Legendary photographer Ewen Spencer and Nardene Scott explore a new wave of talent coming straight out of Jammer’s Grime nightschool; Lord Of The Mics.
Grime was the musical buzzword of 2015. People that couldn’t recite one D Double E lyric if their Shoreditch House membership depended on it, who had no clue about the relevance of Jammer’s east London dungeon, suddenly had an opinion on the music and the scene. Between roadblocks in Shoreditch at the mere whisper of a Stormzy performance at the Vice offices, there was no escaping it: Grime was back.
It was about time that people started to take notice of the underground movement that had been bubbling away for well over a decade. Pioneered by the youths of east London yearning for their own voice, Grime allowed young artists to stamp their own identity on music while taking heed from the UK Garage scene and the sound-system heritage of yesteryear.
After a brief spell in the shadows, Grime organically floated back into view at the end of 2011 when Ratty and Jammer re-launched Lord of the Mics – the scene’s foremost battle platform, filmed in Jammer’s basement and streamed online – after a long hiatus. Solidifying Grime’s place in London’s music landscape was the return of Wiley’s club night “Eskimo Dance”, Skepta’s critically-acclaimed mixtape, Blacklisted and an epic win for his collective Boy Better Know (BBK) at Red Bull Culture Clash.
Fast-forward to 2015, Skepta performed a headline tour in the US, JME released what was arguably the album of the year, Integrity, Grime veterans Elijah and Skilliam — of the record label and radio show Butterz — ventured to Japan to unleash Japanese Grime on the world and festival line-ups from here to Australia were worthless without some form of Grime representation. Gucci had been traded in for tracksuits, Chip was calling out Tinie Tempah, Novelist’s ex-collective The Square were chairing clashes outside Lewisham McDonald’s and Drake was boosting his roadman status with a BBK tattoo.
Teaming up with renowned photographer and filmmaker Ewen Spencer, a purveyor of the early UK Garage and Grime scenes, I caught up with BBK don Jammer and a small collection of Grime’s next-gen to discuss the future of the genre, and the Lord Of The Mics legacy.
Wiley, Kano, Skepta, Footsie, Big Narstie, Tinchy Stryder and many, many more have clashed at Lord Of The Mics. From pirate radio sessions to impromptu youth-club barrings, if you weren’t able to rap at the drop of a beat, you weren’t worth the spit on Jammer’s basement floor.
But, as quickly as it had kicked off, the scene started stagnating. “Basically, everything was being watered down; everyone was trying to be American and make pop tunes,” Jammer explains. “A lot of things were going sideways because of the major labels and everyone just wanted to make money to keep their career going, because it’s expensive to be a musician. A lot of people were maybe compromising their sound just to get money, that’s what was making Grime lose its essence.”
When, in 2011, LOTM returned to The Dungeon, the tension was palpable. It was this spark that had attracted Ewen Spencer in the first place. Introduced to LOTM via Mike Skinner and meeting Kano early on, Spencer captured the scene’s early rawness in his book Open Mic. “That energy was important to me, visually that’s what was compelling,” he says. “The energy and creativity of British youth: it was really a new generation of punk.”
Not only did the resurrection inject excitement back into Grime and give a platform for emerging MCs to be seen and heard again, with the help of social media it reached into suburban homes across the country, giving new audiences the opportunity to delve into the history of the scene. “We didn’t have any connections [in Grime] and LOTM helped with that a lot,” says Jammer. “It made a lot of people from different areas connect and talk to each other, even if they started off clashing, they still ending up knowing each other and working together.”
Despite a firestorm of fuming think-pieces written around the exclusion of Grime from the BRIT Awards, Jammer couldn’t care less. “I’ve only had one invite to the BRITs, that was for the Kanye West performance and I’ve never expected another invite. Those are not the things that drive me. I’m used to not getting accepted by those people. What we’re doing is nothing to do with that. We’re doing something for the people, we have got a direct connection.” The lack of industry support for the scene really shows – just watch Skepta’s “That’s Not Me” music video; a low-fi, £80-budgeted clip made by UZI and Just Jam founders Tim & Barry. “Those things are touch and go”, Jammer explains. “When it comes to the Grime scene we’ve had very minimal support. Look how long we’ve been doing this and MOBO have only just added a Grime award. So, I’m not going to moan about it, but at the same time, I don’t expect anything from anyone. I’m here on a DIY tip.”
With LOTM VII released at the tail end of last year, clothing collections, an ever-expanding fan-base and a fresh stream of artists, the energy surrounding Lord of the Mics is palpable.We can’t even make it through the shoot at Jammer’s new studio without a barring session erupting. Notts’ new kid on the block Mez, south London’s Blessed, OG Discarda, hype-kid Blakie, multi talented Big Shizz, and of course ringleader Jammer clash, leaving the crew in hysterics and laying a number of raw moments bare for Spencer to document.
And as for the future of Grime, Jammer isn’t about to change his ethos; he’s focused on keeping things simple. “We’re controlling [Grime] right now, as we speak we are running the fucking country; maybe even a quarter of the world. We have got power, if all of us link up and say we’re doing this today; it’s a Megazord ting, trust me. We’re here still doing Grime and it’s the freshest music, everyone in America, in Europe and all over the world is into it. I’m just going to keep making tunes, doing shows, passing the mic, and hitting the road; that’s the pattern. All you have to do is just keep murking, we’re not going to stop for now.”
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