The grime scene historically doesn't get the respect it deserves on its home turf, with its artists generally ignored by UK institutions like the BRITs and its events habitually shut down by police. That's why Kanye's symbolic gesture last week at The BRITS meant so much: he debuted "All Day" flanked by some of the UK's biggest and rising grime stars, as well as key players in the UK hip-hop scene.
While some assumed that, due to the crew's all-black clothing, this was a #BlackLivesMatter protest—and while others, offensively, accused Ye of promoting gang culture—the performance actually came about when Kanye reached out to grime star Skepta via Theophilus London. London texted Skepta just three hours before the live show, as revealed in a since-deleted Instagram: "Yo skept...I'm with Ye and Virgil [Abloh] now at the Brits. we performing. He want u to come Thru and chill with us and mob on stage with u and some of your homies. All black attire." When Skepta responded that he could bring six people, London told him to bring 30.
The resulting performance was not only a masterclass in how to use a flamethrower, but a significant hat-tip for the UK's grime scene according to grime godfather Wiley. "Last Night A Statement Was Made. @Skepta & @kanyewest made it. My brothers was on stage at the Rarsclart Brit Awards. Thank u God," he tweeted, before adding: "Kanye Knows The Brits Ain't letting dons in there like that so he kicked off the door for us.Imagine 1 of us saying Yeh I'm bringing 20 dons."
Drake knows it. Kanye knows it. Grime is finally poised to be championed abroad and at home in 2015. Here are seven key artists who joined Kanye on stage last week.
Fresh from being name-checked by Drake on Lil Wayne's latest mixtape and the If You're Reading This It's Too Late liner notes, Skepta was the man Kanye sought after to make this performance happen, and the man he thanked out loud during it. Skepta's been doing it for 15 years now, but if you're not up to speed, his massive new single "SHUTDOWN" is as good a place to start as any. Watch out for the MC's forthcoming fourth album, Konnichiwa, later this year.
2. Shorty (Boy Better Know)
Along with JME, Skepta is a founding member of Boy Better Know, the grime crew that's been going strong for a decade now. They're the collective behind this banger, which is all about needing more girls in the club. Need we say more? BBK members present at the BRITs included Shorty, who can be seen having a lot of fun in the Vine above.
Last night was epic Kanye & Boy Better Know in London full track suit Mafia 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 #Bbk4Life
A photo posted by Murkle Man BOY BETTER KNOW (@jammerbbk) on
Seen crouching directly behind Ye in the pic above is Jammer, another OG grime MC and BBK member who's been part of the scene for the best part of 15 years. He runs the all-important clash Lord of the Mics, and can occasionally be found dressing as his alter-ego Murkle Man. Check his latest free project, last year's Top Producer mixtape.
4. Krept & Konan
South London hip-hop duo Krept & Konan are rule-breakers; their breakthrough video in 2011 was a cover of Jay Z and Kanye's "Otis," which Jay's legal team eventually forced them to remove from their YouTube profile. Two years later, they could be found touring with Skepta and dropping their monster of a third mixtape Young Kingz, going on to break the record for Highest Charting UK Album By An Unsigned Act. By performing with Kanye this week, they kind of closed the circle by reaching the very platform they were emulating with their original YouTube cover.
Man who didn't wanna know Novelist in 2013 wanna know Novelist in 2015
— Novelist (@Novelist) February 25, 2015
The youngest on this list, 18-year-old Novelist is one of grime's newest faces, but his rise over the past year alone has been pretty formidable. Bringing his Lewisham crew The Square up with him, the young MC has released his own instrumentals on Oil Gang as well as collaborating closely with club night and collective Boxed, and this year was nominated for the BBC Sound of 2015. On his 18th birthday in January, he released the ice cold 1 Sec EP with producer Mumdance on XL Recordings. If you want to clash him, you can find him in Lewisham McDeez.
21 year old Stormzy is also a rising star in the UK right now, having made waves with his 2014 EP Dreamer's Disease and made it to third position on this year's BBC Sound of 2015 poll. He's also charted unprecedented territory for the genre, becoming the first unsigned rapper to perform on Later...With Jools Holland; and now, of course, on the BRITs stage.
Lead photo credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images