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.”


Listen to Some Fela Kuti Rarities In These New Videos

Fela's manager Rikki Stein and Stephen Budd share their Fela rarities including Colombian cumbia covers, first pressings and much more.

On the week of Fela Kuti's birthday it's only apt that we get some new insight into some of the rarer records from the king of afobeat.

The official Fela Kuti Youtube channel is now sharing three new videos that feature Fela's longtime manager, Rikki Stein, visiting the home of music industry executive Stephen Budd (OneFest Festival/Africa Express/NH7 Weekender), who happens to be an über Fela fan.

"There are a lot of people who are fans of Fela, nobody that I know reaches the heights that this man reaches in terms of seeking out rarities," mentions Rikki Stein.

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Ethiopia's New Cabinet is Made Up of 50 Percent Women

The move is the latest sweeping change made under "reformist" Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's leadership.

In an unprecedented move towards gender inclusion within the Ethiopian government, the country's lawmakers have announced a new cabinet made up by 50 percent women.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—who has been described as a reformist, due to landmark changes that have occurred under his leadership—made the announcement on Tuesday. "Our women ministers will disprove the old adage that women can't lead," he said in Parliament. "This decision is the first in the history of Ethiopia and probably in Africa."

During the speech he also stated that "women are less corrupt than men," reports BBC Africa.

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Op-Ed: Kanye West In Africa Is Music Marketing At Its Worst

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing.

One of the most interesting parts of the music industry is the marketing of an album. In developed music markets, accomplished professionals and creatives sit in a room and decide how best they want to sell the music. It's the norm. Many people deliberate and develop a roll-out plan that is improved until it's perfect for execution.

When JAY-Z rented out billboards for 4:44, with everyone wondering what it meant around the world, that is marketing. Mr Eazi drawing a towering mural of himself and Giggs in London, was another marketing tactic to push his single "London Town." Falz created an entire movement filled with conventionally attractive men, and named it the 'Sweet Boys Association,' because he had a single that needed to be sold to fans. Perhaps, what takes the cake in the world of African music marketing is one crazy move by a little known Nigerian artist named Skibii. You see, this guy died and rose again from the dead, just like sweet biblical adult Jesus. He had a single somewhere that needed the attention. Death and resurrection was his thing.

Kanye West is in Africa for marketing. The US rap superstar is holed up at the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, surrounded by his friends, colleagues and family. He is here because he has an album to release named Yandhi, and somehow, he found his way to the Motherland, where's he's built two outdoor domes, as his working studio. He isn't working from inside a house like a mere mortal. He's in the wild, connecting to Mother Nature and nourishing foliage. This is Africa, Kanye West is an African-American. His ancestors came from this part of the world. He has a claim to this soil.

Kanye West was supposed to drop his ninth studio album on Saturday, September 29. After two days of waiting, three Saturday Night Live performances, one tweet from Kim Kardashian-West and an appearance on TMZ Live, Yandhi was pushed back to Black Friday, November 23. West admitted that he "didn't finish" the album in time, and a member of his management staff suggested pushing the release back.

"I started incorporating sounds that you never heard before and pushing and having concepts that people don't talk about," West said. "We have concepts talking about body-shaming and women being looked down upon for how many people that they slept with. It's just a full Ye album and those five albums I dropped earlier were like superhero rehabilitation and now the alien Ye is fully back in mode… We're going to Africa in two weeks to record. I felt this energy when I was in Chicago. I felt the roots. We have to go to what is known as Africa."

In Africa, Kanye West hasn't laid low. Photos from his arrival hit the internet, and somehow, he was filmed listening, dancing and vibing to African music. Those songs include Mystro's "Immediately," and Burna Boy's "Ye." The videos have gone viral, Africans are wowed by Kanye's interaction with their music, reactions and takes, Africa is moved by Kanye West interacting with our music. Somehow, I used to think we are over this type of event. The event where an an American superstar, who has a huge fan base in Africa, dances to our music, and we lose it. But I was wrong. This content format still has power.

Scream all you want. Feel the euphoria of Kanye moving to our drums, but don't forget he's here for marketing. His album is about to drop, and he's publicly alerted the world that he needs to be in Africa and its strong cultural influence to complete the project. Everyone is watching, the conversation has global traction, and Africans are supporting him. Since Kanye got heat for his infamous "Slavery was a choice," comment, I knew Africa will become a part of that story. The past week has seen him visit President Donald Trump at the white house, and further moved away from the love of his African-American base in the US. Black people are not behind Kanye West right now. The media is tearing him to shreds. Celebrities are in a social media race to dissociate themselves from him. Many fans aren't proud of their icon. But he is in the Motherland, dancing to its native music, and we can all cheer.

"I'm in Africa recording," he says in a 9 minute video on Twitter about mind control free thinking and his greatness. "We just took them to the future with the dome. The music is the best on the planet. I am the best living recording artist. We, rather, because the spirits flow through me. The spirit of Fela, the spirit of Marley, the spirit of Pac flows through me. We know who the best. We know."

On the surface, Africa appears to be a gimmick. A play by a great artist to expand the story of his album for marketing talking points. Yandhi is already anticipated, and generations after us will study his art and point to this project as the one where Africa played a direct role. This black continent is a marketing tool for Kanye. Son of Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti, has already disassociated Fela Kuti's spirit from Kanye's claims. "On behalf of the Kuti family, I want to state that the spirit of Olufela Anikulapo Kuti isn't anywhere near Kanye West," Seun announced on Instagram.

Perhaps marketing isn't Kanye's only reason for his African trip. Maybe, the world is too harsh on Kanye West and his new level of introspective vibrations. Maybe we aren't seeing the bigger picture. Oh gosh! We might all be victims of this grand mind control programme that West talks about! What if Kanye West is on these shores for some actual influence? Africa has a rich spectrum of sounds, laden with enough culture, soul and character to influence any type of music. From Cairo down to Lagos, there's enough music to add colour.

A clear way for justification of his African trip is perhaps for Kanye West to give back. He is connecting to the 'roots' after all. He is soaking in the energy for inspiration. Perhaps he might actually get to work with an African artist while on the continent. Already, Perhaps Africa's contributions to the project will be anchored by an African. Already, in his creative dome, Ugandan producer extraordinaire, Benon Mugumbya, has been pictured. If he gets some of that Yhandi shine, it wouldn't hurt.

Kanye officially has to be the first hip-hop star to make a trip to the continent for direct inspiration since Africa began to hug the spotlight as an interesting market for global music players. Recent years have witnessed the penetration of African music into global pop spaces. Africa has become the new cool. And as her sonic influence grows, more artists would continue to find new ways to interact. Kanye is making a splash with this. Perhaps, he will be the inspiration for more exchange between Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, his music isn't his true reason for this trip. Maybe Ye just wants to get away from the madness from the USA, and go find Wakanda. Maybe he will discover Ye-Kanda. Either way, only the final version of Yhandi will contain the answers that we seek, and Kanye West's true intention. For now, he is already winning. All those marketing points are already helping the project.

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