All rapped up: How artist and label services have broken the mould for grime

I’ve been trying to do this music stuff and work it out for so long,” said Skepta as he won the Mercury Prize back in 2016 for his album Konnichiwa. “I was like, Yo, let’s do this for ourselves, for ...

Four grime branding deals that changed the biz

STORMZY/ADIDASStormzy is one of Adidas’ brand ambassadors, collaborating with Japanese designer Nigo on their autumn ’15 collection, Three Stripes. In 2017, Stormzy starred in a second ad alongside Snoop Dogg. SKEPTA/UNIQLOSkepta is known for his many brand collaborations. Most notably, last year he was announced as the new face of Uniqlo’s This Way To Utopia campaign. Skepta also released his own Nike Air Max shoe. KANO/MERCEDESIn 2012, Kano was made the face of the Mercedes Benz A-Class series #youdrive campaign. Masterminded by ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the collaboration claimed to be the world’s first interactive advert, as it allowed fans to vote for the scenario they wanted to see next. KREPT & KONAN/PUMAIn 2015, Krept & Konan were made Puma’s brand ambassadors. A year later, the duo collaborated with the sportswear firm to release the Evo Camo Pack – a collection of gear in camo print and neutral tones. “It’s been turning heads,” said Konan.Story By: Zoe Maclellan

The live of grime: How the UK's hottest genre is transforming the touring business

What rock’n’roll was to the ‘60s, and punk to the ‘70s, grime is to the 2010s. It’s taken its time, but the streaming generation - free of the narrow-minded tribalism of music past - has found its movement. Many of grime’s most pivotal moments have come on the live stage, and if Skepta’s stunning Pyramid Stage slot at Glastonbury 2016 set its ascension to the mainstream into motion, then his thunderous Alexandra Palace show later that year marked its coronation. Grime is, without question, the hottest thing in UK music. Or as the rapper declared to the 10,000 devotees in attendance on that epochal night in North London: “We did it! We put a fucking flag on the moon.” “The Skepta show at Ally Pally was a landmark show for many reasons,” says SJM Concerts promoter Chris Wareing. “The gig was a celebration of not only the incredible year Skepta had, but an incredible year for many artists, which was illustrated by the line-up and the special guests he built into the show.  “The rate of sale on the show was where I expected it to be - selling 10,000 tickets in a couple of hours. The reality is that we probably could have done a few more nights at Ally Pally, but Skepta is a very special artist and we felt that one standout show created such a buzz and atmosphere. It made for a very special night.” “Skepta is a key breakthrough moment,” affirms his booking agent Rebecca Prochnik of Earth Agency. “Much happened before in the history timeline, but it was him who embodied the shift. He opened the door - all the rest followed.”  Starting with her “first grime love”, Wiley, Prochnik’s roster has grown to encompass the likes of JME, AJ Tracey and, of course, Skepta, in addition to grime collective Boy Better Know. She is not surprised at the genre’s crossover success, but concedes it would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. “It’s not surprising now given the fervour and spotlight for the past few years - there’s no way that could avoid industry input and commodification,” she suggests. “However, casting back a few years when it was in the wilderness, it did definitely feel like it was all behind a rigid, immovable veil that would never lift and so it is quite something to have four-year-old kids from the home counties going mental to grime anthems - and to have their proud parents filming it.” Jack Clark, of Echo Location Talent Agency, books acts such as Belly Squad, 67 and Hardy Caprio and recalls noticing grime seeping into the mainstream “three or four years ago, when it was more accepted into the public as opposed to just being on underground radio stations”. “It’s what the youth of today are listening to and ultimately it is what is selling records nowadays, so labels have got behind it,” he says. “I think streaming has helped too. Whereas previously grime music was underground and being cut onto dub plates and records, streaming has made it a lot more accessible. There are huge personalities in grime and that’s been another big factor.” “Lethal Bizzle went from having Pow! banned from the radio to having Fester Skank playlisted on every major station,” points out Wareing. “Perception of a once frowned-upon genre has changed for the better, but it is still a work in progress.” Even the BRITs got on board - Skepta tore through Shutdown and Stormzy guested with Ed Sheeran at this year’s ceremony. But grime’s rise in the live realm has not been without its obstacles - with issues arising from controversial Met Police risk assessment form 696. The form, which is only used in London, requests that names, stage names, private addresses, and phone numbers of all promoters, DJs and artists be listed for an event that “predominantly features DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track”. Earlier this year, Culture Minister Matt Hancock wrote to London Mayor Sadiq Khan to raise his concerns, claiming it can be used to “single out” certain music genres, such as grime. “Unbelievably, there is still resistance in parts of the country to grime shows,” sighs Wareing. “Venues are being put under immense pressure locally not to stage grime shows. We still have this 696 form rearing its ugly head every now and then in London when it suits the local authorities. But unlike many other genres, teams of people pool their resources together and help where possible to deliver incredible events time after time, as each share the same burning desire to succeed. It’s a genre of music where I don’t see much jealousy or hatred.” “We attended a meeting last week with the licensing department about the 696 form and whether we thought it was a good thing or a bad thing,” adds Clark. “Ultimately, we think it’s a good thing, but it needs to be handled better. The perception of the 696 form is really bad and I think it’s the police’s duty to improve that and help people understand what it’s really for. “A lot of the time, if a show gets pulled, people will automatically blame it on the 696 form and sometimes it isn’t just down to that. I’ve had issues with the majority of my acts and sometimes it’s actually due to the venues getting worried about the kind of crowd these acts will draw, even though in my experience I haven’t had one show where there’s been a single issue. It’s just the stigma around this kind of music.” Boy Better Know co-headlined Wireless in 2016 and went on to attract what was widely reported to be the biggest crowd at last year’s Reading Festival. They then headlined Glastonbury’s Other Stage in June this year. “They don’t do this, that and the other, just things that make sense with regards to their own amorphous personality,” asserts Prochnik. “Reading and Leeds have always been great slots, giving that scale to non-Londoners. Wireless was also a major feel good, home-style hoedown.”  Robomagic CEO Rob Hallett is co-promoting Sunday’s Boy Better Know Takeover festival at The O2 in London with Festival Republic. BBK will be taking full control of The O2’s various music venues and bars, the cinema, the restaurants and communal spaces. A$AP Rocky, Ghetts, J Hus, Chip and Ms Banks are among those to feature, and Hallett says: “It’s exciting to see kids making it themselves. For me, it feels like punk - it’s kicking against society, making social comment.” Meanwhile, the 15,000-capacity Lockdown Festival, which returns to Exeter’s Powderham Castle from September 1-3, features a heavy grime influence, starring the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Lady Leshurr. “It is a dance music event primarily, but we cover all genres,” says Lockdown’s artist and promotions manager Carl Collins. “The festival is only in its second year and grime is so contemporary, hence us booking a lot of grime acts. Grime is just so current and full of English raw talent - there’s no limit to where it can go.” Hallett concurs with that last statement. “Skepta and Stormzy have proved there’s no ceiling by having [Top 2] records,” he says. “They’re both happening internationally and more and more people are following them. It’s a really exciting movement.” “These guys are some of the most driven people I’ve ever met in my life,” beams Clark. “The mentality behind some of these kids and where they’ve come from gives them that extra determination.” “This is a steam train with a huge engine that keeps getting fed coal,” adds Wareing. “The genre is growing rapidly, the sub-genres are expanding and people are wanting more and more. It’s music that’s relatable - it is a success story and it’s motivating the youth to stand up, be bold and chase dreams. “Youths have recently witnessed Stormzy, a guy in his early 20s, go from filming a video in a park with his mates to selling over 40,000 tickets for his tour, a No.1 record, a cameo on Love Island and being papped head to toe in Burberry at Wimbledon, all in the space of a couple of years. If that isn’t motivation for kids to get busy, then I don’t know what is. And in terms of bigger shows, trust me, they are coming!” “I expect music and interest to keep morphing and think that grime as it is, is not grime as it was,” reflects Prochnik. “There are different waves coming out of the opening that grime’s latest rebirth created, different waves that are not grime, nor even sound like grime, but that are culturally related nonetheless by accents and language and style, even if the tempo and production is totally different. “Now we see an interest and an embracing of much broader UK road music and culture. That’s a positive outcome in terms of what does the future hold, simply in terms of a widening of acceptance that previously was non-existent. For BBK, they all do their own projects and come together when the right event surfaces and all the various stars align. It may be few and far between but we know when the right potential appears that it’s right to do it.”Something special is occurring, the likes of which the UK hasn’t seen in decades. Yet there remains a sense that grime has barely scratched the surface of its potential - and isn’t that the most exciting part of all?

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