“It’s A Lesson” Central Cee, Grime, and ‘CC Freestyle’

A look at his much-discussed grime track...

Central Cee’s rise to the top tier of UK rap has been one of British music’s defining narratives in the past five years. The kid from West London – who once hid his face with a bally – is now an instantly recognisable icon. Going global, he’s caused a ruckus across mainland Europe, sent Australian audiences into meltdown, and come close to cracking the North American marketplace – even recording a high-profile feature with J. Cole.

Against this backdrop, his new grime track ‘CC Freestyle’ feels like a re-affirmation of his core values. The video is shot in his front room – breakfast cereal on the counter, his mates surrounding him – and the one-take clip is as raw as they reminiscent, reminiscent of those early SB:TV shoots. Lyrically, he flips the script once more, with a few sly digs at his contemporaries – “They book me in LA, they book you in Leicester” is a hilarious, and brutally true, piece of largesse – as well as re-stating his worth as an MC.

The biggest talking point, however, is that grime beat. Using a refreshed version of Flukes’ Whitney Houston sampling ‘I Have Nothing’, Central Cee attaches his flows to the bedrock of British music. In terms of his story, it’s a good move: having been abroad, taking his sound international for the past few months, re-connecting with a core London sonic is an apt pivot, done at the right time.

Yet it’s also caused a ruckus. Central Cee hasn’t always been charitable to the grime scene, while the community around grime can sometimes feel insular, with gatekeepers warding off outside voices. Looking at the discussion online, however, and it feels like there are more Cench fans warding off possible critics, than actual critics themselves – the beat is cold, Central Cee’s performance is fantastic, and the track is undeniably honourable in the way it treats grime music.

Indeed, there’s an argument that this is an opportunity, a chance for grime to shine once more. A recent Tiffany Calver set with Unknown T and AJ Tracey – and a slew of grime legends – went viral, and it feels like there is an appetite once more for hard-hitting club music made at 140BPM.

You can’t help but fail to sympathsise, though, with the grime scene, and the often-unrecognised stalwarts who keep the community together. Social media voices – and sometimes artists themselves – endlessly flip-flop on the sound, pursuing often truncated narratives: grime is dead, or grime is back, depending on which day of the week it is.

Grime deserves a lot more than empty platitudes, or a simple dismissal. A radical moment in British music, it sets at the foundation of UK rap music; sure, it’s had its ups and downs – what genre hasn’t – but in truth, grime has given far more to British music than it’s ever really asked for in return. Recognition, as ever, remains thin on the ground.

As a one-off statement, ‘CC Freestyle’ shows Central Cee’s chops over a killer beat. Indeed, if there’s one fault we can find, it’s that the beat itself is over a decade old – a classic, maybe, but it harks back to the notion of grime as ‘throwback music’, rather than a living, breathing form. Perhaps that’s churlish, though: right now, kids who weren’t even born when ‘Pulse X’ was released are rattling through YouTube, discovering seminal grime cuts all over again, and that can only be a good thing.

Words: Robin Murray

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