It’s taken almost two decades and a return to London, but as of 2014 the Music Of Black Origin Awards finally have a dedicated grime category. It may be a landmark long overdue, but it’s another occasion where the proverb rings true: It’s better late than never.
“This new step is without a doubt a positive one”
In fact, for a long time the word grime didn’t even feature as part of the awards, failing to get the recognition that its thriving scene deserved until 2010, when Tinie Tempah took home the newly renamed “Best Hip Hop/Grime Artist” award. This isn’t to say that the MOBOs had previously ignored the genre completely, they’ve long celebrated it, but never as a genre in its own right. Grime pioneers Lethal Bizzle and Dizzee Rascal have both won awards and Chipmunk claimed the best Hip Hop award in 2009, an undeniably impressive feat given that he’d beaten the likes of Eminem, Dizzee Rascal, Drake and Kanye West to the lucrative title. Likewise, there have been previous attempts to integrate parts of the UK underground with a UK Garage category in 2004, which So Solid Crew won, but these didn’t make it past that year.
This new step is without a doubt a positive one. For a group with as high a profile as the MOBOs to have conflated grime and hip hop is incredibly problematic. Despite grime’s initial hip hop influence, the two distinct musical traditions have grown independently of each other, and to take them and group them together almost arbitrarily effectively reduces this part of the narrative of black history. Grime is resolutely British whilst Hip Hop is historically American, so to say that they are somehow the same is to say that these two distinct roots are also somehow homogenous. The manner of such a grouping is reminiscent to that of the omnipresent grouping of jazz and blues, and it is no negative thing that the Grime/Hip Hop amalgamation will not achieve such longevity. That the UK has its own distinct Hip Hop scene is evidence enough that this grouping is meaningless.
With this reduction of cultural history comes a reduction of the genres themselves. By putting them both under the same banner you judge them by some wider metric that will inherently leave out the things that make each genre distinct. Sure, there are commonalities, but these are pretty much limited to the presence of MCs. Everything else, from the instrumentals to the style of MCing, are massively distinct.
“…the simple truth is that the MOBOs are influential”
Perhaps more than anything this development suggests an even wider change to the scene. 2014 has been a fantastic year for grime, with tracks from the likes of Meridian Dan and Skepta (both nominees) making a serious impact on the UK charts, and perhaps it is simply the case that this is the first year that the genre has been too vocal in mainstream music to be ignored. The MOBOs have been criticised in the past for being too commercial with their nominations so with this new category it’s almost as if the MOBOs, probably unintentionally, have vindicated the commercial viability of a genre that has for most of its life time been resolutely underground. Whether or not this is a good thing is another matter, but the simple truth is that the MOBOs are influential. Airing on ITV at prime time to a large audience means that a small change like this can have a wide impact on the genre itself, and you could reasonably expect an upsurge in interest as grime takes the limelight solo for the first time.
All in all, the awards celebrate music of black origin, and it must be recognised that from these roots grew a wonderful and diverse range of music. Celebrating a variety of genres with categories for soul, reggae and many more, the MOBOs provide a vital medium for presenting past and present as a whole, not only celebrating the history of these prominent sections of the musical spectrum but also creating a platform for future success. To some extent then, it is strange that grime and hip hop ever shared a category, but they did and now their separation is to be applauded. Let’s hope the first ever winner of the award appreciates its importance.
Andrew Kemp, Daoud Al-Janabi & Oli Walkden
photo 1: wearesme.co.uk
photo 2: i-likeitalot.com