Wednesday, December 13The Voice of London

The Discussion Of Politics In Grime

Last month we posted a piece on the revival of grime and why it matters. Following the results of the vote on airstrikes on Syria, we highlight the importance of grime artists’ involvement in political discussion.

Words: Simone Wright Subeditor: Karolina Zilenaite

Today’s generation of grime artists aren’t scared to voice their opinions on the current state of society, and though these opinions aren’t always met with a positive reaction, it is very necessary that they be heard.

Musicians’ engaging in political discussion has been prevalent for decades. Their active interest helps audiences make sense of what is happening, as well as provoking awareness of the political climate, for those who may be misinformed.

Punk music acted as a medium for youth expression and rebellion, especially in the late 70s when bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash pushed issues of socialism, individualism and anti-capitalism to the forefront of their musical messages.

"Clash 21051980 12 800" by Helge Øverås, http://www.helgeoveras.com/concertphoto.shtml - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clash_21051980_12_800.jpg#/media/File:Clash_21051980_12_800.jpg
The Clash by Helge Øverås (http://www.helgeoveras.com/concertphoto.shtml) via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, spoken word artist George the Poet described politics as being similar to the music industry; a structure committed to ownership of the future based on authority figures promising and haggling around emotion.

While it is important for anyone with any sense of authority to speak out on issues they feel strongly about, grime artists tweeting about current political and societal concerns carries an extreme significance. The influence that some of these artists have is widespread; if someone claims they’re better than Stormzy, our natural instinct would be to tell them to shut up; if someone wants to clash, it’s more than likely it will take place at McDonald’s in Lewisham.

Grime was built on self-expression and self-written lyrics — it will always contain truths and opinions, therefore it makes sense for emcees to talk about mainstream issues through other platforms, which enable them to reach wider audiences. Grime is inherently political as it voices the struggle of the unheard.

As a culture born out of working class deprivation and as one born into the ASBO era heavily associated with crime, grime serves as a social reaction. It’s a soundtrack for the unjust state of society. The gritty lyrics represent struggle and challenge the power structure that fails to offer a solution and account for the hardships faced.

Having a legion of young and impressionable followers means that it is important for artists to be cautious of what they are saying. However, this doesn’t mean that they should shy away from expressing themselves.

Skepta made it very clear that he and his Gs aren’t scared of police and that they don’t listen to any politicians in “Shutdown”. The subtext of rebellion in grime has everyone listening. These messages are coming from artists in a position of power and can easily influence audiences who in return will listen to them. Generally, politics alienates younger audiences whereas music engages them.

Though he has distanced himself from the genre, Akala is someone who is renowned for being vocal about political issues. It’s easy for grime fans to find ways to identify with him. His music is fuelled by his critical and compelling approach to socio-politics. Akala is enlightening and informative, enabling his message to be accepted in wider society. Being able to identify with someone who chooses to channel a message with a political stance, raises awareness in the long-term and can help shape thinking patterns.

Political interaction from grime artists prompts the active engagement from people who wouldn’t necessarily involve themselves in political discourse. Seeing an artist tweet their opinions on David Cameron’s recent actions sparks discussions between fans and encourages them to read into the subject more to inform themselves of what is happening concerning politics.

It’s worth noting that now, the largest demographic of grime fans are teenagers and young adults: an easily influenced generation that have become more concerned with voting and pushing for social change. Though there may not be a direct correlation between cause and effect, it can be argued that the current mainstream grime artists are leading the way for the youth.

The discussion of politics and the recognition of contemporary issues within grime, challenges the detrimental depiction and demonization of the genre. Grime artists aren’t all intimidating knife-wielding thugs that they are stereotypically perceived as. The fact that mainstream artists are also adopting and expressing awareness symbolises a turning point for the face of grime.

The impact grime has had means that whatever these artists feed us we swallow up. Seeing talk of politics on their timelines can help us form and better our own opinions. They are the new political voices of London that will lead us to a grime-y revolution.

Find out more about the role of music in politics in The Voice of London’s latest issue of Vox.

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