Wot u call it (by Teri)
For all the Brits out there that have been living in a cave somewhere in Nottingham Forest you may not have noticed the recent explosion of UK Hip Hop hitting the charts. With the increased worldwide commercialisation of Hip Hop from the US it was inevitable that it would spark off in some form or other on this side of the Atlantic. Its all good repping for the UK, but the real question is what do we call it?
Now some of you may be saying why should we bother focusing on labeling every bit of music that hits the airwaves, and I couldn’t agree more, too many people in the business waste precious hours thinking up labels like gangster rap, underground rap, urban, grime, general hip hop, hardcore rap… the list is endless. But at the end of the day, the CD’s have to be under some kind of title in the record stores, so what do we call our own British version of hip hop? Maybe we should stick to the simple title of hip hop, but does that justify the garage and drum n bass that’s incorporated in so many of these UK rap songs? This is where we found ourselves with the ever so ambiguous title that haunts every hip hop or RnB related song made on UK shores, ‘Urban’. Now correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t urban just another way of saying poor, estate dwelling scumbag? And if that’s not bad enough we’re presented with the charming title ‘Grime’ music or ‘Gutter Grime’ music. That has to be the most derogatory name for a type of music I’ve ever heard, it was thought up by those clever music journalists and marketing executives that picked up on the slang word ‘grime’ and ‘grimy’ used very commonly by UK MC’s. But is that just the industries way of saying music made by those low life grimy artists originating somewhere in the gutter?
Unfortunately this is a common title that has actually been taken on by many UK MC’s that are now referring to their own music as Grime Music. My question is, is it right putting this title on their music and a massive amount of UK music that’s hitting the charts nowadays, are they just letting the middle and upper class businessmen that sit in the offices of the music industry discriminate by the class and sometimes the race of these talented artists?
Let me take a step back into history…in the olden days when Jazz was first emerging and these very talented black musicians would be allowed on stage in clubs they could not sit in, Jazz was actually referred to as Jungle music. The pragmatics of the title jungle music I don’t think I’ll need to go into in too much detail as it’s pretty self explanatory – these exotic looking men playing odd music which actually sounded quite good. But as this music became more popular, mainstream and acceptable (and white people began to join in) the label Jazz was stuck on it. Let’s look at a label even closer to home ‘Hip Hop’, this name came about in the early days of the Sugar Hill Gang and Run DMC when the big music Exec’s listened and to them it all sounded like “hippity hop hippity hop” but, hey, it sold. So maybe these names are evidence of a vast culture of misunderstanding, could this be the reason for vague and demeaning labels such as Urban and Grime?
So this leaves us with a conundrum, maybe UK Hip Hop or UK Rap could work, but as I stated previously so many of our UK MC’s have spawned from Garage music, so rather than Hip Hop simply migrating its way over here from the states, much of it has evolved from Garage in to it’s own unique version of Rap (but for the duration of this article I’ll refer to it as UK Rap to prevent confusion). Many of the UK MC’s still use Garage influences in their lyrical styles as can be seen in artists like Dizzee Rascal, Taz, Wiley and The Streets. There is certainly evidence of influence from Garage in the beats of the UK’s version of Rap, which gives it a unique twist from US Hip Hop. This cannot be said for all UK Rap however, an unfortunate proportion of it tends to be American wannabe’s that have watched a few too many 50 cent music videos. This means too much of UK Rap lacks heart, rather than trying to copy and clone what the American Rappers have been so successful in doing we need to speak from our own streets and own experiences.
UK Rap is rising but still struggling never the less. The UK has a strong Rap audience. But UK Rappers aren’t getting recognized because they’re competing with the US rap scene. If you go into a record store you’ll see records from Jay Z, Eminem and Nelly with their massive record labels and multimillion dollar videos and then click on Channel U and look at UK Rap videos made with a home video camera and street lighting. It’s very hard for any UK artist to compete with such a huge industry – it’s easier for French or German Rappers because they speak a different language and don’t need to compete with US Rappers. But here UK Rappers need to make it happen their way as they did when we saw the rise of Garage, they need to do their own shows, start their own labels and do their own parties, then they can get the recognition they need.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but I’m still caught up on my previous question, what the hell do we call it? Now Urban seems to be the most common label used by magazines and Grime music is on the rise, but these labels could mean anything, it covers Garage, Hip Hop, RnB and basically any kind of music made by an ‘Urban’ or ‘Grimy’ person. So is Urban and Grime music just a nicer PC way of saying black music? Am I on the verge of uncovering some kind of racist music label conspiracy? Most likely, not. Urban is the label slapped on to Hip Hop related music that the industry just doesn’t know what to call. And Grime is a name thought up by those catching on to popular UK rap slang. So it looks like its not just me scratching my head, looking bemused when writing on the subject of the UK err…. Rap(?) scene.
Even the artists are getting confused now Wiley wrote an entire song about it, ‘Wot U Call It?’, Unfortunately the song ends without a resolution, which leaves me stuck again with the same question so what the fuck are we meant to call it? If we call it UK Hip Hop aren’t we just handing over the credit to the US when much of this music is UK homegrown, Garage evolved music? Maybe there is no easy answer to the question, and maybe there is no easy label for the new genre of UK music. But you won’t find me slapping on a generalisation like ‘Urban’ on every new UK song that has a little bass and lyrical skill in it. And you certainly won’t find me referring to Grime music or Grime artists like its something on the bottom of my shoe, maybe I’ll just stick to UK Rap, after all they are rapping and they are from the UK.