that Drake started having conversations with different people in the grime and UK rap scenes i.e. Giggs. Drake featured them on his albums, and invited those artists to tour with him. You have to remember our diaspora is global, if someone is going to bring something positive to the table and push our sound and culture forward I think that’s a good thing. It stood out to me that he played a key role in bringing ‘Top Boy’ back, but yet he wasn’t on the poster or in the show, it was clear he just wanted to support. I’ve seen him on 1Xtra and he appears to have a genuine love for the culture and embraces it, I don’t think he is lording it over people, I think at first glance it feels all-consuming because of Drake’s position in popular culture and his celebrity is huge, but if you look closer he’s spreading his influence positively.

Top Boys Ashley Walters and Drake

Cammy to attendees – I asked the room what their opinions were on Drill as a new popular emerging sound and genre? There are the whole unfounded “Grime is dead” debates that pop up every year, and it has been said that Drill is the hot new genre pushing grime to the side. Do you think there is room for both? Do you think it’s creatively artistic when compared to Grime? What are your general opinions?

Joy: I think drill is incredibly popular with younger members of society. Maybe in a way Grime has grown up and gone off to college or uni and drill has entered as the new kid. Its interesting how genres come and go in waves, something might be popular for a while then it goes away for a bit and then it comes back around. It’s really interesting to me that Drill is framed how grime was at the beginning of its journey, “Drill is dangerous, deadly, and subversive, don’t let your children hear this because something terrible will happen etc.”, and that’s where grime was at the beginning of the century, if you were playing grime in a rave you would be shut down. When I was doing my early research, I went to events and in the DJ box there was a sign stating ‘No grime’, and if the DJ ignored the sign and played grime, they would stop the event that was it; end of rave. I feel that Drill is at this stage now, but with better technology and resources, making it more accessible. I’m not saying the content does not contain subjects that concern some of us, but the content of most popular music with the young has always had an element of challenge; if we listen closely enough.

Chante: I think it’s really interesting how the music is shifting, and a whole new generation of people who have grown up with grime stars transitioning to pop, and then coming back to grime when it felt safer, are now being introduced to this new genre which is going through the early stages that grime did. A lot of drill artists are young black men who are growing up in London bringing a new experience of what it is like growing up in a deprived London, so it is true that the cycle comes back around. With drill its origins are more American which makes it interesting in that it is extremely different, but I guess young black British people have taken the genre and made it their own, and the lyrics are a testament to their own experiences.

A.M 1 – Drill is a very interesting one, because while it has American influenced beats, its cadence is very much African and Caribbean based. In terms of censorship it is nothing new, as we have seen this happen with grime and form 696, which was used in an attempt to lock off grime. Even though the 696 sanctions no longer exist, the authorities are now finding more discreet ways to police drill, like they did with grime in its infancy. My view is that the labels need to step up and do more to support and protect these artists, I don’t think the industry are doing enough to protect their artistic licence and support them. I also think drill is too young to make any clear observations, I’m still trying to formulate my opinions on drill, and of course there is that element of violence which can’t be ignored. I don’t necessarily think it’s a case of – when you listen to drill it makes you violent, but there are some artists who have gone on record and spoken openly about things that have happened and I think there is space for that, but it depends on how it’s being spoken about. I think drill has a lot more grey areas than grime did. Grime artists wanted to spit on the mic and display their lyrical abilities, whereas with drill there are some artists who are balancing the line between their creativity and road life. At the moment it’s about challenging the censorship of the genre, because a lot of artists can’t go to certain areas, they are not allowed to talk about other groups and are automatically viewed as gangs.

AM 2 – I was working in music education for a while and we put together a course for educators and people with funding to try and address the censorship and policing issues surrounding drill. My colleague had an interesting framework that I’d like to share. I don’t think that the world that is embodied within drill is the world that some of us have lived in or become used to from listening to grime. I think young people today are dealing with a different generation of obstacles, it’s the same beast but it looks different. For e.g. young people today are dealing with tory austerity. I think it’s important that black people take care of our culture which also means talking about the things which make us uncomfortable, and drill makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes when I hear the things my younger siblings are listening to I just think – Arrghhhhh!

Joy: What is it that makes you uncomfortable?

AM 2 – I don’t want to make generalisations but for me it’s the graphic violence, and hearing my brother say he is going to go and do something I know he wouldn’t do, and I just wonder how other young people are interpreting the lyrics they hear in drill. Part of taking care of our community and the young within it, means tending to the way in which artists express themselves, we can look back at hip hop songs that were released 10 years ago and we look at the things artists were saying then, yes it was real, but does it make it right? The same goes for grime to an extent, it’s about striking a balance. The context of the course we put together was geared towards – If we have young people who want to express themselves via drill, how can we help them do that, and how can we support them in breaking through parameters, where they can tell their truth without hurt or harm to themselves or others in the process.

AM 3 – Touching upon that point of being uncomfortable, I’ve spoken with some drill artists and I’m not a mental health expert, but there are clear signs of traumas experienced by these artists and at times I’m wary of having those conversations, because I’m not a therapist and that is not the aim of the interviews I conduct. I think a question we should be asking the record labels and artist management is, are these artists being given the support to help them transition from road life to the music industry, which is a different type of beast altogether. We remember stories from back in the day where we hear some artists in hip hop and grime struggled to make that transition, Crazy titch being one of them, obviously he is in prison for a serious crime, but he is also a victim of going from one lifestyle to another and not being given enough care and support. How do we as a community help artists navigate this new space they find themselves in, where they are dealing with capitalism and greed. I think we need to figure this out as we go along, I’m not sure if it’s the responsibility of the community, other artists or the labels to offer guidance, but I’m not confident the labels would provide the level of support the artists need, because they haven’t done that for the last 60 years; so why would they start now.

6 7 Usher in a new era of sonic fusions

Camera woman: I was at a party in Esham, Surrey and they were playing a lot of drill at the party. How do you feel about music which started off in Newham, being taken to middle class affluent areas, where they don’t understand the context behind it, or the pain experienced and are playing the music and enjoying it because it’s fashionable?

A.M: I feel in a way that it’s like the B side of music production, in that you create something for others to consume and they digest the product how they want, I feel I can’t dwell on that aspect too much, it is going to happen, it’s uncomfortable but it is what it is. I think it’s important to think in terms of writing. I was speaking with a friend recently who is an academic and a writer, about theft from some white writers and how she deals with intercommunity beef and her answer was – code and context. She elaborated, “If I want to talk about violence, I need to place it in context so it’s not me talking about it, it’s history talking about it, and also you can signal to whom you are talking to, for instance I would never want to bash another black person in public, but that does not mean that with care, I can’t call stuff out and I think that is something as writers we are going to have to learn to do, as it either gets done with no care or not at all, and we end up leaving it for the writers in other spaces who take it upon themselves to do it, but it often does not support the culture at all.

AM 2 – This is something I struggle with a lot, when I’m commissioned to write about an artist do I want to go to the Guardian which has a majority white audience, the Guardian could sensationalise my work and turn it into a microscopic scientific experiment, where they are looking at the genre through a magnifying glass. Would I prefer to code the language and write the piece for a platform that understands the culture? Sometimes the latter means writing for a smaller audience. A friend of mine calls it – the clout industrial complex, whereby everyone is chasing the same outlets striving to be seen. I think it’s important to recognise the value in black cultural production, and we should go to those smaller independent platforms, and celebrate those as well. Black British history was founded upon those smaller platforms, and some of that has been lost in this generation, it’s up to people like us to bring that back and ensure these institutes have a platform again.

Joy: Thank you, I think we will leave it there. Thank you all for coming and contributing and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I think we have some writers in the room, please feel free to type up what we have discussed.

Hail up Grime, now and forever!

Special thanks to: Dr Joy White, Chante Joseph, Girls of grime, The Grime Archive & Black history Newham

Photo credits: Main photo – Ethan Vella, Eskimo Dance – Verena Stefanie Grotto, Rampage – BBC Radio 1Xtra, Wiley & Lethal Bizzle – A plus, Practice hours, Ghetts & Kano – GRM Daily, JME & D Double E – Olivia Rose / I.D Magazine, Ashley Walters & Drake –  NME, 6 7 – NME