Gabe Herman

It all starts with some super-distorted electronic noise covered over with a millisecond-long clip of a woman hitting a note so high it sounds like a bird chirp. Then, long vibrating bass lines pick you up and start to violently shake you, and before you can collect yourself you’re being yelled at by a man who is rhyming so fast you can only pick out the ends of words. Occasionally, the song is peppered with the sounds of police sirens, a muted argument, and trash cans banging together. This is Grime. Imagine N.W.A going twice as fast with a Dr. Dre who is constantly on a really bad trip and can only use a synthesizer. And everyone is British.

Born from London’s Garage music scene (which gave us The Streets and M.I.A.), Grime’s biggest ‘stars’ are virtually unknown in America. Dizzee Rascal, probably the best known Grime artist, has three albums out and was on Rolling Stones top 50 albums of 2004, but was playing 700 seat theaters in America in 2005. Other artists like Kano and Dot Rotten have had nice chart showings in the UK, but nothing that has yet translated to the US, where slower R&B beats rule the day.

Grime is distinct as a genre because it is completely undanceable and impenetrable. This is music to make you nervous and agitated, a sonic representation of the environment from which many of its biggest ‘stars’ came from. Kano’s family only recently immigrated to the UK from Jamaica, and his youth was spent in immigrant neighborhoods. Dizzee Rascal was stabbed four times in 2004, believed to be in relation to a dispute with members of So Solid Crew.

Thematically, Grime is like Gangsta Rap if the Gangsta knew how horribly it would end. Rascal’s first UK hit, “I Luv U,” is about an unplanned pregnancy and unpleasantly echoes Tupac’s solo debut “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” In Pitchfork’s review of Boy in da Corner, Rascal's debut album, the critic poignantly claims: “Most people Rascal's age crave arrested development, but Dizzee already longs for the innocence of childhood.” Altogether, Grime is more painfully self-aware than most hip-hop music before it. It constantly questions its reasons for violence and aggression and then, when no good explanation is reached, falls back into them. Kano’s lyrics in "Ghetto Boy" exemplify the genre: Im a ghetto kid\So why the ghetto shit?\I dunno what happened its just\what the ghetto did… \And everywhere you go you\almost always get this beef.