One of the best things about growing up to grime over the last 20 years, was having a front row skank when it belligerently burst onto the UK music scene as an antithesis to UK garage, in a similar vein to Hip Hop erupting from the projects of New York as an antithesis to the glittering lights of disco, which dominated the clubs in the 1960’s and 70’s.
As grime evolved cementing itself as a lifestyle and culture, so too has my relationship with the grime. I have gone from having the honour of observing the birth of a bold and gritty genre, jumping up to the syncopated b-lines in the front row at gigs, to pulling up an armchair to the front row as a more mellow but proud observer. One of the privileges I’ve come to indulge in as an ageing grime fan turned writer is not only the evolution of a genre that never plays by the rules, but also watching and listening very closely to the artists’ own personal growth, which is then reflected in their albums and EPs.
For instance, we have Ghetts, who began MCing in his teens as a brash ball of fury incinerating his opps. Over time he has transformed into a socially aware, eloquent man who is able to offer deeply impactful social commentary on a track like ‘Black Rose.’ Similarly we have Nolay who began her career as rowdy tomboy MC in her crew Unorthodox. Although Nolay is still rowdy when it’s called for, over time she has developed sensitivity within her music, whilst showcasing her vulnerability on tracks like ‘Dancing with the devil’ and ‘Netflix and Pills.’ Nolay has also embraced her femininity as she’s matured into an empowered woman, thus completing her arc of – growing over grime.
We never stop growing, we are always learning. Our growth may slow down when we get to a certain stage in life, but it never completely stops. So what about the new school artists who are currently undergoing rapid growth spurts? Constantly learning, shifting and transforming as they experience life and art in tandem at the speed of…well 140mph of course!
These artists are the most intriguing to observe, because they have not yet attained national or international notoriety. They are on the cusp of going clear. Whether they succeed in doing so depends on their level of hunger, determination, perseverance and of course skill. When I look at the direction artists like SBK and Skatta are headed, and the choices they make to get to their respective destinations within grime, I’m reminded of a lyric from LL cool J “Yo the world is yours kid, put it in ya pocket.” Let’s take a closer look at two young grime artists, who could very well pocket a milli via world domination in the future.
The great thing about growing over grime as an artist, is you get to hone your craft and make connections. You too develop an ear for talent and build enough credibility to bring people in with your hard earned respect. Skepta, an established artist on the verge of touring North America and Canada on his ‘Banned from America’ tour, used his clout to co-sign Novelist and invited him on his groundbreaking U.S tour, to allow the young artist to flex his tekkers on the mic in 2017. Not long after, Novelist took his turn as an O.G in the game, guiding a young MC to greatness, even though Novelist himself was fairly fresh to grime.
Novelist introduced SBK to grime heads as a clean cut, trim and fade 14 year old boy on Sir Spyro’s highly respected Rinse FM set. As SBK literally bobbed and weaved his way through his bars like a pro-boxer, Novelist repeatedly exclaimed, “I told you, I told you!” between mile wide grins. It was clear that Novelist felt vindicated in telling his peers how talented his young protégé was and SBK had proved to us, the audience, that he was one to watch; closely.
Similar to Mez and FFSYTHO, the rise and rise of SBK has been swift and dizzying. After the memorable rinse FM set SBK set about proving his star turn on the mic was not a fluke, and released his first 6 track EP ‘In Grime we trust.’ On this EP SBK signs up to be considered as a contender for one of the jewels in grime’s crown! Throughout the E.P, SBK remains faithful to the origins of grime as he delivers his bars with self-aggrandising certainty, whilst the instrumental tone of the album is that of unsettling horrorcore, in particular on the track ‘I don’t think so’ which plays like a demented prequel of Jigsaw’s sinister shenanigans from the film franchise Saw.
SBK simultaneously warns his peers they can’t step to him when it comes to spittin’ heat and also reminds us that “The whole world runs on energy, so best remember to say thank you and please.” It was here I realised SBK had the maturity to balance his hunger (we’ve come to witness young MCs of the past whose hunger ate them alive, without the maturity to add an equilibrium to their art.) Elsewhere on this E.P ‘Hook’ includes a co-sign from veteran MC Manga the great (as I’ve come to call him) to secure an MC of Manga’s stature, is proof that SBK was making noise from early. With ‘In Grime We Trust’ EP, SBK’s aim is not only to ensure we trust in grime, but also believe in him.
The humble Hertfordshire ‘shower man’ released his 2nd E.P ‘Level Up’ in January 2020, and it’s a much more muted, contemplative project, but by no means does this take away from SBK’s rhyming skills. The outstanding Asif Kid produced instrumentals may feel minimalist compared to ‘In Grime We Trust’ but this serves to shine a spotlight on SBK’s growth. SBK’s flow is even more interchangeable on this E.P as he rhymes over sci-fi dream scape on the intro, to switching it up on an overlapping vocal sample which twists and turns with SBK snaking around the disjointed vocal.
SBK’s maturity is clear to hear when mentioning, “We have come a long way from picking cotton”, which I found profound for someone so young to observe. Elsewhere SBK bares his emotions on introspective tracks ‘Window’, ‘Inside’ and ‘Make me smile’, where he delves into his feelings about his girl recognising the beauty in a relationship that has its challenges and is intermittently flawed. Stand out moment of this E.P was another young hungry MC who travels to London as much as SBK did before he decided to take up permanent residence in grime’s mecca; East London. Equally hungry and brilliant MC, Mez making an appearance on the track ‘Right Now’ is fitting as both MCs understand the difficulties of ensuring your voice is heard, when you hail from outside London. ‘Star bars’ are found with the genius play on words “I’m a free man like Morgan cos…” and SBK’s insistence that, “Niggas think that I’m wet ‘cos I’ve got a brain”, which brought back memories of Wiley’s lyric “Why do you think that I’m stupid? I’ve got brains I could never be stupid”, on the classic ‘Wot Do You Call It?’
And here we are in present day in the midst of a pandemic and a recently announced recession, making it even more important than ever before for young talented MCs to document what they are experiencing in these uncertain times, and express how they are surviving the madness via their music. When listening to SBK’s latest offering ‘God Complex’ released July 2020 (only 6 months after its predecessor), he has clearly done that and more; no recessions on riddims here! ‘God Complex’ is SBK’s best project to date. How he has managed to up the levels on the back of two solid releases is incredible, remember he has achieved all of this before the age of 20! ‘God Complex’ opens with a death knell church organ instrumental, akin to the ‘ghouls and ghosts’ production synonymous with U.S producer Swizz Beatz. T
The first blistering bars from SBK on the track ‘Serenity’ “It’s the same old story, man wanna chat, dem a bore me, I ain’t greedy like a tory, telling my story…” lets you know within the first 30 seconds you are about to experience 18 minutes and 25 seconds of greatness. It’s clear that SBK’s work ethic and talent have earned him the support of grime veterans as heard on ‘Prophecy’ featuring BBK’s Shorty, who makes a laid back appearance.
I mentioned earlier that SBK’s lyrics on ‘Level Up’ reminded me of Wiley’s, so it’s poignant that ‘Is it really that?’ opens with a soundbite of Wiley incredulously protesting the opinion that grime is dead. SBK’s deeper voice challenges his competition to think about what they are saying before they speak, and if they can’t do that he instructs them to; “Hush up your gums fam.” Elsewhere on the track SBK humbly laments that he has a phone book full of artists he’s long admired.
SBK has always been a confident MC, but on ‘God Complex’ you can hear he is now completely comfortable in his flow and style, bringing the elements of his first two albums, boastful and reflective, to this latest release, making this his most evenly balanced E.P. On the penultimate track ‘Jealousy’ SBK is on pure crud and I’m here for it. He announces “It’s a gas tinggggg” and you have to sit on your hands to stop yourself from grabbing your docking station and dashing it at your bedroom wall. SBK is in boasy flex here as he taunts “Who who who blud who? Step on riddim niggas dem ah a get slew”. He is a young grime MC at war who has not once taken his eyes off the crown since we first met him as a skilled 14 year old, championed by Novelist.
SBK flips the vibe on the last track ‘Bits’, where he expresses the urge to better himself in differing areas of his life “I just wanna do bits, I just wanna make hits, I just wanna get lit, I just wanna get fit”. The instrumental harks back to the minimalism found on the ‘Level Up’ EP, which makes for a chill close to a strong E.P.
Stand out moment, and my favourite track on ‘God Complex’, is the energetic friendly sparring session which takes place on ‘Boss.’ Here we have SBK, Jammz and the brilliant Laughta trading bars, which fully gassed me as it’s rare to hear a female MC or should I say female boss, feature on a project where mandem tend to be the dominating force. Big ups to SBK for giving Laughta the platform she deserves. ‘Boss’ is a bouncy, off kilter, peculiar riddim, complete with an echoing female vocal and the ice drips and computerised sound effects which expertly pays homage to the early eskimo riddims of the 2000s. Jammz comes through with an entertaining and topical bar “If you can’t carry weight you’ll end up getting dropped out, inside or outside, man a axed, I couldn’t give a damn about one likkle lockdown.” Laughta’s verse also shows her growth over grime, she is punchy, sharp and fun as she finesses the beat with a concise flow packed with metaphors “I feel like a queen, face in the magazine lookin all mean…” and “’Cos I been on my grind, like my name was Joe.” Laughta fills each sentence with so many metaphors it’s easy to miss them all on first listen, giving you no choice but to pull uppppppp and come again!! What struck me about ‘Boss’, is SBK’s humility in letting his guest MCs shine on his own E.P, while he is happy to take a back seat and provide the catchy hook.
This for me is what makes SBK a multifaceted MC. A ninja man on the mic who will duppy any man, has managed to retain his humility, is also capable of tapping into his emotions, is unafraid to express his observations, all packaged with a bristling confidence and acrobatic lyricism.
SBK, it has been an honour observing you – Growing over Grime.
Stream SBK – The God Complex via Spotify –
(Next time we take a look at Coventry MC Skatta)
Photo credit: Lola Leng.