When Drake made a guest appearance at a Section Boyz gig back in 2016, shortly before announcing he’d signed to Skepta and JME’s Boy Better Know collective, UK grime had reached a new apex. Even at its most cynical level, the Canadian superstar saw the scene as a gateway toward earning UK cultural kudos.
Yet as with all genres, grime has faced a constant push-and-pull between preserving its core tenets and splintering off into something new. In this instance, the rise of drill (which first emerged in Chicago) has been taken up to give hard-hitting depictions of inner-city life, whilst a more melodious UK rap scene has emerged, no better represented than by Knucks’ sublime Alpha Place.
JME is still delivering on the same tried and tested grime formula he knows, spitting fast bars over 140bpm garage and jungle influenced basslines. Given the success it’s brought him, you could hardly blame him.
But at Bristol’s much-loved Motion this weekend, this often grew wearisome. JME Presents Grime MC FM was a blazing bank holiday bash no doubt, but with little space to breathe – both in the set and the sweaty, gun-finger-toting crowd – it became stuck in a not-too-distant past.
It would take an hour and a half for an MC to appear, with P Money taking over from a DJ setlist that had riffled through most of the grime classics. Asserting himself with ‘Who’s In Charge’, P Money would later get the crowd featuring in a music video for his new track ‘Bars n Dat’.
This constant hype-athon would be the general gist of the night. The mini-fridge perched near the DJ’s turntable stacked full of the KSI-endorsed Prime drink tells you all you need to know: this event was all about in-your-face energy.
P Money promised the crowd the night would be “grime in its purest element” and by the time JME did arrive, flanked one at time by special guests, his words certainly came true.
The premise of JME’s Grime MC FM – a pirate radio-styled live show built off the back of his 2020 album Grime MC – is that its special guests remain a secret until the day. For Bristol’s entertainment, the list of MCs included Manga Saint Hilare, Tempa T, Shorty, Blay Vision and Flirta D.
Spitting in turns under red lights and a simple ‘Grime MC FM’ banner, Manga Saint Hilare achieved the most wheel ups (by my reckoning anyhow), whilst Flirta D gave the most memorable moment when he interpolated parts of his ‘Cammy Riddim Freestyle’ into the set.
The sheer stamina and persistence of the night was impressive, but overall the non-stop bars – even for a genre that prides itself on building tracks around a repeated phrase – became tedious. This was perhaps most evidenced, too, by the indecisive mosh pits, which ballooned out only to fall in on themselves indecisively when there was no clear drop.
JME left Bristol by previewing “something exclusive”. In reality, it sounded like a lot that had come before. As he went to “biggup the MCs, the DJs”, you could certainly admire the Grime MC FM idea, for trying to keep the underground spirit where grime was forged alive.
Grime is by no means dead, but this event did make you wonder whether it’s now so far removed from the underground that it’s become a pastiche of its former glory; a victim of its own success, which Drake, for better or worse, has long-since moved on from.