Throughout the 90s, the UK hip hop scene lived in the shadow of the US’. Many UK rappers spent their time trying to imitate the style, beats and flows of those in New York and Cali. Of course this isn’t to downplay the UK underground music scene of the time, with genres such as jungle, hardcore, and garage in the late 90s the UK music scene was continuously revamping and coming into its own, however in terms of hip hop for a long time it remained very much based on the US model. This all changed with the creation of grime of course, which was released from the underground by records such as Dizzee Rascal’s iconic Boy in da Corner. But now with the popularity of grime fading and being replaced by drill, one must wonder whether we are once again returning to the US model, or whether we are taking that and making it our own.
The effect of grime on the UK hip hop scene is something that is recognisable to this day almost 20 years after its creation. A reaction to the flamboyance of garage. The 140bpm beats, harsh, fast MCing and dark lyricism of grime, told a story of a culture that was iconically London. As a counter to the rich and bright colours of garage, grime, and it’s cousin dubstep, showed us a dark underbelly of UK society in the time of ‘Cool Britania’, the real lives of teenagers from deprived areas in East London.
Of course it didn’t come from nowhere, the lead up to grime could be seen in the work of dark garage artists such as Wookie and MC’s like So Solid Crew. However the difference between grime, and, earlier strands of UK hip hop was that grime was fundamentally a UK genre, without influence from forces overseas, grime was London, not the UK’s attempt at being New York. To this day its a genre that most Americans, and indeed most people outside of the UK can’t really understand and often don’t appreciate. And despite the fact that during its second and third waves, grime became increasingly international, it’s stayed rooted in UK underground culture. The electronic kicks and dubsteppy baselines remain, as do the strong references to UK life seen in its lyrical foundations.
However grime is no more the most prominent representation of the UK hip hop scene. In fact, in many ways comparing grime to UK hip hop is problematic as they are fundamentally different sorts of music and both have their own rich scenes. However while the popularity of grime has faded, UK hip hop has become popular once again with artists such as Cult of the Dammed and Black Josh. And with the rise of drill, once again we can see UK music artists returning to a US sound.
What is interesting however, is that despite the fact that drill is a US genre of music, UK drill is now just as and sometimes more popular than its US counterpart. Artists such as Digga D and J Hus to name a couple have shown that instead of imitating a US genre, the UK has the power to take it and make it even more iconic than it was before.
Of course, the rise of drill doesn’t necessarily mean the death of grime. Original grime artists such as Skepta and Dizzee Rascal to this day make platinum selling hits. As a UK genre, it is possible that grime will always remain popular as it showed that UK artists don’t have to imitate the US sound to achieve international recognition and acclaim. However what drill has also shown, is that even when we take that US sound, we can put our own spin on it, and even do it better.