Sian Anderson is a BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ and freelance writer. In her column Grime Time, she looks at the stories behind the headlines in grime.
2016 is an exciting time for grime. It’s the year we finally get Skepta's highly anticipated album Konnichiwa, and the year we get to eagerly await confirmation from Wiley on Twitter that he actually showed up to his Australian tour. It’s the year D Double E takes on nine dates in Canada, and potentially the year that Big Narstie breaks the internet with a chorus from his latest unexpected fan—Justin Bieber.
But while the scene’s veterans mentioned above continue to keep grime’s torch burning—and last year’s key players Stormzy and Novelist remain top notch—there are a couple of exciting MCs emerging who we need to shine a light on. Those who kicked turkey and "Auld Lang Syne" to the curb over the festive season and instead spent it lighting up the studio. They’re geared up and ready to go, and in true grime form, less than a month into 2016 there have already been war dubs and sets galore from MCs ready to battle for the King of Grime crown.
1. Capo Lee
London based MC Capo Lee didn’t come into 2016 firing alone—he entered the year as part of the free collaborative mixtape Why Not, alongside a wave of MCs who are individually ones to watch in their own right: fellow London lads Mic Ty, Blay, Rocks Foe, and Nico Lindsay all bless the tape, which features 10 tracks that sound like they were recorded prior to some sort of grime war. Capo Lee was already wound up from a war dub he released on Christmas Eve, but I’m not exactly sure who upset the rest of these guys. This tape is the result of a casual studio session recorded in 10 hours, where the guys are deep, dark, and disrespectful over riddims made by specialist grime DJ/producers Spooky and Sir Spyro. Capo Lee sounds challenged without sounding competitive, consistent with the tone of his prior release "Funeral Parlour" where he is (of course) burying MCs. Hopefully he stays mad.
2. AJ Tracey
AJ’s just being unfair. From west London's Ladbroke Grove and co-signed by Stormzy, already this year he’s written diss tracks for other MCs, introduced a new crew MTP (My Team Paid), and had his track “Naila” (above) chosen by the U.K.'s BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac as her first Free Music Monday download. “Naila” is taken from his Alex Moran EP—a five track free download which features Jammz and Merky ACE, two of the best (not to mention wayward) MCs in London. In one freestyle alone you can expect to hear AJ charismatically hype talk, use different flows, and hold a skippy chorus—which currently seems to be the formula to breaking down mainstream barriers. Watch this space.
Every now and then a new crew come through dominating stage shows and pirate radio with bars upon bars. Last year that was The Square, headed up by MC and producer Novelist, and comprised of various MCs from south east London borough Lewisham. At the end of 2015 we didn’t get a chance to mourn Novelist leaving The Square, because fellow member Blakie dropped his debut solo track, the old school “Tun Up Never Tun Down” (naturally, self-produced), to celebrate his 18th birthday. Blakie’s music and production is laced with old school grime nods, and his visuals to accompany them feature him in tracksuits visiting the estates, night clubs and chicken shops that are a part of his everyday life. A true representation of grime’s culture.
4. Elf Kid
But there’s more reasons to get excited about The Square: charismatic 18-year-old Elf Kid also stepped up and proved there are more than a few stars in the crew. Having racked up over 50K listens on his freestyle over Jamie xx’s “Gosh,” Elf Kid went on to drop “Golden Boy,” which samples Amerie’s hit single “One Thing,” taking us back over 10 years to a fond time in life where every woman wanted to be her in the video and every man wanted to be beating the drum behind her. Skepta once said “If you can’t MC, produce and mix then I don’t wanna hear your name in the king of grime conversation”—look out Skeppy, the MCs and producers of The Square have shown us they're early contenders.
5. Rocks FOE
Last year it seemed as though if you didn’t have a singalong, commercially viable version of a grime track, then your music wasn’t going to make it further than the studio it was made in. Rocks FOE originates from London's Croydon just like last year's emerging MCs Stormzy and Bonkaz, but has taken the opposite route in grime and gone for a darker, conceptual feel to his records. Stand-out track “Law,” taken from his debut four track EP Legion, talks religion, rights, and rules.
The track carries so much raw honesty and sincerity that it's occasionally an uncomfortable listen, but the EP on the whole caters for every musical need, picking up more melodic grime flows on track two “Hold That” and finishing up with a rap flow on the last song “Crushed.” On Bandcamp you can find The Legion Outtakes—an extended version of the EP which also features two instrumentals Rocks FOE produced. He may not have a “We Run The Block” or a “Know Me From” to break through with, but Rocks is the next dark horse coming straight outta Croydon in 2016.
6. Yung Bush
This is my wildcard. Yung Bush is an artist from Brixton, London, who insists that rather than grime, he’s making ‘GRAP’ (grime rap). I first discovered him on a rap freestyle called “Woah,” and then brought him into my BBC Radio 1Xtra show to freestyle over Kano’s “P’s & Q’s” (watch that above). Despite his protests that he’s definitely not a grime MC, he went on to freestyle over JME’s “Man Don’t Care,” which was just as flames as his Kano freestyle. On those merits (and the deeper reload bars used in his Kano freestyle that would turn over any grime rave I’ve ever been to), I’m going to go way out there and say he’s one to watch in grime.
Mez entered the year with a freestyle for Logan Sama with his Nottingham Crew 12 members Kyeza and Snowy (watch above)—a freestyle that, honestly, is so fast-paced you have to watch it a couple of times with your full attention to keep up. This followed the release of his NRG EP, available exclusively (and free) on his website, and a freestyle he dropped into our stockings on Christmas Day. This year, Mez has already been in the studio with fellow lyrical Gs Bonkaz and Jammz—which alone is guaranteed to be fuelled with enough lyricism and character to last grime fans the remainder of the year, but hopes are high that he also jumped into the studio with Stormzy, as he travelled the U.K. with him as a special guest on tour in 2015.
Mez’s performances are always lively and fuelled with electric energy. Even when performing with an orchestra for a BBC Maida Vale Session—above—he manages to make you want to head to your nearest grime rave, violins or no.
8. Saf One
Birmingham’s Saf One has been around for a few years now, featuring on records and appearing on radio sets as part of Stay Fresh Crew, but it wasn’t till last year that he got his moment to shine. Luckily for us, the release of “That’s Dead”—a collaborative track with fellow Birmingham dons Trilla, Pressure, and Bomma B—put his name back on the map. It then wasn’t long before he had his breakthrough moment with one of the biggest tunes of the year, “She Wants A Man From Brum.” The track featured the aforementioned, who will hopefully create their own crew on the side and continue to collaborate—that would be a 2016 EP to save your pounds and pennies for.
Grime gods Wiley and Dizzee Rascal originate from east London and came through on pirate radio—a blueprint replicated honorably by MC Jammz, 2015’s pirate radio king. Whether London stations such as Radar Radio or NTS and Mode FM, Jammz regularly visits them all, with so many practice hours under his belt that other MCs find they struggle to keep up with him on a set.
As well as producing himself, Jammz can go from working with the scene’s veteran producers such as Plastician to working with less established but equally excellent producers such as Local Action’s Finn and Fallow, and bring a different flavor each time. He’s kicking off 2016 with the single “Warrior,” being released on CTA Records, a label run by Wiley and DJ Logan Sama. With the co-sign from Wiley, Jammz already has this year on lock.
Cally is special for more than one reason. First up, he’s clearly a sick MC—but when you’re a sick MC and you couple that with an instrumental by Maxsta, one of the best MCs in east London (on his first foray into production) then you’re left with “Jezzy’s In My City” and a riddim that draws you in like an old school Dizzee Rascal Boy In Da Corner track. Cally’s not new to this, and rode a set alongside big boy grime DJ Spooky for pirate station Déjà Vu FM six months ago; the kind of set you listen back to when you’re getting amped up and ready for a rave. With a few previews leaked via his Twitter, we already know that Cally is ready to gift us with more tunes in 2016 with his forthcoming EP.
11. Mic Ty
For an MC who first picked up the mic only last year, 20 year old MC Mic Ty has impressively already shut down clubs and pirate radio sets with tracks "Off To Murk" (produced by Jammz), "Who’s This" (featuring Big Zuu), and his latest Plastician produced track "Knewham," in which he pays homage to his hometown, the London district of Newham (also home of grime greats such as Ghetts, D Double E & Footsie). With such a solid list of heavyweight artists and producers on his side, expect him to make serious waves this year.