The Thin White Line Between U.K Grime And Toronto Rap Culture
The UK’s grime scene and Toronto’s thriving rap culture share many common traits but why is this and how did this correlation come about?
Growing up in the U.K, the grime scene was always relevant in my life. As a kid grime legends like Wiley and Dizzee Rascal were breaking barriers by bringing grime from the underground and getting their tracks played on nation wide radio stations. After moving to Toronto in 2007, my exposure to grime through radio and public play became close to none as grime in Canada was basically unknown, but I still stayed up to date with new releases through iTunes and cd’s my father would make me with the hottest grime from back home. It wasn’t until 2015 when Skepta released ‘Shutdown’ that the bridge between grime and Canada truly began, this was the first time that I had heard a grime song being played publicly coming from a device that wasn’t my own. To this day I still credit Skepta for exposing grime to the rest of the world and giving audiences outside of the U.K a taste of a thriving new scene.
After the release of ‘Shutdown’ people in Toronto started to give grime the recognition it deserved and I started hearing people playing skeppy’s older tracks like ‘That’s not me’ and ‘Ace Hood Flow’. Skepta would then begin to open new doors by collaborating with North American artist's like The Flatbush Zombies’ on ‘Red Eye To Paris’ as well as A$AP Mob’s ‘Put That On My Set’. These collaborations and the release of Shutdown (which had a sample from an old drake vine, “truss mi daddi”) got the attention of drizzy and this is where the real link between Grime and the Toronto rap scene begins. Drake obviously had started to look into Skepta and grime itself as he posted a picture of the legendary clash between Skepta and Devilman from Lord of the mic’s and then followed it up with another pic on his Insta of Skepta and Frisco’s SBTV cypher. Drake was leading the hype train for Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ by posting another picture on his IG with a link to the song as well as saying “Shutdown eh” in every video and caption he created around that time. Drizzy became heavily affiliated with the grime scene as well as Skepta and this gave a huge new limelight to the UK scene in North America. This lead to the pair linking up for a legendary performance at Wireless festival together. Following the surprise performance, Drake got a BBK (Skepta’s grime group) tattoo on his shoulder and Skep’s followed up with an OVO owl tattoo on his torso. After the two sealed the relationship in ink, Drake linked the Toronto scene to grime once again by showing up as surprise guest to grime group Section boys’ show in London along with Skepta.
We can thank Drake for linking Toronto to grime in such a big way but there was many similarities between the two scenes before this. You can even trace it to the clothes that the two cultures rock, Grime’s full Nike tracksuit style is very similar to Toronto’s full Root’s tracksuit trait in a lot of ways. The ‘Roadman’ mentality derived from grime is very present in the Toronto scene as well. Slang carries heavy similarities within both scenes as well as the two cultures both using words like ‘ahile’ ‘wagwan’ ‘bare’ and ‘wasteman’. The reason why the slang is similar in both cultures is due to Caribbean roots that are deep seeded within both the U.K grime scene as well as Toronto Rap culture.
To find out some insider info into the grime scene in Toronto I hit up grime artist Alki Riddimz, this is what he had to say.
What comparisons do you see between UK grime culture and the Toronto rap scene?
“First and foremost the Toronto rap scene is healthy right. The levels are good and the bar has been set to new uncharted heights. It's here where we can draw similarities with UK grime. The thing is in England you have stations that play a majority of English music. Channel AKA, kiss, radio 1xtra for instance. Now Toronto is not at this level yet but I've been seeing this trend developing. 93.5 fm the move for example has a made in Toronto take over show. We're talking about a major Toronto radio station playing an hour of only Toronto music, and not just any music, good music. So again steps are being made, but Toronto still needs to embrace their culture, style, uniqueness. UK grime aside, there are specific genres that echo the urban streets of Britain...dubstep, uk drill, dnb, funky house, uk garage. We embrace it, we show it love on the radio, we showcase our young talent. The lucky ones progress onto being household names. This is the main thing separating the two scenes, but again I see signs of improvement personally. Let's just say there is a healthy promising foundation.”
How do you think grime has been accepted into North American culture in the past 5 years?
“Grime is a subculture, a culture where here in Toronto ppl are still "discovering" and experimenting with. For a scene that's been around 15 plus years, with veterans and legends we still have people discovering. Imagine with hip hop you were to say today "biggie, Nas, 2pac, they sound alright, let me give this hip hop thing a try." Saying that would be unheard of. Now there's a flip side to it, the more people that explore and discover, the larger the scene grows. There are a few hurdles, the major one being that grime isn't even a major scene in the UK itself. Big but I wouldn’t say major, so it's hard expect other countries to host grime as a mainstream scene. It's a tough one, the accent and cultural differences alone create a divide between us and North America. Most people I speak to like the beats and the flow, with the lyrical content and metaphors often going unnoticed. It's tough to get over the culture clash, but it's what makes the genre unique. Street culture in UK is like no other, a thing of it's own, and UK grime is the verbal embodiment of this culture”
Riddimz’ has a good point. There are different levels at which the two cultures are embraced within their countries, you rarely ever hear up and coming Toronto artists like CMDWN, Pressa or Killy on the radio in T.O, where as in city’s like London grime is played on radio stations all the time. But there are success stories in both cultures where up and coming artists turn mainstream after blowing up in their selective scenes such as Stormzy and Nav, who have both been tearing it up in recent years and going mainstage.
The overall differences between the two cultures are caused because of popularity, and as grime grows in North America the differences will start to slim. Both the U.K grime scene and Toronto rap culture have major support systems behind them and with the two scenes recognizing each other over the past couple years with Toronto artists like Pressa going on tour with Giggs and grime artists like Dave and A.J Tracey touring North America, it is clear that both cultures are overlapping and being accepted on both sides. With all the similarities, thriving support, and breakthrough artists recently, I hope to see the two cultures build an even stronger connection accompanied by fire collaborations in the near future.