Another year, another even bigger year for grime. Whether it was Boy Better Know ending up onstage with Kanye at the Brits for his spectacular flamethrower finale, ’All Day’, or, uh, Idris Elba rapping about Stringer Bell on a Skepta track, we’ve seen the mainstreaming of artists who, five years ago, would’ve been playing seventh fiddle to Dizzee in the eyes of the public. Novelist came of age and turned 18. Stormzy nixed any remaining doubts that he’s a major talent to watch. And Jamie Adenuga, aka JME, entered the charts at number 12 with his third album, ‘Integrity’.
JME’s freeform BBK cartel-and-label has been a big part of the ongoing story of the grime revival. So it’s fitting that they took the headline slot on the Radio 1 Dance Stage at day one of this year’s Leeds Festival. Grime artists and festivals don’t always mix, as anyone who remembers the weekend Wiley went postal on Twitter at Glastonbury 2013 will know. But right now, it seems like the most urban strand of UK urban is making strong inroads into the last thing it hasn’t conquered: rock festivals. And into the sorts of territories it’s never exactly excelled in, like Yorkshire.
While The Libertines hymn a sepia Arcadia over on the Main Stage, JME, Skepta, Jammer and Shorty take to the stage in a Dance Tent to celebrate something more up-to-the-minute with several hundred of their biggest fans. The crowd are climbing the poles for a better vantage point. They’re spilling out past the back of the tent, towards the Giant Yorkshire Puddings food van.
They blaze into a muscular, low-slung ‘It Ain’t Safe’, Skepta’s 2014 single. Its tightly-honed beats are an effective argument that grime can be every bit the equal of its US equivalent. And is there going to be a better diss line tonight than: “Ring, ring, pussy, it’s your mummy on the phone”? Maybe: the blunt simplicity of “if Selassie saw you he would say ‘Blud take off the red gold and green’” from Shutdown – which also draws a massive response. But of course it’s JME’s cartoonish crowning glory and albatross ‘Too Many Man’ that brings the gun-fingers to a crescendo. There’s time too, for JME’s new crowning glory – his taut January single ’96 Fuckries’, his highest-ever chart position.
Overall, it’s a loose set of fun standards that keeps them all guessing right up till the end. They leave with the room still chanting ‘BBK’. “Follow me on Twitter, yeah? I follow back”, Skepta says by way of parting. You just don’t get that level of social media end-user engagement with Pete and Carl.