Of all the electronic music at our fingertips today, grime remains a staple for lovers and connoisseurs of the underground. Grounded in UK culture with origins tied to pirate radio stations, this music has been in the making for almost two decades. Emerging in London in the early 2000s, the stylistic origins of grime are the very genres we still obsess over today: UK garage, drum ‘n’ bass, dancehall, and more. But the timeless and incomparable element to grime is none other than a killer MC coupled with unobtrusive production.
Now that our social media sites have been blessed with the likes of Big Shaq and Kurupt FM of People Just Do Nothing, it’s a fitting time to chronicle the history of the UK underground with legendary grime tracks spanning from the early 2000s to now. Though the popularity of grime grew in London nearly 20 years ago, its explosive claim to fame in North America didn’t come until the mid-2010s. Today, we’re truly reaping the benefits. Let’s begin in 2001.
Pay As U Go Cartel – Champagne Dance (2001)
This UK garage stomper is a classic anthem that helped to launch the wave of grime. As a pioneer influence of the grime sound, Pay As U Go Cartel gave on-the-rise MCs their initial platform. “Champagne Dance” included the group’s members Gods Gift, Major Ace, Wiley, and Maxwell D featuring Dom P. This track is a boisterous, club-friendly smasher with a positively authentic UK sound. Rest in peace, Major Ace.
Dizzee Rascal – I Luv U (2003)
Talk about a grime classic. Famed London-born rapper Dizzee Rascal dropped “I Luv U” 14 years ago and paved the way for grime artists to come. This track appears on Dizzee’s debut album Boy in da Corner, a record that went on to become one of the most acclaimed records of 2003 and gave mainstream exposure to the genre. This track’s gritty production paired with Dizzee’s unapologetic flow propelled this track to be an instant hit.
Kano – P’s and Q’s (2005)
It’s been 12 years since legendary grime master Kano dropped the powerful “P’s and Q’s,” but it still slaps to this day. Kano’s remarkably ever-changing flow crafts a dizzying yet exciting listening experience. This track truly embodies the London culture Kano is effortlessly rapping about:
I hate losing, so I ain’t snoozing
From London to Luton, I’m moving
I’m even merking over seas
And I got it locked from London to Leeds
Please, from time you heard me shine
Now I’m big from London to Merseyside
This debut solo single from Kano took the underground scene by storm, which led to his eventual explosive popularity as a grime superstar.
Roll Deep – When I’m ‘Ere (2005)
Longtime grime fans recall seeing the iconic music video for “When I’m ‘Ere” on TV over a decade ago. London’s massive grime crew Roll Deep (with notable members like Wiley, Roachee, and Flow Dan) teamed up for this caustic, in-your-face tune. The alternating MCs paired with a standout instrumental is what landed this grime standard on the airwaves of the UK. Of all the productions released by the Roll Deep crew, “When I’m ‘Ere” settled its title as a tough-as-nails anthem.
The Bug feat. Killa P and Flow Dan – Skeng (2007)
For those who love bass music in the current era of dance music, it is essential that you take a listen to this classic to understand the roots of dubstep. “Skeng” deviates from the common style of grime and adopts a depraved, drawn-out vibe complete with the menacing lyricism and delivery from Killa P and Flow Dan. This unforgettable grime-infused dubstep anthem provided an outlet for angsty UK teens.
Wiley – Wearing My Rolex (2008)
It’s Wiley’s “Wearing My Rolex” that set the precedent for danceable grime tracks to come. The poppy, electro beat bumping behind Wiley’s flow made this song skyrocket on the charts in 2008, but his track record in the grime scene dates back to his debut in 2004. This track’s significance lies in its success of blurring the line between the UK underground and chart-topping dance music.
Tempa T – Next Hype (2009)
This underground UK anthem is noteworthy for its inherent comical nature, but also its ability to go off at any party — just ask any grime fan in the UK. Tempa T‘s aggressive flow paired with wacky lyrics catapulted this track into the hearts of early grime lovers in the UK. This track goes so hard, even Tempz himself knew what it was capable of when he wrote it:
What everyone’s asking me when’s the next tune?
This is the fucking next tune, are you dumb?
D Double E – Street Fighter Riddim (2010)
No, this isn’t the riddim you’re thinking of. Noisey named him “Your Favorite Grime MC’s Favorite Grime MC” for a reason — D Double E dropped “Street Fighter Riddim” seven years ago and showcased his unique flow to the scene. The track’s references to Street Fighter characters and D Double E’s giddy delivery set this production apart from the rest of the scene; this song even birthed one of the most hilarious yet extraordinary rhymes to this day: “I’m that guy son, sucking up MCs like a Dyson.”
JME – JME (2010)
Imagine being such an esteemed voice in modern grime that you had the guts to name a song after yourself. That’s JME in his self-titled hit, boasting about the success of his career and the journey he took to get there. What’s so exceptional about this track is that it acts as an autobiography — in just over three minutes, JME tells his story and flaunts his prowess. Egotistical? Perhaps. Iconic? Definitely.
Skepta – Shutdown (2015)
There’s no grime fan that won’t be compelled to yell “TRUS’ ME DADDY” with this track’s introduction or be able to contain their excitement over that opening melody. “Shutdown” is the trademark song from Skepta and arguably the most popular grime track to gain traction in the United States. Beyond the infectious instrumental, Skepta has a flawless way of illustrating UK culture through both the track’s music video and its notable lyrics:
When it’s shutdown
That’s not me and it’s shutdown
Ring ring pussy, it’s shutdown
Fashion week and it’s shutdown
Went to the show sitting in the front row
In the black tracksuit and it’s shutdown
Touch the road and it’s shutdown
Boy better know when it’s shutdown
Stormzy – Shut Up (2015)
Stormzy launched his career as a grime MC at the ripe age of 17 and became a staple in the scene within just a few years. His smash hit “Shut Up” was originally released as a freestyled performance on YouTube in 2015, but the video gained so much popularity that Stormzy recorded a studio version of the track for its release later that year. To this day, the iconic video has been played over 65 million times and it depicts Stormzy and his crew embody grime culture at its core, donning tracksuits and teaming up to deliver a sensational performance.
Photo: Sunjay Kohli