The State of Grime in 2017: Sales & Streams of Grime Music Doubled Last Year

The British Phonographic Industry reports that sales and streams of ‘grime’ music nearly doubled in the past year.

A report released by the British Phonographic Industry in June this year indicated that sales and streaming of music labeled as ‘grime’ nearly doubled between May 2016 and May 2017, when the statistics were last published.

The rapid rate of growth in the genre has either led to, or coincided with the release of Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer which has become the first “pure grime” record to reach No. 1 on the Official Albums Chart in March.

The list of notable grime releases of 2017 is short and includes Chip's League of my Own, Godfather by WileyJ Hus' Common Sense, Devlin's The Devil In and Dizzee Rascal's Raskit.

EPs include Snake by P Money and You’ll Never Make a Million Off Grime by Lethal Bizzle, among others.

Rather than compile a list, a more pertinent approach would be one of examining the genre’s rapid growth as a whole—as well as the seeming paucity of releases and possible expectations for its future.

To further understand reasons for these developments in the genre, we interviewed Capital Xtra presenter Robert Bruce and Mikey Akin, one half Sons of Sonix, the production duo who made “21 Gun Salute” and “Velvet” off Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer.

Several factors are contributing to grime’s resurgence. An obvious one is how affordable advanced technology has become, thereby democratising the recording process so that what would require a hi-tech studio could be done on an iPhone.

“We recorded ‘Birthday Girl’ in the most basic place. Stormzy recorded his verse in our old studio and the backing vocals by J Warner was done in my bedroom,” says Akin, “but it would come out on social media and do a madness. We're at a place where we have the skill set and tools in place.”

Streaming, the world over, has taken the place of downloads and this, in grime, is no different.

The report by British Phonographic Industry states that “downloads of songs tagged as grime fell at a faster rate (-27 percent) than in the wider market (-24 percent), yet plays of grime-related tracks grew by 138 percent on streaming services (compared to 61 percent for overall tracks).”

Playlists such as Spotify’s Grime Shutdown and Apple Music’s Grime 2.0, as well as Deezer’s grime channel have driven streaming traffic.

Despite these increases and high levels of excitement about the genre, only a handful of albums have so far been released this year.

Rather than see this as a slow response to near doubling of sales and streaming figures, Akin says “there are other projects being released but these are the ones that are connecting” and that “there would be more but it just takes time.”

To expect a profusion of grime albums right after a huge surge might seem reasonable, but other factors explain why this has not been the case.

The prestige of an “album” to an artist has returned over the past few years across genres. Life of Pablo by Kanye West and Lemonade by Beyonce are two examples of ‘full’ projects in pop that have helped to re-establish the “album” in conception and consumption.

Adele’s astronomical album sales are an exception. Her sophomore record, 25, was the best selling album of 2016, raking out 25 million copies. While the next albums in line, Views by Drake and Lemonade by Beyoncé each sold under 2 million copies.

Artists have one shot at a classic debut release and may want to take time to prepare “instead of just putting anything out and calling it an album. I think we're going to see an increase in mixtapes again, and then people are going to plan their albums” says Bruce.

Akin is in agreement though he's quick to remind of the genre’s very humble beginnings in relation to its recent growth “grime is a genre that started in east London and even to the world the U.K. is a little blob” also adding that “where before we had one or two major grime albums, now we have five, in the next few years you're going to see more and more on the charts”.

The prestige of grime has also risen. Skepta’s Konnichiwa winning the Mercury Prize in 2016 brought some level of respectability, as did his winning the Best Songwriter and Best Contemporary Song at the 2017 Ivor Novello Awards.

Online platforms have also made huge impacts. Outlets like BBC’s Fire in the Booth, Link Up TV, GRM Daily and Radar Radio have been “very influential because they've created a form of pirate radio online which is 100% legal,”says Bruce.

Talk shows like Not For The Radio, he adds, “give insights to artists and some we haven't heard from for a very long time. They record old stories and tell the new generation.”

Other contributing factors to the genre’s rise have been cosigns from higher profiled stars like Drake and his relationship with Skepta and his Boy Better Know collective; Stormzy's own relationships with Ed Sheeran and a host of other collaborations between grime artists and practitioners from other genres.

Other developments in the genre challenge the very definition of “grime.” As noted in the BPI report “the difficulty in attributing precise genre definitions to artists and their music should, however, be noted, and in the case of grime, allowance should be made for a possible overlap with other urban genres, such as hip hop.”

The all-knowing Wikipedia has it that grime music is “typified by rapid, syncopated breakbeats, generally around 130 or 140 BPM, and often features an aggressive or jagged electronic sound.”

This is not strictly true.“Man Don’t Care” by JME and Giggs packs the menace and intensity synonymous with grime, but the beat could easily be that of a slow jam.

Akin cites “Laid Me Bare” and “Bad Boys” off Gang Signs & Prayer as examples of grime songs that don’t follow the accepted definitions. The “feeling” which a song like “Bad Boy” gives, says Akin, is what makes it grime and this cannot be dismissed “just because it's not 138.”

“21 Gun Salute” produced by Akin and his cohort Mo Samuel's features Wretch 32, a rapper who's only on singing duties on the track, and what one could call a “straight rap” by Stormzy.

But to Akin, the sentiment expressed in the songs—with lines like “I still love these youths” or “I can’t wait till I say ‘I do’ and the bros say ‘brap’ gun shots at my wedding”—while also found in hip-hop, is straight from the top shelf of grime.

“Blinded By Your Grace,” the gospel themed, two-part suite (part 1 features a choir and 2 the singer MNEK), could easily be sung in a church, says Akin going on to add that “it shows the diversity. It shows that grime can also slow down and talk about different things. There's actually no rules in music.”

“Grime gives me a feeling and music is all about feeling for me” insists Akin taking away from agreed upon definitions and leaving it to the listener to decide what is and what isn’t grime.

Bruce, however, believes “there will be some fairly grime albums from artists that do grime and don't have any other influences in their music,” even when he agrees with Akin in saying that “when appealing to a different audience, you gotta think outside your genre.”


Stop What You're Doing Right Now and Watch Falz's New Video 'This Is Nigeria'

The Nigerian rapper tackles his country's social ills in his very own answer to Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Nigerian rapper, Falz has been known to use his sharp brand of humor to address social ills in his country. Today he's taken it a step further with the release of a new song and video entitled "This is Nigeria" and the outcome is an audacious, decidedly necessary critique of Nigerian society inspired by Childish Gambino's viral video "This is America."

Falz opens the song with a voice over of his father the lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, discussing the consequences of rampant corruption and exploitation, before adding his own cutting criticism: "This is Nigeria, look how I'm living now, look how I'm living now. Everybody be criminal," he rhymes as chaos ensues all around him.

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Photo courtesy of Nike

The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.

If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.

Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.


Listen to Adekunle Gold's New Album 'About 30'

Adekunle Gold's highly-anticipated sophomore album is here.

Adekunle Gold's much-anticipated sophomore album, About 30, has arrived.

The 14-track album boasts features from Seun Kuti, Flavor and British-Nigerian soul singer Jacob Banks, who appears on a remix to the popular lead single "Ire." The album sees the artist flexing immense versatility and range as he delivers emotional ballads, folk-Inspired cuts sung in Yoruba, and a few highlife-tinged summer jams.

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