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V/A - Roll Deep presents Grimey

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Artist: V/A

Album: Roll Deep presents Grimey

Label: DMC

Review date: May. 10, 2006

Grime, while certainly one of the most exciting genre developments of the hip hop diaspora, is also amongst the most frustrating, if just for the sheer lack of recorded material available. If the grime devotee isn’t inclined to the tedium of collecting white label 12” singles, he or she is left with the full-lengths put out by the few grime emcees with the requisite clout, and a handful of compilations. Thus, the first installment of the Grimey series, curated by the Roll Deep crew, could justify its existence by simply expanding the pool of available tracks. But Grimey tries for more and ends up with too much; while other compilations like Run the Road are dominated by a singular goal (to rep grime to the mainstream), Grimey is many things at once. It’s a look into the tastes and inspirations of grime’s dominating Roll Deep crew, whose former members include kingpins Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, in addition to providing an outlet for some of the crew’s new tracks. It’s also a mixtape in the purist sense, beat-matched and all. All of this confuses Grimey’s ostensible goal, which is to give an overview of the genre’s roots and developments. What’s left is a compilation of a few key grime tracks sans-context amongst some head scratching selections.

True to the overview approach, Grimey begins with selections heavy on R&B hooks and ragga vocals – staples of the garage / 2-step scene that birthed grime. It’s no surprise that this rave-progeny proved an unsuitable answer to American hip hop, too steeped in techno and lacking in ‘hood consciousness. So Solid Crew, who’s “Envy” leads off the mix, famously (and perhaps regrettably) embraced popular stereotypes of American hip hop culture, but had trouble translating it to record, sonically and lyrically. There are occasional flirts with grime’s now-sound in Grimey’s first half, particularly with JME’s “Serious,” (perhaps only there to foster the clever transition to Maxwell D’s track of the same name) and Roll Deep’s freestyling over Danny Weed’s “Creeper” riddim. Despite these interruptions, Grimey’s first impression is like The Streets’ “Weak Become Heroes” in mixtape form – wistful reminisces of the golden-era.

But Grimey is clearly sequenced to indicate a progression, as Dizzee Rascal’s seminal “I Luv U” demolishes the nostalgia halfway through, announcing (as it did for garage) a shift towards the dark arcade gangsterism of grime. Where So Solid Crew failed to completely bring their hip hop mentality to the music, Dizzee made sure this personality appeared on record. With a chorus featuring point-counterpoint dialogue of sexual politics in clubland, like a grime version of Three 6 Mafia’s “Baby Mama,” Dizzee lays out the male lyricist’s lady-problems – frequent material for American rapper Cam’Ron but delivered a bite more eruditely and fairly by Dizzee. And thus begins Grimey’s dive into the UK’s indigenous hip hop synthesis. Poignantly, it’s wrapped up by Wiley’s “Wot U Call It?” corroborating the ‘what the fuck?’ moment the genre’s transition created, and Grimey’s transition creates – one that initiates a scramble to classify and label it.

Chief complaints about a compilation like Grimey are going to center around track selection, and though Grimey certainly delivers on grime’s important moments, with signature tracks by Kano and Wiley alongside Dizzee’s genre-defining debut, the milestone emphasis sometimes detracts from the ride. Though “Boys Love Girls” was his first breakthrough, Kano has done better (see his features on both Run the Road compilations), and More Fire Crew’s “Oi!,” one of grime’s earliest chart presences, now sounds Dizzee-lite. For a nebulous genre that is hard for non-scenesters to penetrate, much less chronicle – even the British press is woefully lacking in grime coverage and comprehension – Grimey proves a solid curriculum for the grime initiate.

By Bob Hammond

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