Grime’s image isn’t really one of feet-up-telly-on domesticity. If the popular conception of the UK’s most misunderstood urban music scene is to be believed, MCs are more likely to be sharpening butterfly knives and loading baggies with baking soda to shot to drunks on Coldharbour Lane than they are to be putting a brew on and flicking over to the Big Brother highlights.
It’s a nice surprise to find Lethal Bizzle, one of grime’s breakout artists, doing just that when Clash calls to get chatty about his latest album. Admittedly, the talkative rapper is only watching this year’s televisual cock-punch because he knows one of the contestants. He won’t tell us which: she’s “not representing”, apparently. Bang goes the tabloid exclusive…
There’s a refreshing air of reality about Bizzle that’s unusual in a genre dominated by two-step murder ballads and media firestorms. After teenage years spent “making trouble, getting into trouble”, the ex-More Fire Crew member rethought his relationship with London’s mean streets and consequently its urban music scene. “I’m from the street or the hood or whatever you want to call it. I came up getting played on pirate radio, getting gigs at Stratford rec. But my perspective’s changed. Music’s been my saviour from stupidness and bullshit.”
Dropping illegal high-jinks for making tunes has paid off for the loquacious MC. Although his original outfit More Fire Crew were dropped by their label in 2004, Bizzle didn’t go under: he set up his own label, and released ‘Pow! (Forward)’, the single which scored him a MOBO for Best Single in 2004 and a deal with V2 in 2005. His major label debut ‘Against All Oddz’ dropped soon after, but the MC “wanted to do something different to prove myself. I’d had big club hits with More Fire Crew. I didn’t want to do the same thing twice, and I can do club bangers…”
Lucky, then, that his producer Static came up with grindie, a fusion of grime beats and indie song writing. “I got inspired. It sounded right and I knew it was the next thing.” Relaunching himself with a broader musical palette brought Bizzle into contact with the UK’s indie scene, something he’d not really encountered before. “My first experience of playing to those crowds was going on tour with Mike Skinner. It was so different from straight hip-hop. The kids were crowd surfing and moshing, they were right on it.”
When it came to putting together a post Mo’ Fire solo tour, Bizzle and his management decided to test the indie waters, booking a show at Camden’s boys-and-guitars hot spot The Barfly and nabbing a place on 2006’s NME Tour. “The Barfly show went well: it was sold out! I was looking around, looking at all these posters for all these bands, thinking ‘No one like me’s ever played here before’… But the kids knew all my stuff, underground freestyles and everything.”
His experiences in the indie clubs highlighted a strange dichotomy between the ‘white’ and ‘black’ music scenes: “Grime is energetic, and people go crazy to it, but the club management don’t get it. In indie clubs it’s normal, though. The police would be causing trouble at grime shows, but the crowd’s no different to the Arctic Monkeys’ lot.” As Bizzle said in Time Out last year, when white kids jump around it’s called moshing, when black kids do it it’s a riot…
Music’s been my saviour from stupidness and bullshit.
After the NME Tour met with similar success (a surprise to all concerned: “Even my label was shocked when I was selling out indie clubs!” laugh LB) the groundwork for ‘Back To Bizzniss’, his second joint for V2, was laid. This reinvention couldn’t have come at a better time. Grime seems to have fallen victim to the same process of swift evolution that’s symptomatic of Britain’s urban scene. Just as two-step was commodified and dropped by the mainstream media before toughening up and mutating into grime, grime has split into the darker grooves of dubstep and the more audience-pleasing grindie, which is proving a popular route out of the grime ghetto and onto Islington’s iPods. Even Dizzee Rascal is biting it on his latest cut, ‘Maths & English’, roping in the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen where Bizzle taps up Pete Doherty and Kate Nash for guest vocals.
Bizzle’s shift in musical style has also coincided with a more mature lyrical attitude. “I didn’t understand my position and my effect on the kids in the past, but I’m in a position where they’ll listen. That’s why I’ve started writing more conscious songs. I’m a big guy now; I’m 24, so I can’t do the same old hype. I’ve got to represent for the kids.” Moving in different circles has also given him a different view of London’s forgotten estates. “I’ve moved on, but I still go and see family and friends. It’s 10 times worse there now, there’s always the odd little dickhead who wants to get stripes…” This view differentiates LB from many of his peers: his ghetto narratives are clear-sighted dissections of particular aspects of city life rather than tall tales full of braggadocio.
So is Bizzle pleased with his reworking of grime? “I’m chuffed with the whole album. I’ve got some of the most honest friends. When they heard the new collaborations, particularly the Kate Nash one, they were like ‘Look what you’ve done!’. I think there’s something there for everyone. It’s a good blend.” The following should be noted as well: ‘Back To Bizzle’ is pretty fucking banging to boot.