Words: Tom Lea
Writing a 20 best feature, I presume, is always hard. This is the first one I’ve done, and it was a nightmare.
When it’s a genre that you care about as much as I do grime, then picking records can be like choosing between children. I love Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Anna’, ‘Lethal Injection’ and ‘R U Double F’ pretty much equally, but if you feature all three then you’re killing the chance of other worthy tracks’ inclusion. It’s also hard because, inevitably, you run out of things to say. On page three of this piece, you’ll see what I mean. Grime’s often so much about instinct, feeling and physical catharsis, and instrumentally, is so powerful in its simplicity, that it doesn’t always lend itself well to writing.
The other thing that makes it hard, is that writing a feature like this implies that the genre’s dead. It’s not. There’s still great grime being made, and for the first time in several years, there’s more than just a couple of labels putting it out on vinyl. But, I would argue that current grime doesn’t bear much resemblance to the period I’m charting here (all records on this list, bar #20 were released between 2002 and 2007). This feature spans grime’s evolution to a genre sold on vinyl from car boots and small, specialist record stores, to one focussed on mixtapes and UK record shop exclusives, to one dominated by YouTube and iTunes. But it is what it is. Music evolves – hip-hop left the vinyl format behind a while ago now, and its creativity has only grown as a result. Rather than a dismissal of grime’s current state, this is intended as a celebration of one stage of its lifetime.
Quick disclaimer: as #1 here explains, I’ve taken Musical Mob’s ‘Pulse X’ to be grime’s year zero. So although Agent X’s ‘Decoy’, More Fire Crew’s ‘Oi’ and several others would fit in with the rest of this list in aesthetic, they came slightly too early for me to consider them for inclusion.