Over the last few months, UK grime has very quickly started to take over Australia, with the rest of the world right behind. With kingpins Skepta and Stormzy recently paying visits down under, and grime getting tonnes of airplay on stations like Triple J and FBi, we’re on the cusp of a complete takeover. With that in mind, we thought it important to catch the masses up on the genre, and in particular its most influential label, Boy Better Know, or BBK.
Before there was BBK, brothers Jme and Skepta had a regular stint on pirate radio, blasting grime as part of Meridian Crew, with another historic grime artist, Big H. After a number of their acquaintances went to jail for attempted murder, the crew split, and from the ashes, rose BBK.
The boys remained on the radio, soon moving to a Sunday night Rinse FM show alongside BBK signee Wiley, and continued to spread their own music and that of their friends. Piece by piece, the unmistakeable grime sound began to grow, with a whole lifestyle along with it. This included what’s become a successful clothing brand, with Jme printing BBK t-shirts to sell at shows and alongside their music, popular video clips airing online and on TV, putting on huge parties around London, and more.
From North London to North America, grime is spreading – fast. And BBK are at the very top of it. Let’s take a look at their journey to the top.
Grime was already going strong during BBK’s birth, but only in a small part of the world. One of the main reasons it’s drawn attention is the community feel, the family vibe. One of the most exciting aspects of grime is that everyone shares everyone else’s releases and supports one another, meaning that fans are constantly being exposed to amazing new music personally endorsed by the top grime artists. Skepta, Wiley, me and others not only share their own major releases, but mixtapes, remixes, new tracks more. Simply check out any one of their Facebook or Instagram accounts for your own personal grime playlists.
Interestingly, grime had been influencing a lot of mainstream hip-hop production flow well before it shot to its own fame. Along with rise of trap, these heavier beats and changes in speed and delivery have really influenced a lot of recent hip-hop – particularly that coming from the UK, but a number of big name collaborations have spread the influence far and wide. International collabs, notably A$AP Mob’s Young Lord with Skepta, and of course his long-running bromance with Drake, have slowly allowed a much bigger, international audience exposure to the genre.
The last couple of years have been monumental for BBK and grime as a whole. Perhaps its first massive endorsement came a little over a year ago, when Kanye West brought out basically the entire UK grime scene, plus a number of hip-hop artists on stage at the BRIT Awards, including Skepta, Stormzy and Novelist, to perform a blistering rendition of All Day, drawing massive international attention to the entire crew and the genre as a whole.
Without doubt, the biggest international endorser of grime, and BBK in particular, has been Drake. The Canadian megastar has long waxed lyrical about his obsession with the genre, going so far as to say that the first time he met Skepta, they immediately became brothers. He’s shared his love of Wiley and Skepta, the documentary series Top Boy and more to his many millions of Twitter and Instagram followers. More recently, Drizzy and Skepta have collaborated on each other‘s stages and on record, and the pair have reportedly signed one another to their own labels, OVO and BBK – and this will most likely include shared international distribution, which could potentially bring even more grime into the USA. Drake has gone so far as to get a BBK tattoo, while Skepta has taken it a little easier, posting a joint OVO/BBK t-shirt at the now-infamous recent Section Boyz show, at which both Skepta and Drake made a cameo appearance.
An important note here is that while the Drake co-sign is great, it’s not necessary. Grime was already exploding before he hopped on board and it’s going to continue to do so regardless. Ten years ago, BBK were making mixtapes and t-shirts in their bedrooms. Ten years ago, Jme and Skepta were 20 and 23 respectively when they started BBK in 2005, and the reason they’ve stayed on top of the scene all these years later is thanks to no one but themselves. Yes, he has certainly been helpful in bringing grime to the masses, but it was going to happen anyway. He just gave it a little push.
Constantly releasing music, throwing parties and doing shows has kept them relevant all this time. For a long time, they didn’t even really intend on blowing up beyond their own country, but of course, now that’s changing. They’re older, and wiser, and better than they’ve ever been, and the world is starting to realise that. At the rate they’ve been going over the last year particularly, it’s clear that grime, with Boy Better Know at its helm, is moving further and further into the mainstream spotlight – and we’re absolutely, totally okay with that. Grime is more than just music, it’s an institution: grime has its own language, its own fierce independence, its own capital, its own fashion. And the world is very quickly taking notice.
Although some grime enthusiasts will of course protest its rise above the underground, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when artists from other countries, especially the USA, begin incorporating and adapting the style more heavily into their own music. This has been a long time coming, and we couldn’t be more excited to be able to introduce more and more of the world to one of our favourite styles of hip-hop.
Co-written with Jack Colquhoun