In 2010, grime’s future was uncertain. As we prepare to enter the 2020s, it’s definitely in a better place.
Here’s a look at some of the moments that helped define grime during this decade.
2010 – 2013: Pass Out
We’ll start with two pictures that represent 2010 and the battle that was being fought over the direction of grime.
At the start of the decade there was a real risk that grime’s best days were behind it. The scene’s biggest names were all giving pop music a go – with different degrees of success – and it looked like that was the path forward. Grime was going to be swallowed by the mainstream and given back to us unrecognisable.
Pre February 2010 Tinie Tempah was best-known for his 2007 mixtape Hood Economics, which featured the now iconic Wifey Riddim.
Then he released Pass Out, the first of his seven UK number one singles and one that at the time was impossible to avoid.
A few months later came D Double E’s Street Fighter Riddim – an instant classic from one of the scene’s stalwarts.
These hits showed that during grime’s quiet period of 2010 to 2013 there were still be plenty of artists – from P Money to Kozzie to Jme – who stuck with it.
2014: Blacked out window, leaning back
Without the release of Meridian Dan’s German Whip, which featured Big H and Jme, grime might not be where it is today.
It was the song that showed it was possible to create an authentic grime song that also translated to daytime mainstream radio – landing at 13 on the Official Charts. Some of the artists above him were Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX, Jax Jones, Pharrell Williams, John Legend and Jess Glyne (twice).
2014: ‘We’re gonna respect Jamaica. But right now we’re doing it for London’
Four crews, four stages and 20,000 people at Earls Court in London. If you were lucky enough to be there for Red Bull Culture Clash 2014, it’s a night you definitely won’t forget in a hurry.
Reigning champions Boy Better Know were unseated by Rebel Sound – consisting of David Rodigan, Shy FX and Chase and Status – at the end of the night.
But with the godfather Wiley, the king Skepta and the newcomer Stormzy all on stage together at various points, it will go down in history as the time a few of grime’s superpowers united.
2015: All Day
In 2010, who would’ve thought Kanye West’s name would be popping up in a grime moments of the decade list? But when Ye invited what seemed like half the grime scene* on stage at the Brit Awards in 2015, it was undoubtedly a moment.
Then Skepta sampled someone’s reaction to the performance – which featured everyone blacked out in hoodies, holding flame-throwers – in the middle of arguably 2015’s biggest song, Shutdown.
“A bunch of young men all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively on stage. It made me feel so intimidated and it’s just not what I expect to see on prime time TV.”
Including it in his song showed that grime was at a place again where it didn’t care what outsiders had to say.
*Try as much as you like, you won’t find Jme on that stage, even though he was invited. Skepta’s younger brother said he hadn’t eaten all day, so “it was either die or watch it at home”.
2015: Chip can’t run out of bars
A lot happened in 2015 as grime was exploding back to life again. Chip launched the year’s biggest saga when he came up to 1Xtra for a Fire in the Booth segment and ended up cutting off the music after four minutes to deliver a bit of a sermon.
It centred around lyrics from Tinie Tempah’s own Fire in the Booth from a year previous, one of which can explicitly be seen as a dig at Chip.
The Tottenham MC used it as a warning for people not to try him in 2015.
But one Manchester native, up to that point relatively unknown, didn’t listen. Bugzy Malone’s debut Fire in the Booth, apart from going on to be the year’s most-watched, ignited a war that would run most of the rest of the year.
It at different points hit out at Tinie Tempah, Big Narstie, Saskilla, Devilman and Skepta – but always centred around Chip and Bugzy.
It gave grime something it hadn’t had in a while, and two days in October 2015 when five diss tracks were released were some of the hypest of the decade.
2015: You never been in Shoreditch when it’s Shutdown eh?
In the midst of the growing beef between him and Bugzy, Skepta had dropped Shutdown – which somehow barely made a dent in the charts, peaking at 39 – despite being inescapable.
But when the Meridian man announced an impromptu show at Shoreditch car park, hundreds of fans turned up and it was literally shut down by the police – although not before it helped Skepta add to the hype that was building around his name.
2015: Brush your teeth
Three had come before it, but when Lady Leshurr dropped Queen’s Speech 4 it properly went viral.
The playful freestyle, filmed in one-take in Birmingham, now stands at almost 60m views.
2016: Man are like Jaykae where have you been?
It’s fair to say grime didn’t look much outside of London, the city it came from, for the first decade after it started in the early 2000s. But when it looked like the genre was being abandoned MCs in Birmingham, Nottingham and around the UK refused to let the grime sound die.
Thanks to the likes of Sox, by the time Jaykae dropped Toothache in 2016, Birmingham was practically grime’s second city.
Toothache and the reaction to it showed two things: that grime really had progressed to become a nationwide sound and – with the song being featured in one of America’s biggest TV shows, Power – that it was properly making international waves.
2016: Microphone Champion
Skepta’s had a lot of good music and big moments this decade – from mixtapes Community Payback and Blacklisted, to the 25-minute, Matrix-shattering YouTube monologue that ended up in the Tate Britain.
But when he won the Mercury Prize in 2016 it was a moment to deep how quickly things had changed, with Skepta stood on stage next to his mum, soaked in champagne, with friends and family alongside him as he held the award.
He’d beaten David Bowie, Radiohead and The 1975 to one of the biggest prizes in British music.
Whether it should have beaten Kano’s Made in the Manor though, is another question entirely… *sips tea*.
2018: Where’s that money for Grenfell?
When the Grenfell fire happened in 2017, grime artists were asking questions of the authorities.
Whether it was Lowkey, Big Zuu, AJ Tracey or Akala, they stood up and spoke out for the 72 people who died.
Stormzy, who’d been to meet some of the families affected, felt he needed to use his platform to help.
The Brit Awards in early 2018 – where grime artists historically haven’t been recognised but where Stormzy won best album and best artist – was his moment.
He called out then-Prime Minister Theresa May, drew a response from Downing Street, and helped ensure Grenfell was still in the headlines.
There’s arguably no-one who lives and breathes grime more than D Double E – and there’s definitely nobody else who has to do so little for a reload.
But despite already having legendary status, Double released his first-ever album in 2018.
Jackuum seemed in some ways cathartic for D Double E, who admitted that his debut album should have happened a long time ago.
A week later, at GRM Daily’s Rated Awards, he picked up the Legacy Award – cementing a great decade.
2019: Glastonbury crew
In 2008 the British public wasn’t ready for Jay-Z – the man with more number one solo albums than anyone else in US history – to headline Glastonbury.
Little over 10 years later Michael Omari became the first black British solo artist to headline the Pyramid stage.
Not only did he smash the performance, but he paid homage to the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Skepta, Giggs, Ghetts, Wretch 32… he shouted out a total of 65 artists.
“I feel like the 25 years of my life have all led up to this moment right here. And there have been so many people who have paved the way for me,” he said.
If you were to take one moment to sum up grime’s 2010s, this is possibly it.
2019: Grime MC
Jme has always been in his own lane but, when he released Grime MC on vinyl and CD only, he made a point about where grime is in 2019 – whether he meant to or not.
“The fabric of our community, our culture, is MCing,” Jme told SK Vibemaker after the release of his third album of the decade.
“Everyone feels like there’s something you should do: you should make a song, do a YouTube video, get your views, put it on Spotify, tweet it, Instagram it, do it again and again and again. And I think, that’s not what I’m living for. I ain’t living for that.
“If YouTube and Spotify and all that shut down, I’m still going to be spitting bars.”
It seems like Grime MC is meant to work as a reminder of why we all love the genre so much: that crazy, energetic, indescribablefeeling it gives you, whether from a radio set, a rave or a single.
“It’s just art. Graffiti is art, but you don’t see graffiti in the National Gallery. Graffiti is on the street – that’s where it belongs,” Jme said.
“Music is art, but we’ve been told or shown that if you make music, it has to go ‘here’. ‘This is where music goes’. But it doesn’t feel like music should go ‘here’ when I make it.
“When I’m making music… or writing a bar… I’m not thinking, ‘Ah, I can’t wait to put this on Spotify! I can’t wait to put this on Apple Music!’ I don’t make music for that. I make music so I can see it – I need to see the reaction. I need to feel it.”
And that feels like as good of a place as any to close out the decade in grime.