In recent years, grime has faced scrutiny from new-school rappers such as Aitch, who last May announced, “No one younger than me is bothered about grime,” sparking a debate across social media. Yet many genre pioneers, such as D Double E, are still releasing music to critical acclaim even as the likes of Novelist, KwolleM and Skepta reinvigorate the sound.
And now we have the latest big grime and UK-rap-infused project ‘Norf Face’, which sees rappers JME, Capo Lee, Frisco and Shorty – all Tottenham, north London natives – unite as a one-off collective across nine explosive tracks.
They open with ‘AGL’ (an acronym for ‘Ain’t Gotta Lie’), a track at once boastful and introspective, showcasing the distinctions between each artist – particularly where flow is concerned. Shorty, for example, is laser-sharp, on the nose and easily digestible; his nonchalant cadence only adds to his allure as he silences fake allegiances: “How random people shouting mandem but we ain’t even gang?” Elsewhere, JME is animated, loud and impassioned as he details his legacy as one of grime’s earliest henchmen, listing every radio station from Rinse FM to pirate radio station Freeze FM, all of which he graced during the ’00s as a freestyler.
‘Norf Face’ also compartmentalises each MC on short ‘Pattern’ solo cuts, allowing them to further extend their bragging rights. On ‘Frisco’s Pattern’, the rapper’s gravelly voice tears through a subdued soundscape; in under a minute, he takes in his prowess, conflict “on road” and his career, a testament to his range as a lyricist.
‘Look Both Ways’ finds each rapper delving into the hardships and motivation required to navigate their musical careers. Shorty juxtaposes his ascent as a rapper with staff greeting him warily when walking into their venues: “Uh-oh, here comes trouble,” he raps sarcastically. The line also evokes form 696, which the London Metropolitan Police used to stop grime gigs at short notice, and which was accused of being discriminatory (after much campaigning, it was scrapped back in 2017).
As ‘More’, with its tense, staccato strings, closes the record, it’s clear that ‘Norf Face’ is at its core a project defined by resilience — each act here has a cultural and musical legacy, which they continue to sculpt year-on-year. As JME says on the track: “Celebration we made it from back then”. Grime has persevered, nurturing both the emerging and established generation, as it continues to expand.
Release date: March 5
Record label: Independent