With its heavy, dark basslines and futuristic-style elements, grime music is an art form that speaks to the shadow aspect of our souls. It resembles a fierceness that is tired of hiding, or even a power previously untapped. I don’t know how else to say it: grime is grimy. It is gutter, it is raw, it is hard. Maybe that is why US hip hop artists and fans are starting to notice and embrace it.
When I listen to US-based rapper ASAP Rocky, for example, I hear some of the same sounds as when I listen to UK-based rapper Blizzard. While Rocky is not yet publically acknowledged as a grime artists and Blizzard, in my opinion, is much more polished in grime—and should be as he reps the location the subgenre originated from—both artists connect to a part of my being that knows struggle and is fighting to emerge from it, even if that means I have to pull you down to do so.
Along with lyrics both engaging the philosophical, “what is life about” aspects of living as well as the competitive art of struggle and being on top, grime music is reflective of UK garage, drum and bass, hip hop, and dancehall musical elements. Perhaps, the closest example I can give that would be slightly equal is dubstep; however, grime tends to be much mellower than that.
It seems appropriate that grime is beginning to become a presence in the United States, given the state of US hip hop today. For one, while competition has always been of utmost importance in hip hop, it is seemingly more so now that careers in the genre are already limited and quickly dwindling. Another thing, fewer rappers are talking about struggle and more are talking about how they have made it.
What grime contributes to US hip hop is the way artists seem to compete in their lyrics without bragging about how much they have but instead discussing how much more they have been through and why that will never stop them from striving further.
For example, in his freestyles and various songs, Blizzard spits about his life story—being poor, being bullied as a kid, selling and using drugs, love, breakups, and questioning his creativity—and how it has all contributed to his desire to be a better MC. On his “Testing the Water” track, specifically, he talks about starting a new chapter while he has no idea what will come next. Still, he keeps “testing the water” with music, understanding that it is a way for him to passionately express himself.
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ASAP Rocky, on the other hand, as well as the rest of the ASAP crew, spits on tracks that sound like grime musically but I would not say they pass for grime in content. Rocky is considered a mainstream US artist, therefore, he tends to rap about what most mainstream artists do: money, clothes, cars, strippers or hos, and how his possession of all of these makes him better than other rappers. Occasionally, he will sound more like his emerging underground ASAP crew and talk about some “gangster ish,” like how he sells drugs, commits robberies, and could or would kill or harm other rappers.
Although there are US artists who are beginning to incorporate grime elements in their music—and rightfully so—these artists have a ways to go before being considered grime in content. But it is happening.
Still, it should come sooner than later, blowing in like a blizzard, ASAP.