After two miserable years of us not having Channel U – the UK’s best TV channel for emerging grime, rap, hip-hop and (sometimes) R&B acts – it’s finally returning to our screens, thanks to the great coming-of-age grime blockbuster Against All Odds, which will be premiered on the beloved outlet. Channel U put the country on to huge pop stars of today, having championed hits such as Chip’s ‘Chip Diddy Chip’ and Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’. It was once UK rap’s fundamental marketing tool – and here are a few of the best songs that were regularly played on the channel.
Dizzee Rascal, ‘I Luv U’ (2004)
Grime’s first mainstream hit, ‘I Luv U’ boasts a polarising, dystopian beat produced by one of grime’s most coveted pioneers, and it’s withstood the test of time. An unapologetic product of east London, Dizzee Rascal’s raw and artful music is always compelling. ‘I Luv U’ felt like the start of an era of eye-catching, jaw-dropping videos of black Britain’s stellar underground talent breaking through.
Why it was massive: The pixelated production Dizzee Rascal was drawn to remains iconic.
Tempa T, ‘Next Hype’ (2009)
Often forgotten by less discerning grime fans, Tempa T was grime’s pocket rocket. Musically explosive but lyrically sensitive, Tempa T’s ‘Net Hype’ spoke to everyone who has ever felt violated, conjuring up a scenario that involved a character robbing someone’s flat and “pax[ing] man straight in his eyes”.
Why it was massive: The storytelling is absolutely visceral.
Nu Brand Flexxx, ‘Gash By The Hour’ (2006)
This song is currently surging in popularity as we reminisce all the great tracks played on the infamous outlet. From the first line (“I draw gash by the hourrrr”) you know you’re in for a treat. With amazing and unique word deliveries on the hook, elongating every “-our” sound so crowds can pick it up quicker and catch your ears, ‘Gash By The Hour’ harnesses everything you need for a great grime hit, especially for (much-missed, right now) raves.
Why it was massive: Let’s just say you’ll never say the word “hour” in the same way again.
Lethal Bizzle, ‘Pow! (Forward)’ (2004)
When you think of grime, you cannot forget ‘Pow! (Forward)’ and what it did for the scene. A huge commercial tune that had a plethora of underground superstars (including D Double E and Flowdan) spitting a quick bar or four over the same musical motif for three minutes: this was unheard of before this song came out. At the time, Lethal Bizzle was an MC from east London with little clout – until this song shocked the scene with its easy-to-pick-up lyrics, and signature ad libs. No wonder every time you turned on Channel U, you’d see D Double E or Flowdan charged up, delivering their bars in a scruffy council block.
Why it was massive: ‘Pow! (Forward)’ showed everyone that grime wasn’t samey but full of different styles and accents.
Boy Better Know (BBK), ‘Too Many Man’ (2009)
Remember when Wiley was a part of the world-renowned grime posse BBK, and he, Skepta, JME and co. made this timeless classic for every party? ‘Too Many Man’ highlighted the fact that grime was geared for guys and, for a long time, didn’t feel like a place for women. But this tune, filled with endless tag lines (like Skepta’s “God forgive me if I buss my nine”) and an anthemic refrain, became one of the few songs a woman could get in a rave with, pushing the men to the side for their moment.
Why it was massive: Because it was true! We all know there should have been more girls at grime raves.
Tinie Tempah, ‘Wifey Riddim’ (2006)
At the time of release, ‘Wifey Riddim’ was quite a sleeper hit, but after over a decade of flying under the radar, Tinie Tempah’s breakthrough track has been flipped and sampled many times due to its amazing production – and the fact that it final spoke to the female fans of grime (“Hold tight all the females”).
Why it was massive: Preceding ‘Too Many Man’ by three years, it was one of the first big tunes to invite females into liking grime.
Bashy, ‘Black Boys’ (2007)
This was a powerful message for a stigmatised minority in the UK. West London’s Bashy finally made a grime song that wasn’t only about making some money, or getting girls, but was intended to uplift his peers. Praising influential figures in UK rap — like “Dizzee Rascal getting an album deal with his face on the telly” — and comparing them to rap moguls Diddy and Nelly, ‘Black Boys’ became an emotional anthem to counteract the stereotypical media outlets degrading grime and portraying it as a violent movement.
Why it was massive: Finally shifting from videos and pictures of raging sweat boys, this track showed there was some hope in being black.
Meridian Dan, ‘German Whip’ (2013)
Younger Channel U fans (or should we say Channel AKA after the channel rebranded in 2009) such as this writer would see this stonker on our tellies and instantly want a BMW too. Grime is all about having the best bars as well as repetitive ones, because crowd participation is so important. So ‘German Whip’’s iconic “See man driving a German whip, blacked out windows leaning back / See man driving a german whip, look like a baller Ps and that” was a compelling mixture of both.
Why it was massive: This one had us all feeling like ballers.
Yungen and Sneakbo feat. Stormzy, Bashy, Angel, Benny Banks, Ghetts, Cashtastic, ‘Ain’t On Nuttin’ Remix 2’ (2015)
The ‘Aint On Nuttin’’ remix was the ‘10s version of ‘Pow! (Forward)’ but, instead of showcasing a complete list of newcomers, merged the old grime stars with the new ones. With Stormzy and Yungen spitting skippy flows prior to their pop careers alongside grime veterans Bashy and Sneakbo, it was an anthem for grime fanatics who came to listen to one artist and finished up in love with others too. With an amalgamation of styles, this track almost made the same impact as ‘Pow! (Forward)’.
Why it was massive: It proved that grime wasn’t dead – at a time when much of the UK thought it was.
Giggs, ‘Talking Da Hardest’ (2007, and still massive now)
If you’re talking about break-out grime tunes, you’ve got to mention this track. The national anthem of London’s youth, ‘Talking Da Hardest’ was bumping through the speakers of every kid in the UK feeling the cocky confidence of Peckham’s landlord, Giggs. This song’s longevity alone makes this pitch a very hard one because when you listen to this track, you just know Giggs was in his own lane creating this tune.
Why it was massive: For many more years to come, rap fans – not only grime fans – will hold this classic dear to the heart, nearly knocking people out in a mosh pit in their admiration for it.