Why Are We So Afraid To Talk About Race In Grime?

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For all the fearless, alpha male posturing that comes with the grime scene; there has always been one thing the genre as a whole is uncomfortable talking about: Race.

So when Chantae Joseph wrote an article about grime being black music and its increased popularity potentially erasing that, naturally the article created a shitstorm. Of the many issues it raised the most prominent it was just how ill equipped we are when it comes to talking about music and race.

See grime is black music. No? Let’s run a little test then. As origins go we can start with Heartless Crew, continue with So Solid Crew and Slimzee and Geeneus playing increasingly darker garage culminating (for many) with DJ Slimzee, Wiley and Dizzee Rascal on the Sidewinder Promo Mix in 2002 – where they introduced (not debuted) ‘I Luv U’, ‘Creeper‘ and ‘Eskimo‘.

So this allows us to boil the origins of the grime down to the following: UK Garage, Dancehall, Sound Systems, Mcing/Toasting, Clashing, Riddims, Patois,  Reloads/Rewinds, Rinse FM, Drum & Bass, Jungle, Hip Hop, Rapping, Caribbean Diaspora, Windrush and Reggae.

Rinse FM wasn’t just a radio station and by focusing on mc lead sets and being early adopters of UK Garage it is fundamental to the origin of grime. But go back in time and remove Rinse from the other elements and while it would certainly struggle or at least need to find another path, those elements could still make grime. However remove the black culture from the origin and it’s unlikely Rinse would’ve found it’s way to grime from UK Garage.

If grime isn’t black music, what is? The common elements between the various genres that are deemed ‘black music’ are: black people positioned at the forefront and sharing black experiences as a result of the diaspora (Africans living in places other than Africa). Hip Hop, Reggae all the way to Jazz and Blues have the same makeup as does Grime. So how isn’t it black music? If it’s because other people were present at the start, well that’s the same with Hip Hop and we’re happy to call that black music, so why not grime?

So yeah, it’s black music. The problem is what people THINK ‘Black music’ means. Because for many ‘Black’ music means: (only for) ‘black music’. So now, a lesson:

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Or…

BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE

It doesn’t prohibit anyone who isn’t black from enjoying or taking part, the label is simply to acknowledge its origins.

So why do labels even matter?

Culture and history are joined at the hip and are important. That’s why we have minute silences for a war fought a century ago and anytime Germany play England it’s a grudge match.
And while I personally can’t foresee the future divined by Ms Joseph just yet, appropriation is real.
Pop culture takes entire cultures, removes the originators and packages it as a shiny new product that has emerged from a faceless advertising agency. From Jazz to Blue Eyed Soul, to twerking to ‘box braids’, these things are throwaway when seen on MTV or Buzzfeed but they’re from real places and it’s important that the young people from those places see themselves reflected in them.

Popular culture programs children from an early age via race and gender to prepare them for the roles they are expected to fill in society. Pop culture has a lot less to offer women and minorities. In movies black men are typically drug dealers, Asian men typically terrorists or nerds and while it certainly is improving, applying race to culture provides a space where people not accepted in mainstream areas have something to call their own. (WHILE STILL NOT PROHIBITING ANYONE ELSE FROM ENJOYING IT) America’s first mixed raced president isn’t as inspiring as America’s first black president.

In response to the article, black grime artists have pretty much remained quiet, with the exception of          P Money in this video.

9 out of 10 times we can defer to P Money on matters of Grime due to him being genuinely disappointed about the clash with Big H (even though he won) because of how entertaining it would’ve been and this song. But this is the one time I’d have to disagree with some points:

Firstly, it’s understandable to walk out onstage as an artist and see a sea of white faces, a lack of black ones and feel that those are the supporters. Or to put it into Mr. Exposed of Radar Radio’s words:

The people who support grime the most now, as much as everyone denies it, are white and Asian, but no one wants to say it. Everyone wants to say their piece, but when it comes to supporting grime financially they’re not backing it, that’s where support matters.

Which is fine as long as you ignore the 696 form. The form that specifically targeted black events right up until 2008, where they were forced to change the language on the form because it was literal discrimination.

They didn’t stop targeting black events however, they simply didn’t put race on the form and instead targeted artists and events with ‘DJ’s’ and ‘MC’s’. Which is fair until you try and think of all the rock and metal shows that have an mc. You know these shows:

Which isn’t to say metal shows are necessarily problematic. Likely most they go off without incident; but a flying drop kick to the face is 100 times more lethal than gun fingers.

No, really the only thing problematic is the age old idea that all of society’s ills can be traced back to black music. So the violence that happens at a grime show couldn’t possibly happen at a football match or even ANY club on a Friday night. Or you know the litany of sexual violence in Game of Thrones isn’t to blame for rape culture.

Events where black artists perform or even where a number of black people attend will be shutdown by the police because of the form.

Remember all the ‘GRIME IS DEAD!!!’ talk from people who didn’t listen to it years back? Well that’s why. Shows being shutdown stopped artists from making money, so they’d either have to go pop or just quit. And live music is vital to any scene, so shows being cancelled and all but banning the black kids who supported from the start nearly killed the scene. And we saw it happen with Giggs’ shows being shut down and the new UK rappers are also facing similar trouble.

And while it’s certainly fair to say that no artist was crying out to be defended, to suggest that the entire dialogue of a scene rests solely with grime artists alone, ignores DJ’s, journalists, videographers, bloggers, documentarians, event organisers, photographers and everyone else that contributes to the culture. Essentially, it depends on whose opinion you hold in higher regard? DJ Ironik? Or Sian Anderson?

Before we move on…a little reminder:

BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE

So with both black and non black people misunderstanding the term ‘black music’, non black people could feel they don’t have a place at grime events. And if as suggested they’re the only people turning up to the events, well its’ understandable that artists would either want to speak up or more tellingly remain silent when race is being discussed.

The most baffling part of this whole discussion is the simple fact that a black genre being so beloved by non black people is a near definition of multiculturalism. It’s what the country is all but founded on. Another test?

Cool, if we can agree that Dancehall is black music, then we’ll have to 1. Talk about David Rodigan (a white ‘gasp’ DJ) who has played a huge role in promoting dancehall globally and serving as an ambassador for the music right here in the UK. For decades.
The founders of iconic Reggae record label Greensleeves? White.
The man who turned Bob Marley into a superstar and took his message and the genre global? Yup, white. And despite intense war that’ll be my mentions, as much as Wiley is the Godfather, King, legend and all round nicest guy in grime, personally? The ambassador is undoubtedly Logan Sama. No one else has stayed with grime through the roughest moments, slavishly promoted the sound and has flown the flag more proudly than Logan.

Oh and saying that, the best grime DJ ever is Slimzee, don’t argue with me on this.

Surely that’s what multiculturalism is about? The curry is a British staple. It has been thoroughly ingrained into the British diet. But because it is a part of British culture, Brits love it and many non Asians can make a great curry that doesn’t change it’s origins; it just proves that British culture is an amalgamation of various other cultures.

London isn’t renown for it’s 246 Starbucks cafes, 205 McDonald’s and more Tesco Express’s than rats, no. London is renown for having immediate access to cultures without the 8 hour flight. Walking down a street in London is like walking through the National Geographic. Removing the cultural barriers only works when the culture still exists. We become a melting point when we can all participate in other cultures, not erase them.

So there you have it, calmly and succinctly laying out why Grime is black music and why that is a great thing for Britain. Why for all the UKIP, EDL and Britain First marches, they’ll always be a part of Britain that accepts foreign culture’s with open arms. So to wrap: talking about race isn’t racist, there will never be a better DJ in Grime than Slimzee, oh and:

BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE
BLACK MUSIC ISN’T ONLY FOR BLACK PEOPLE