The power of rap music and hip-hop culture can be identified as “un-escapable” in 2015, from Brownsville to Beverly Hills and internationally. A new crop of talent is making noise from across the pond. Grime, a genre of British rap music already over a decade old, has been finding its bass-heavy beats and staccato-paced flows in the music of some of hip-hop’s biggest stars lately, creating a sudden American interest in the genre and its stars who’re leading the pack.
So what’s grime? Take some American hip-hop, add in some West Indian dancehall and reggae influences, and finish it with a dash of the U.K.’s garage music style and there you have it. The genre shares a similar story as its American cousin, starting out as a voice for misguided London youth in the early ’00s.
The U.K. product has come stateside before, thanks to earlier pioneers Dizzee Rascal and the So Solid Crew. So why the sudden surge interest? Whether it’s Drake shouting out grime rapper Skepta on If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late or Kanye West bringing out a “who’s who” of the grime world performing “All Day” at the 2015 BRIT Awards, us Yanks have started to take notice.
One artist who caught onto the wave was Skepta, whose single “Shutdown” (featuring a verbal intro and outro by Drake) has achieved success here in the States. Spitters like Stormzy, Jme, Giggs and legions of others have seen a possibility to break into the U.S. market and are ready to break down those doors.
EBONY.com had the chance to speak with one such rapper, Bonkaz, straight out of Thornton Heath, South London and discovered firsthand why the grime scene is here to stay, and how the perils of Black people in the U.K. are eerily similar to everything going on here.
EBONY: As a grime artist, what’s the perception of American rap music in Britain, and how does it (if it does) influence and affect the grime movement?
Bonkaz: I find it difficult to speak on behalf of a whole movement or genre, but American rap music is very popular over here. I guess it’s the equivalent of what grime is to us, just raw expression. My sound is very left. I don’t want to put limitations on myself. I have many influences.
EBONY: Who are some trendsetters for you that have established the grime scene into what it is today?
Bonkaz: For me, it’s Mike Skinner, Kano and Dizzee Rascal. You could ask five artists that questions and get five different answers, but those are the guys that influenced me the most. They have made and continue to make whatever they want without restrictions.
EBONY: Your single “We Run the Block” has been getting major traction. How do you think social media has helped you cross those international waters?
Bonkaz: It’s helped me to notice the love I get over the waters, the Hot 97 interview where Ebro and Rosenberg were discussing me and the Beats 1 plays all brought to my attention via Twitter. I see skater kids in L.A. skating to my songs. I think that’s so sick, that’s the part that’s made me happiest so far.
EBONY: How do West Indian and African influences play a part of the grime scene?
Bonkaz: They play a part in our lingos, and those are a big part of the music. Certain terminologies that we use come from either the Caribbean or Africa, the same way Canada has that strong Caribbean twist to their slang. The clashing culture is also big in grime music, that’s definitely a Caribbean thing. They have Sting, we have Lord of the Mics.
EBONY: As a Black man from the U.K., how do movements like #BlackLivesMatter play out in Britain for you? What do you think is the state of the Black man in the U.K. in 2015?
Bonkaz: The state of the Black man in the U.K. should be very positive right now, we should be fearless and ready to achieve. I think that’s the only way to really win. #BlackLivesMatter is a positive movement which I have major respect for. If I created a movement like that though, it would probably be called #DontFu*kWithUs or something along them lines.
Cory Townes was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently lives in Brooklyn. A devout Philly sports fan, Townes is the Social Media Manager for EBONY.com. When he’s not saluting the plug or bringing headbands back in the 2015, you can reach him on Twitter @CoryTownes.