From the roots of grime to the new generation...

The grime scene, and its occupying battalion of MCs, has been labouring its way through the music industry over the past two decades, facing marginalisation, misrepresentation and even regulatory legislations that have restricted its progression. In 2018, however, it’s infiltrated the Official Charts, found itself on the main stages at some of the world’s biggest festivals, and headlined the UK’s most prestigious music awards ceremony.

This is not due to an increase in talent, or a previous lack thereof, it is the result of a change in attitude, a sense of sustainable independence and a wealth of knowledge and experience obtained by the genre’s forefathers. Flowdan, a grime pioneer and a veteran of the live music circuit, who has stayed loyal to the genre since its conception, has observed the scene’s intrepid excursion, from the white label releases to number one spot, and has witnessed every achievement as well as every failure.

Now, rather than letting the new generation of grime prodigies make the same mistakes as some of his contemporaries and lose their way as musicians, he has launched his record label Spentshell to nurture and develop up and coming grime talent, and ensure the genre’s longevity.

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I didn’t really think that was my identity. I was something else – looking for individualism.

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“It started to get more personal when I was like 13, 14, listening to drum and bass, and listening to MCs like Skibadee, Shabba, MC Det, which are, like, the UK lords of music as far as I’m concerned”, Flowdan explains as he recalls his first steps into music, “listening to them gave me, like, a sense of identity”.

Being one of the first MCs to ever spit grime, alongside the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and his Roll Deep colleagues, Flowdan was from a generation of kids of Caribbean heritage, whose parents filled their houses with the musical sounds of the Caribbean.

“Drum ‘n’ bass is heavily influenced by reggae music and that was my default music, my household sound, my culture. But I didn’t really think that was my identity. I was something else – looking for individualism. That Caribbean stuff was my parents. But it wasn’t necessarily me,” he adds, “So, listening to that and thinking ‘OK, they use a lot of the reggae stuff, but they still got a London twang with it’, that made me think ‘Rah, I could be doing that’”.

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This led to Flowdan trying to emulate his drum ‘n’ bass idols and subsequently gain the attention of the innovators behind London’s early pirate radio stations, as well as a couple of rappers you might be familiar with. “I considered myself as a up and coming drum 'n' bass MC, met Wiley at 16, he was someone I was also listening to on the radio”, he recalls, “I met him at 16 in college, started MCing together and then, probably stopped doing music around 17 because life just takes over. And then he continued going studio and developing himself and making songs and spitting and by the time we got to, like, 19, 20, he’d come up with the grime sound, basically. He always knew I could MC, and he said ‘Right, we’ve got a new style of music now and you’re coming studio’”.

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He always knew I could MC, and he said ‘Right, we’ve got a new style of music now and you’re coming studio’

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As a result of this, Roll Deep was born and grime then dipped its toes into the commercial music pool. In 2003, “Wiley got a record deal, Dizzee got a record deal, Roll Deep got a record deal. Roll Deep went silver with their first album, our first album” and then, collectively as well as through various solo efforts, Flowdan and Roll Deep “continued the journey doing grime - building grime and so forth. And then we’re here in 2018”.

Before the well-documented grime resurgence from 2012 onwards the genre had faded deep into the underground with only the odd whisper of Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury Prize-winning ‘Boy In Da Corner’ album or Wiley’s chart hits ‘Wearing My Rolex’ and ‘Heatwave’ reaching mainstream ears. Grime had arguably become uncool and through a lack of interest had even failed to remain an ‘urban’ guilty pleasure. “We didn't know there was other grime MCs that were on this ting. D'you know what I'm saying? We was like the only ones. Cause this was a time where grime was DEAD. DEAD. Like, nobody even played grime, nobody even wanted to know about grime”, explains YGG’s PK, one of Flowdan’s Spentshell protégés, “Mandem were on rap. Like, mandem were fully on this rap ting”.

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Unless you had your ear to the ground, grime was finished. Its elders seemed to have lost their way and were nowhere to be seen while UK rappers were more inclined to create music that leaned towards the sounds of their cousins across the pond. However, artists like Flowdan had learnt from grime’s previous mistakes and had also started to notice a whole heap of talent emerging on the streets and in the youth clubs that, with the correct guidance, could rise through the ranks and help bring the genre back to the forefront, creating a sustainable, independent entity.

“I’ve just been working by myself, developing my style, getting more comfortable with my solo powers and then also realising I was getting a bit one dimensional with my thought process because I’m by myself,” Flowdan explains when asked why he decided to start his own label, “I remember being in Roll Deep [it] was always an active rotation of ideas and vibes because of all the people. I know that people just help music develop, and help the ideas”.

He also suggested that, at the time, Roll Deep might not have been equipped to take on the music industry. “We wasn’t probably business savvy enough to really maintain. But now I understand what it needs to be. We don’t need to be selling the idea of a crew that hang about on street corners and make music. We need to be a business of artists, collaborating if need be, or working solo, but under the same umbrella, shining a light on the grime sound, and on each other. That’s a movement”.

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We wasn’t probably business savvy enough to really maintain. But now I understand what it needs to be.

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PK, who linked up with fellow MCs Saint and Lyrical Strally to form YGG, a new generation grime collective that showcases an authentic sound reminiscent of the genre’s early days, is one of the first artists to work under the Spentshell umbrella. “It's a sick feeling init. It just makes me feel like, yeah, I'm doing something right. ‘Cos man didn't go to any other Tom, Dick and Harry. Man chose certain man to be a part of this ting. So, obviously man was probably feeling what man was saying, and what I was doing”.

With the support of Flowdan and Spentshell, PK plans to take grime “to higher places” and seems to have inherited his mentor’s ideas of creating a grime legacy and sowing the seeds for the future of the genre. “The next man after us, they're gonna be nang as well. They're gonna take it higher. Every generation is gonna take it where it needs to go, and then the next generation will take that further. That's how I feel anyway”. Flowdan adds “I know that I can help the younger artists, and at the same time they can help me because we can inspire each other. I can help them, they can help me. I make sure that I try to breed that type of influence. Like, it doesn’t really matter whose idea it is, it’s just, if we get a sick song made, we’ll be happy. And I didn’t make up that idea, I was a part of that in Roll Deep”.

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As well as acting as a catalyst for up and coming MCs, Flowdan wants Spentshell to give them the tools to maintain within the music industry. At a time where rappers are able to become famous through a viral hit, without any interference from a label or even management, he believes it’s important that, before they cross enemy lines into the minefield that is the music industry, they build a sturdy foundation to work from. “You can go viral tomorrow and be all over the place and be hosting the BRITs by the month after. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got a foundation and that doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be here next year. And it’s hard to really think of that when you’re doing well at the time”, he explains, “In my day, when you broke through, you had a foundation. You only broke through once you had a foundation”.

Grime as a genre now has a foundation, and with its counsel of veteran MCs, who have taken a step back to evaluate previous mistakes and advise on any new directions, as Flowdan is doing with Spentshell, it can flourish as it was meant to the first time round. “It’s not gonna ever go, no matter how much lulls it goes through. It won’t go. I just think it will have its ups and downs and sustain because the people that are in it understand how to do it… the visual representation is there”.

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It’s not gonna ever go, no matter how much lulls it goes through. It won’t go.

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Flowdan is also planning to ensure that grime takes risks and ventures out of its comfort zone. “I think grime is varied, or should be. And it’s not really been allowed to really develop and vary because people don’t wanna take chances”, he adds, “It’s just about expanding the sound. We’re gonna be launching a singer that’s already sort of dabbled in grime in the early days… that’s gonna be, like, showing that Mary J Blige can do grime as well. The sound ain’t gonna be, like, ‘Oh shit. Is this grime or not?’, it’s definitely grime. It’s definitely a beat that you can imagine Flowdan or Ghostly on. But, she’s singing”.

Spentshell will also be hosting a boat party at Outlook Festival in Croatia. “That’ll just be the first opportunity to show, in a small space, what I’m planning and what I’m trying to build”.

Flowdan’s love for grime, the scene, the culture and the talent it possesses is enough to give you faith that the genre can progress. And with that and his Spentshell record label, he’ll be able to cultivate new ideas and foster the scene’s prodigies to guarantee longevity. In his words: “Death Row n*gga… That’s the plan”.

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Words: Patrick Fennelly

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