2016: The Rise Of The Instrumentals

2016 has been a great year for music in the grime scene. The quality of the work being made and released to the masses has been of a massively high standard. In particular, there have been plenty of outstanding instrumental releases.

But why have there been so many of them this year. What is it about an EP full of beats that have been making people go crazy, why have independent labels done so well this year and how important is the relationship between them and producers in order to create bodies of work that all parties can be proud of.

In order to answer these questions, I asked a number of people; DJs, producers, label owners and other liked-minded people to myself these same questions to see what responses I got. The best way to break the ice with all the guys I asked was to ask them which instrumental EPs were their favourites from this year. Inevitably with a question as broad as this, the responses I got were varied:

“Everything Filthy Gears has released has been quality, probably my fave producer right now so it has to be his Infinity EP from earlier in the year.” DeadStockGrime (@DeadStockGrimeT)

“Syer B – Mushrooms EP, Spooky & Boylan – Oil Gang 014, Sir Pixalot – War Time EP, Scope & J Beatz – Serato.” Argue (@dj_argue)

“This year has to be Trends – Pacman EP, Spooky feat. Trends – Discharge, Boylan & Trends – Norman Bates EP, Boxed 003.” Scope (@scope_em)

“There’s a couple this year that have been a madddddting. There’s been quite a few nang EPs this year but the ones that have ticked all boxes has to be D.O.K Grove EP & Chemist’s forthcoming Sublow Movement EP……D.O.K’s EP is just pure fury. The drum patterns he uses are mad, every tune on his EP is nuts.” Misundastood (@DJMisundastood_)

“Hard to say! So much music has come out this year, and so many incredible bodies of work. My highlights have to be Impey’s Little Havana EP on Astral Black, Sorrow’s EP on Shinigrim called Arisen, and Mala did an incredible album called Mirrors which is incredibly inspiring.” Zha (@Zhamusic)

“At the start of the year I was banging out Dullah Beatz – Ballys On. I had that going daily for a long while, a good way into the year, a good majority of anything from Oil Gang is bound to be proper! I like all the Spooky stuff from lately, a couple of the JT The Goon ones, that’s a go-to label for sure. Jammz’s Keep It Simple/The World was massive, absolutely huge. Boxed 002 has been my favourite release though, that’s an incredible release. If someone wants pure, dirty, unadulterated grime, they need that EP.” Frankos (@mfcfrankos)

This year, shout outs to the Astral Black Mobb – the FRASS FM 3 instrumental release is one I’ve went back to a lot – features a lot of the top talent in Scotland such as Dvsty, Bushido, Milktray and LVLZ brother Rapture 4D. Creep Woland’s “Observation” EP is another quality release. Other mentions this year for Polonis and his “M -Remixes” EP released on Classical Trax and again Rapture 4Ds “Mad Hing” EP – trying not to biased but can’t deny two quality releases from the weans getting a mention.” Gallus One (@GlasgowGrime)

“Jammz’s Keep It Simple / The World EP, Mischief’s Refix Champion, Gundam’s Waifu LP. Them three I copped so quick plus Filthy Gears’ The Filth Tapes Vol.1.” Mr. Krabs (@kraffulbrown)

Pretty much everything on Hardrive, Ghost House, Oil Gang & Mean Streets, they’ve had some mad releases this year. Grove EP was sick, Kaboom is one of my top 3 tunes of the year along with Terror Danjuh – Saturn and Norman Bates. Those 3 tunes have just kwenged off 2016!” Vybe1 (@Vybe1__)

Rapture 4D’s “Mad Hing”, Asa’s “Knight’s of Ren”, and JLSXND7R’s “Red State” EPs were all sick. “Ghosts in the Machine” by Boylan was another big one. Trends, Chemist RNS, Filthy Gears, and Swimful all dropped EPs I rated this year too. This question gets harder every year, I swear. Obviously a lot of people are waiting on Trends and Boylan’s “Norman Bates” EP as well.” Grime Disciple (@GrimeDisciple)

It’s clear from the EPs, producers and labels mentioned that the scene is as strong as it is ever been, the sheer scale of the output of music that has been released this year is actually pretty jaw-dropping when I think about it. There’s plenty of good music available but what makes an EP so entertaining to listen to:

“To me, it’s something that the producer or artist has taken a good amount of time to produce, something that they’ve literally put their heart and soul into because you can tell when it shines right through their work.” Rob (@MR_DRED_HIMSELF)

You can put your heart & soul into making a beat but it’s not as easy to do it again & again, how do producers maintain consistency:

“How the artist walks between consistency and variety is key. Some EPs sound kinda schizophrenic, like the producer just got lazy on a couple of tracks and put their energy into one “hit”. The best ones feel like you just got 4 amazing tunes at once.” Silverdrizzle (@silverdrizzle)

“I don’t think it’s hard if I give myself as an example. I make what I would like to hear and if other people like that as well then that’s a good thing for me as a producer.” JLSXND7RS (@JLSXN7RS)

“Nobody is consistent. Very rarely does a producer put out track after track that is incredible. Only the seasoned pros can do this, but for the rest of us, it is a case of making something you believe in and hoping it is original and different enough to be called unique.” Zha

 “Consistency is a funny subject…the key to it regarding grime riddims is the 140 bpm. Use that as a frame and get as creative as you can within that framework…on a regular basis. It’s not about songs, it’s about your catalog.” John Brown (@JohnBrownGRIME)

Consistency is an issue with no definitive way of achieving. Some producers just find a groove and stick with it while others who are more braver to experience with their sounds may take time to produce the sort of stuff that they think is good enough to listen to, it’s not easy to put out banger after banger.

As someone with a keen ear for new music in the scene, I know that if a producer can put out consistently good music, they’ll gain more popularity in places once thought as out-of-reach:

“I’ve had people from Canada, America, Eastern Europe and even Japan buying my music and also asking when I’m coming to do shows so I’m astounded my music has reached that far.” Filthy Gears (@FilthyGears)

One of the key questions I set out to answer was how important was the relationship is between independent labels and producers. I wanted to know just how strong the bond had to be between the two parties in order for their collaboration to be meaningful:

“It depends on the style of release people are going for. Personally I’m not interested in doing a one off release with an artist and never doing anything again. For releases like that you don’t need a relationship further than a shared interest in the genre of music you’re releasing.” KXVU (@CUB_KXVU)

“I feel that it’s something that often develops into a bond between both parties due to mutual respect for each others craft. One person is spending their time writing music on a computer in hope that it will see a release and the other puts their faith into an artist(s) and believes in their music enough that it is deserving of a release.” Neffa-T (@Neffa_T)

“It is important mainly for the fact labels are usually just a certain guy with money he’s willing to use to fund vinyl releases or events or promo for digital releases etc. Stuff that independent artists can’t always afford.” MistaKay (@MistaKayUK)

“From an outsiders point of view I can see exposure as the biggest positive of the relationship. Personally I feel like there are as many, if not more, unrecognised yet talented producers than there are MCs right now and that’s simply because the channels an MC can take to gain recognition are so much broader than the opportunities thrown to producers.” Nayf (@ItsNayf)

“It’s the most important thing. It’s about getting the balance right and having an understanding on both sides. The label will want to do their thing you want to do yours and if you can meet in the middle it can be wicked. I think that’s why artists stick with same labels as you build up a relationship and know what you can do together.” Policy (@policysound)

Going by what’s been said, the relationship between the two parties is indeed important, they need to be on the same wavelength in order for both parties to get what they need from each other. However as I learned, it’s not the only relationship to think about:

“Well there’s so many labels now and so many platforms to buy from that it’s not a major factor so much! I think producer-DJ relationships are more important to be honest. Spooky & his Ghost House label is a good example, he’s giving lesser known producers the chance but is able to do this from his knowledge of their music from DJ’n so knows what bangs rather than just following trends & other opinions. Oil Gang also been doing this for a while.” Bonez (@MR_B0N3Z)

“People are realising that you don’t need a big manager telling you what to make and then taking a cut from your talent. Also the internet has provided gateways for people to get themselves heard faster & by more people globally. Grime is a relatable genre, especially if you’re from a certain background/area.” JP (@jpmusicldn)

Grime is a genre with a huge underground element and as a result, it’s a very organic genre in the sense that people don’t rely on major labels or mainstream personnel to get the music out to the public. The rise in technology means now it’s even easier for artists to promote & share their work but something I’ve seen grow in 2016 is that now more people are going down the independent route, growing their own labels and creating a vision and an ethos that they truly believe in.

Independent labels are on the up and a by-product of that is the return to popularity of vinyl records but why is this happening:

“It’s got to a point where it’s music first again. It’s hard especially in this day and age to have an identity the way things move fast but I think labels are trusting in themselves more and most importantly enjoying doing what they do.” P Jam (@PJam100)

“I think since the internet and other things changed the music industry, the power is more so in the artists hands than it was before as for labels there are some really good ones out there I prefer the more niche stuff, always been a fan of underground music.” Sir Pixalot (@SIRPIXALOT_SW9)

“A lot of independent labels are putting so much work and time into making releases special for consumers whether its special artwork or hand numbering etc. I think the resurgence of vinyl has also played a part in how independent labels operate. Something that can go unnoticed is the risk of doing certain releases. A fair amount of money can go into releasing music but what’s great is that labels seem to be receiving enough support to continue releasing music which especially in early days is really important that also shows that people are supporting artists.” Neffa-T

“I think a lot of the time artists don’t realise how important cross pollination is in regards to building their fan base. Step one of that is making sure everybody involved is credited and tagged on social media platforms, it makes artists more likely to share it and then everybody benefits from that. It’s down to labels to explain this and introduce it to artists rather than get pissed off as that gets nobody involved anywhere but into pointless arguments about “why releases aren’t doing well”. Communication is the key.” KXVU

“I think there have been a lot of established producers/DJs that start their own labels and that in turn gets their fans to buy into it, then the new releases that they put out with the new producers gains and doubles the fanbase. Also services like Juno Download and Bandcamp are essential for grime instrumental EPs, it gets lost and pushed to the back on iTunes.” Benteki (@benteki_)

Thinking about it, it makes sense that the labels have done so well. If the people behind them are more willing to put out music on their terms and promote the artists that they want to give exposure to, it forms the basis of a relationship that can grow into something that hugely benefits both parties. For the fans, listening to all these different projects means they’re exposed to new labels and new producers and for some labels like Boxed & Butterz who are more business-like in their approach, touring across different places doing club nights can create a brand image that people can identify and believe in. What about the future? What potential paths lie in wait?

“Producers can go anywhere with grime…it has so many influences. Labels just have to keep doing what they’re doing and maybe even dig deeper…there’s so many producers out there that don’t get looked at.” Blitz (DJ_Blitz_3D)

“I see grime as the UK’s version of the US hip-hop. In terms of it’s not just a music genre, it’s our culture whether your from London or Glasgow. It’s the sound of the UK we grew up with jungle, garage, happy hardcore, rap. It’s got like sub-genres and different aspects to it now. Some grime nights you wont hear an MC – just sick instrumental grime.” Gallus One.

“2017 should be a interesting one for sure. Grime getting worldwide recognition is mad. Not just for the co-signs but grime’s growing over to other countries among MCs, producers, fans etc. – A good look most definitely.” Jay (@JustJayOfficial)

Instrumental music within grime has had a strong 2016. With so much potential in the scene, it’s not impossible to believe that the labels and producers can progress even more and give the DJs even more music ready to spin off the heads of any willing listeners. Right now, we’ve just gotta enjoy how well things are going, the competition’s that around will only allow for even more great music for 2017.

Rants.

 

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Shellerz 2015 (Part 2)

Here’s part two of Shellerz.

Sir Spyro – Side By Side (feat. Big H, Bossman Birdie & Prez T)

As I always say, producers in grime are the real MVPs because without them, the scene wouldn’t be banging as it is now. Sir Spyro is one of the top dons in the world of producing for grime and on his Mizuno beat, Bloodline representatives Big H, Bossman Birdie & Prez T do their thing while the video for this song for me is my favourite of 2015.

Skepta – Shutdown

Arguably grime’s official spokesman for 2015, Skepta has set the scene alight this year and it’s what he’s being doing in front of the mic that has made the biggest impact this year, it’s what he’s done away from the mic. Networking with the likes of Drake, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West this year, Skepta has made big strides in his career. Shutdown played a huge part in his success this year, it really sums up the vibe grime’s coming of age has had this year.

Novelist – Endz

From one of the main men in the present to someone who I think will be a main man for the future. Novelist is definitely one to look at next year, someone who really respects the old era of grime and trying to implement it for the present generation. Endz definitely has that old school feel to it, even the video looks old school, back in the days of the VCR, Sky+ didn’t exist back then.

I couldn’t put a playlist about grime together without The Godfather. His status as a grime don enhanced this year after receiving a Paving The Way award from the MOBOs and getting a plaque dedicated to him outside of his secondary school. As for his #8 EP, it shows Wiley still has gas in the tank, while the younger MCs having been making waves, he’s made sure he hasn’t gone underneath them. Wiley is wicked MC, perhaps the wickedest of them all.

Newham Generals – Frontline (feat. Monkstar)

The best duo in the grime, hands down, Newham Generals rep Newham and rep it well. D Double E & Footsie back to back on a set is about as wavey as the way Jamie Vardy & Riyad Mahrez have been playing for Leicester City this season. With former General, Monkstar on board, the Generals touch up a classic, their original Frontline track from 2006. This 2015 edition ain’t too shabby.

Mic Ty – Knewham

Another East Londoner, the influence from there is strong in grime, always has, always will. Mic Ty is part of the new wave of MCs coming through. With Plastician on the buttons, Knewham shows that Mic Ty (Ty, not Tyrone) is about this life. Lock up your wives!

Big Zuu – Trying

From East London to West London now, another talented MC that made noise this year. Everyone loves a trier & Big Zuu’s been putting in the work, his joint project with Mic Ty (Mic Ty x Big Zuu) was when I really started to pay attention him. On set, Zuu might be young in years but sounds like a he’s been barring for years.

Jammz – Warrior

A lyrical skeng, a master of barring, no hooks, no breaks, just bar upon bar upon bar, all those things are stuff associated with Jammz. This guys spits crud on a regular, nothing but the purest fire comes out of this guy’s mouth. Jammz is levels alright and next year, I see him reaching even higher levels, the levels of a Warrior & just like Novelist, not only can he MC, he can make wavey beats too, a double threat.

Capo Lee – Liff

Capo Lee is another one of the mandem making waves. It feels like I’m saying the same stuff over and over again but if these guys are this good now, imagine what they’ll be like next year. For Capo, Liff is the tune that has put him in the spotlight, with Mystry (responsible for Pulse 8, the instrument that got grime popping in 2015) on production, Liff is merky and flow-wise, Capo has that nailed down. The future’s bright in grime.

Going to Birmingham now, Dapz On The Map responsible for this. Not exactly family friendly when the hook on this involves Dapz’s daughter singing Murdah but I can’t lie, that don’t matter in the slightest, content-wise, Dapz is on point as well as On The Map. It’s easy to forget that grime isn’t just a London thing, it’s a UK thing, part of the urban culture that’s growing, gaining acceptance but importantly, allowing artists to express themselves towards an ever expanding audience.

Keep your eyes peeled for part three, the final part of Shellerz.