Grime is most exciting in the throes of conflict, when artists clash, sparks fly – And with sparks comes fire. When MC’s go head to head the friction ignites something so bright everyone turns to look. We see this now, with the rise of Grime around the world, carried by the face of Stormzy.
Grime might be the only platform today where artists actively write bars to humiliate each other. Where MC’s go back and forth, diss track to diss track. A game of lyrical tennis that is so pleasing to all the fans. Conflicts get the artists working, and they have to work quick. We saw last year the violent orgy of Tinie Tempah, Chip, Big Narstie, Bugzy Malone, Devilman, Saskilla and Skepta that birthed some of the biggest Grime hits to date. If you wait too long, it’ll be on your head…(Chip).
Sure, the US is home to hip-hop, arguably the most popular and socially transforming genre in the world. And it has seen its own fair share of rivalries from: Tupac vs. Biggie to Drake vs. Meek Mill. But there’s something the Americans don’t do that the British do so well– peppering their lyrics with wit and humour. The Americans just don’t seem to share the Grime artists command of the English language to produce rhyming insults that flow like Hennesy at a Tottenham shoobs.
Let’s look at some new American hip-hop disses in comparison to that of British Grime.
Drake’s famous line:
Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?
Can’t stand up to Chip’s bars in Pepper Riddim:
I’ll dip your mixtape in holy water, take it out and then Frisbee it
Prick, straight like that, nigga, bad with a pen, I’m that nigga
Take a peep up in Tinies arse, you might find Cameo and Saskilla
I looked through Drake’s lyrics and couldn’t find an example of mastery of the language to stand up to that. It’s smart, it’s witty, it’s biting. Chip not only uses personal attacks but elevates them with half rhymes and an easy flow. It may seem unfair to only put one line up against Chip’s three, but that’s the problem. These type of bars are rife in Grime, and sparse in American hip-hop.
So what sets the Grime scene apart from those over the pond? Is it that the Godfathers of the genre began shooting from the mouth, head to head, from the very beginning?
Lord of The Mics was the den that spawned the greatest Grime artists we see today. On the First Episode, Kano has it out with Wiley – the OG’s of Grime – and from then on it has been known as the place to settle any beef.
Anybody who’s anybody in grime has at least once stepped up the plate to verbally joust a rival. But what attracts the British to this kind of expression and why are we so good at it?
Maybe because we have been doing it for centuries.
It started as Flyting, ‘a ritual, poetic exchange of insults’, and became popular in Britain in the 5th century and carried on through to the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Here is an extract from ‘The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie’ from the early 1500’s:
Gray-Visaged gallows-bird, our of your wits gone wiild,
Loathsome and lousy, as wet as a cress,
Since you with worship would so fain be styled
Hail, Monsignor! Your balls droop below your dress
Not something you’d hear Skepta say but the lyrics are the seed of an English tradition that the Grime artists participate in every day. In these one-on-one battles, the humour and wit injected into the bars become more pronounced. The insults more often than not are aimed at girlfriends and physical appearances. All in an attempt to humiliate the opposition and cause uproarious laughter in the audience. Much like the insults bandied around in Shakespeares greatest works e.g. ‘Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese.’ (All’s Well That Ends Well)
Is this what makes Grime quintessentially British? In George Mikes’ ‘English Humour for Beginners’, he quotes Dr Martin Grotjahn: “Wit is related to aggression, hostility and sadism”. Where else could you find more aggression and hostility than a rivalry between Grime artists?
Here are some of my favourite bars from the clash between Caddell and Novelist on Whos Da Boss:
How could he chat to me about lyrics?
You don’t have a penny,
The only paper you got in your pocket
Is a bus ticket
Heard your style, bars are whack
You can’t spit, lips are fat
Your teeth are yellow
like you’ve been biting on a highlighter before the clash
No need to pretend
I had to take time to laugh at his head
Man a badman
From the heart of the east end
Don’t wanna be friends with none of his friends
He bends over for half his friends
Team fuck boy they represent
Dem man like to give next man head
I beat up the poom poom
Left it dead.
Grime is at its best when the intended victims of the verbal assaults aren’t just abstract nouns, but laid out before everyone and torn to shreds. It’s where the artists can breathe in some humour because no matter how badman you are, as British people, being funny will always prevail – especially if what’s funny is at the other person’s expense. Take a look at Caddell vs Novelist on YouTube and you will see the biggest reactions made by the crowd is when they have said something funny.
Listening to grime may seem trivial to some, but if you look closely, you can see the history of our language and our humour rooted into the lyrics and the continuation of a tradition that has been alive for over a thousand years.
See ya soon,
Cover picture source: [http://grimenation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Endz-3.jpg]