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Stormzy. Gang Signs & Prayer.

The 20 Best Grime Releases of 2017

Here are the best UK Grime releases of the year.

Released in January, Pirate Mentality is a documentary study of grime in its elemental form and its rise from an inner-city curiosity into an arena selling genre, prefiguring the run of impressive releases that were to come this year.

The ascent of trap has charged new life into hip-hop (and related genres) the world over and it is the steadiest current running through the entirety of grime music today which, aspects of which we examined in August when J Hus, Stormzy and Loyle Carner we're nominated for the Mercury Prize.


In its annual report, the British Phonographic Industry revealed that sales and streaming of products labelled as grime nearly doubled between May 2016 and 2017. Despite these impressive numbers, only a handful of projects labelled as grime had being released by August, one of which was Lethal Bizzle's "You Will Never Make A Million Off Grime," a notable exception from our list below. In order to understand the seeming paucity of releases and further examine the state of grime and its place in the British music industry, we interviewed two industry insiders: Mikey Akin, one half of the production duo, Sons of Sonix, who contributed to Stormzy's, Gang Signs & Prayer, as well as helming most of Wretch 32's FR32, as well as interviewing Robert Bruce, a radio presenter on Capital Xtra.

Away from the crunching of data and resulting politics, we also examined the state of MCing in grime and rap by profiling nine of the best artists in the UK, who all showcase a wide range of craftsmanship, as well as the ability to make pop hits, some in their beginning years and one reaching vet status. They also happen to all be women who reject genre denotations, and rightly so considering "I can bar better than half the man dem" in Ms Banks' own words, needed words in an industry whose iceberg of misogyny is thawing slower than it is in other genres.

Any concerns that not enough grime projects were being released may have been premature, for by December, a variety of mixtapes and albums had dropped from which we've selected the best 20 of all rap and grime releases in the UK.

Tinie TempahYouth

The 17 songs on Tinie Tempah's third album may not cohere as a whole but taken individually, majority of the songs are well crafted pop and rap confections espousing his taste for high-living and his supremacy in not just hip-hop but British pop in general—well earned considering his seven No. 1 singles are more than any UK artist managed between 2010-2020. [Read the full album review here]

Giggs Wamp To Dem

The Chief Absurdist of British rap and grime delivers all manner of tough-talk and slick-talk, OG wisdom and outrageous lyricism, over production that is mostly slow and stark, sometimes sparse and frequently metallic which should make for a joyless but is in fact an engaging experience. The real joy (if that's the word) is to be found in Giggs' unique exaggerations - even when imprecise or too outlandish to be taken seriously. [Read the full album review here]

Lady Leshurr Mode

Lady Leshurr is a battle rapper par excellence on account of her Queen Speech freestyles; a continuing series of bar-fests, by turns clever and articulate. She brought these qualities to bare on Mode, an EP of six songs which also displayed her songwriting abilities, and more of the biting humor and precise delivery which has made her one the best MC in the British isles.

Stefflon Don Real Ting

Stefflon Don would appear to have arrived fully formed on her "mixtape" from the assured way she inhabits different musical styles, from pounding bashment to afro-bashment its mellow nephew, from drill to spaced out R&B; and the truly impressive adaptation of trap flows on garage—all of which make for an accomplishing debut project.

Nadia Rose Highly Flammable

"The eight songs on Nadia Rose's debut Highly Flammable are like a pack of firecrackers, each of varying strength and spark-points, but all brimming with boisterous belligerence." These words were written in January upon the release of the EP and hold true a near full year later when any novelty surely would have worn off. [Read the full album review here]

Nolay This Woman

With fury and finesse, Nolay tackles, head on, matters of domestic abuse, empowerment, male chauvinism and lazy gender expectations on an album she claims to have made in just five hours. If it reads like a feminist tract, it is also a compassionate address to women who may not have her wherewithal. On the whole, This Woman is a laudable combination of social activism and lyrical virtuosity.

Wiley Godfather

The genre inventor is every bit as vital as he is engaging on song after song as he finally accepts the much touted title of "Godfather" of grime. A constellation of 12 committed MCs and 20 producers of the austere and menacing beats are marshalled into a cohesive and frequently thrilling album.[Read the full review here]

Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer

Hunched over a table-full of black cutlery and flanked by cohorts in all black, the cover art for "Gang Signs & Prayer" make for strong metaphors, most inviting is that of grime, long in critical and commercial doldrums, but finally eating from the prized table of commercial and critical successes - and mostly on its own terms. [Read our full album review here]

Wretch 32 FR32

Wretch 32 does not need features. He's singing and rapping have the varying textures that he's requested from each guest on FR32, and the raw honesty he's brought to personal matters from his life would, in theory, make it even more cohesive, which takes little away from the wholesomeness on his fourth album. At 12 songs and no longer than 45 minutes, even sharper focused is Wretch's writing, matched by a commanding delivery which has him deploying his voice in myriad flows, often dense, somethings breathless whether in plain english, black British ebonics or Jamaican patois.

If regga-trap is not a thing, Wretch makes a strong case for it on "Break-fast" which is, in part, about his objection to giving fellatio and unlike the overly generous men who do. Kojey Radical crystallizes painful racist attitudes on "Colour Purple" when he opens with the words "I was 14 when I knew that I was black, not by pigmentation but hatred and fear attacks", in an equally tortured voice, while the "Whistle", a naked club bait is saved for the last. On "Gracious", he smoothly skates over a zigzagging trap beat with a sung-rap flow wryly observing that "being timeless takes a minute", a theme he continues on "Power" but on a personal front when he notes, "age starting to show, grey starting to poke / pace starting to slow, faith starting to go / I'm sounding ungrateful but who asked to be grown", before going on to give the subject fuller scope on "Time" - a discourse about how dictatorial the passage of time could be and the clarity it brings to reflections, one that qualifies as a "trap ballad" on account of Wretch's high-pitched trap cadence, rap-sung over a plangent piano.

On "His & Hers", he showcases virtuoso story-ing a competing tale about a hurting and hurtful couple in a souring relationship that gets progressively complex as would a psychological thriller, made even more digestible by a catchy chorus (if a little on the nose). The domestic theme carries on in "Happy", a heartwarming ode to his daughter which ends with her drawing a house with her brother and parents in it, a promise perhaps which Wretch admits he hasn't kept, "we didn't see that through and i apologize to you".

J Hus Common Sense

No longer a hook man for hire, J Hus is a well rounded artists on his debut Common Sense—a stewed mix of genres tastefully concocted by J Hus and Jae5, who produced the entirety of the project drawing rap but also grime, garage, bashment as well a afro-bashment in a meticulous fashion that is even more impressive considering both Hus was 22 and J5 was 25 when the album was released in May, peaking at No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart, as well as earning a Mercury Prize nomination.

Loyle Carner Yesterday's Gone

"Zen-rap" may not be a recognised sub-genre but on his debut, Loyle Carner is frequently meditative in his lyrics, helped by an unforced delivery and a sonic palette, primed to soothe and ease in his many ruminations. [Read our full review here]

Skepta Vicious

"They like what's good G? / Same shit Broski, man is still hustling / i switched up the pack, cleaned up the cash but the trap is still jumping" goes Skepta on EP opener "Still" and no doubt coy given his steep rise in profile since the release of his last album "Konnichiwa" last year, though he soon brags about his new status most notably on "Hypocrisy" when he states: "just came back from the Ivors, and look what we collected / the MBE got rejected, i'm not tryna be accepted". As if to spotlight his less praised skill as a producer, he's made every track on "Vicious" but elicited support from Section Boyz, Lil B, ASAP Rocky and ASAP Nast - solid additions that do not upstage the cocksure host at his most confident as he reminds on "Still" where he, once again, answers himself "Who am i scared of? I am the omen". Greaze! indeed!

Bugzy Malone King of the North

"How can a guy come from out of town, come to town and fuck up the whole grime scene?" asks Bugzy Malone on "Through The Night", one of eight songs on his third EP King of the North. The audacious title is not misplaced, even when not wholly convincing as he's yet to release his debut album. But it speaks to his prominence in grime, headquartered in London, despite hailing from Manchester—a two hour journey by train but further behind in vitality. On the wistful "Memory Lane", he rues about broken friendships, intra-community violence and lost childhoods believing "we've been broken since childhood", while "Aggy With It" is characterised by a menacing flow that lays true his claim to be a "bully on the beat", but he is at his most triumphalist on the titular "King of the North" whose opening march of chants, bells are energised with trap percussion and unexpected humility when he asks "and now that I've made it, can somebody say grace please?"

Dave Game Over

This is impressive second offering from the 19-year-old after 2016's Six Paths. Three of the seven songs run over seven minutes and are easily the most thematically focused, one of which is the self-produced "How I Met My Ex" about a lady five years his senior, and the state of the nation address that is "Question Time," a critique of the UK's political class and their decision making on health care, war on terror and poverty, best crystallised mid-way through the song: "underpaid, understaffed, overworked and overseen by people who can't ever understand what it's like to live life like you and I."

Chipmunk League of My Own II

Chip is on top form on League of My Own II, presented as a follow up to his mixtape of the same title released 10 years ago and prefigured his debut album "I Am Chipmunk" which debuted on No.2 on the UK albums chart. As if to side-look this early success, Chip announces "love rap, love grime, pop i just pimped it" on the "The Outro," which whether as a corrective or brag, is bookended by an "Intro" which features a pseudo-biblical pep-talk from his father asking him to "put on his spiritual armour." Nearly half the 17 songs here are fulcrumed on a single word or catch phrase, around which Chip nimbly weaves impressive play on words, street tales, fidelity in romantic relationships, fixation on social media, and familial troubles over jittery grime and viscous trap productions—bouyed by an intellect and persona that makes one pay close attention to his every utterance.

Avelino No Bullshit

Avelino's 2015 joint mixtape with Wretch 32 "Young Fire, Old Flames" twinned both rapper's similar melodic sensibilities and one which he expounds on his solo follow up "No Bullshit," an assured and focused project which centers on his gifts for switching flows, freed from starry features making for a claustrophobic, yet engaging listen. The most obvious sign of "no bullshit" Avelino has chosen not to take here is the different and dexterous flow patterns he brings to the ten songs (and two skits) here. Whether over a house beats, rap or grime, he adapts his grainy-bass malleably as in the love overtures on "One In A Million," "No Such Thing" and "Sweet Luv," as he does when simultaneously sermonising and turning up on "You Can't Stand Up/ Royal." Life is imitating art and imitating life on "It's a Moovie/Prodigy," a gloomy tale which opens with the question "How do you protect your family from the roads? Coz the streets are wild right now in the UK" and finds Avelino comparing the unreal reality of streetlife to a movie, urged on by an insistent piano and his bleak vision.

Big Shaq / Michael Dapaah Mans Not Hot

Closing in on 150 million views in under 2 months, Big Shaq / Michael Dapaah's biting satire on grime cultures exposes its bloated image of toughness but whose humor could further inculcate the genre—vibrant and still nascent—in people's minds.

New Gen New Gen

Starting life as a live event in London aiming to showcase newer or less recognised talents, New Gen evolved into a show on Radar Radio and now a compilation of material from varying artists who give a very clear idea of how robust the UK's rap and grime scene is, away from the established names. Avelino and Bonkaz tag-team on opener "Welcome to the New Gen," piggybacking off each other's rhymes, refreshing a once recurrent hip hop trope, little practised today. Ray BLK, winner of the BBC Sound of 2017 in the same January month "New Gen" was released, worried about the pressures of new fame on "Busy" as if in anticipation for the year she was to have.

Kojey Radical went on to make stellar contributions to Jul's "Leap of Faith" and Wretch 32's "FR32" amongst others, but started the year impressively with "Fuck Your Feelings", combining spoken word and rap over a slow-boiling beat and felt hummings as if drawing from negro spirituals. Bonkaz, whose past dealings with the law drew a special rebuke from managing editor Aaron Leaf, is introspective about personal growth and lost relationships on "Life Support" anchored by wistful chorus from Tiggs Da Author, a breezy saxophone and trap snares. Stefflon Don's authority and Abra Cadabra's menace are combined to good effect on the drill of "Money Haffi Make," an approach she would later give fuller attention on her debut mixtape "The Real Ting." Dotty is pained and relentless on "Thoughts," a simple title weighted with tales of personal and familial failings and the stark social conditions that continue to hamper sometimes hapless youths when,"we're just some cool kids tryna get it and get out."

Section Boyz Soundcheck

[Read the full review here ]

Dizzee Rascal Raskit

Over 16 songs and with no features, Dizzie Rascal is engaging and fiery on his sixth album Raskit—a solid compaction of hard-nose lyrics and world weary vision, delivered with energised flow patterns that would suggest he's hungering for new relevance, when he's not sniffy enough to list his exasperation on "Sick of Dis," which shares a combined palette of jittery grime beats and the jangle of trap.

Only in his 30s but already a grime vet, Rascal is central to the genre on account of his continuing vitality, and yet peripheral when compared to the newer acts and the novelty they bring. On "Way I Am" he brags: "I don't do no dab, but the Hublot bad," in a bid to distance himself from youthful fads, a point he makes even clearer on "Focus" when he says, "I never thought I'd see social media replace the TV". Perhaps too aware of the creative slumber brought on by vet status, he insists that he's "wide awake I can't fake no more / wide awake I can't take no more" on "Everything Must Go" but is less veiled on "Ghost" where he snarls "I was on pirate radio before Mike Skinner," further pressing his point by proclaiming, "talk about grime like I ain't a staple / I was on the mic when you was in play school" followed by veiled bragging about surviving being stabbed six times.

He's saved his biggest boast for "Dummy (16 For The Juice)" whose plush bass, twinkling piano and stacked trap percussion is coupled with a frenetic cadence making for a hard bounce and undoubted truth: "been had the flavour, look at everybody eating off my recipe"—in reference to his chart and musical successes as an independent artist, copied by many a grime artist in this current revival. Rascal may not yet be monied or bored or inspired enough to make a dad-rap album a la Jay Z's 4:44, but having achieved critical and commercial success at such a young age, in such a (still) young genre, his boasts become mere facts, as it is when he states: "you'll never see the day that Dizzie Rascal fade away".

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Still from Emmeron's "Good Do"

Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

One week later, with no further explanation, the concert was cancelled.

Rumours went wild. The then ruling party, All People's Congress (APC), was seen by many as the culprit. Elections were just around the corner and Emmerson, with government-critiquing lyrics, was not to perform to an audience that could reach 36,000 people. It was a recurring story; Emmerson has not been able to perform at the National Stadium since 2012, all during the APC reign.

Now, a month after the change of government, Emmerson held his concert, called Finally, on the April 28.

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The Prince and Princess of Lesotho Were the Only Foreign Royals At Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Wedding

The Basotho and British royals have a long-standing bond.

While Prince Harry and Meghan Markle avoided inviting politicians and foreign royals to their wedding on SaturdayBarack and Michelle Obama were noticeably absent—the couple made an exception for one pair of royals: Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng.

The two were amongst the 600 guests present for Saturday's festivities at Windsor Castle. Princess Mabereng donned colorful traditional attire for the ceremony, and stood out in the best way possible.

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