Grime MCs are talking about the election and no one should be surprised
18 May 2017
Jeremy Corbyn, beleaguered Labour leader and Prime Ministerial hopeful (emphasis on hopeful), may well be dreading the results of the general election next month, but there’s a certain group that seems to be throwing their support behind him. One grime artist after another has backed the hapless Jez, and it’s more backing than he’s had from most. Grime legend JME provided a step by step guide to voter registration in one tweet:
If you want to vote Corbyn.
Step 1: Register https://t.co/OOXc9Uih0P
Step 2: vote Corbyn.
Step 3: press Up, X, Y, B, A
Step 4: press start
— Jme (@JmeBBK) April 23, 2017
JME even took time out of his day to pay a visit to Jez, with the latter tweeting an image of himself with his arm around the MC, both all smiles. The pair filmed a segment for i-D, where they discussed, to use JME’s words, “why bare of us don’t vote”. Say what you want about Corbyn. It’s possible he’s just trying to score cool points by associating himself with the “urban youth”, but if you’re waiting to see a photo of Theresa May standing arm in arm with Wiley, you’re gonna be waiting a while. AJ Tracey and Novelist have thrown their hats fully into Corbyn’s ring. So did Akala, someone who has no need to prove his credentials (if you haven’t already seen the video of him reducing single-celled amoeba and former EDL Leader Tommy Robinson to small, racist ashes, I highly recommend you seek it out).
The MC discussed Labour’s, and specifically Corbyn’s shortcomings, stating in a lengthy Facebook post and a series of tweets that he’s never been a Labour voter as he never shared the ‘romanticism’ that characterised Labour as “radical an [sic] alternative”. Nevertheless he stated:
He has constantly voted/spoken against U.K. foreign aggression. This alone makes him the most electable politician we have ever had
— Akala (@akalamusic) April 21, 2017
Homie @jeremycorbyn was anti-apartheid back when the Tories had Mandela down as a terrorist. Safe
— Akala (@akalamusic) April 21, 2017
Even as grime crosses over from the early Channel U days featuring videos filmed in carparks on mobile phones, to the mainstream meteoric success of Skepta and Stormzy – who expressed support for Corbyn’s anti-apartheid stance – the genre is still clawing its way into the bosom of middle-class English acceptance. Being a world largely populated by young black men talking about their day to day lives, occasionally with humour but at times with fury, it comes as no surprise that it has taken this long for the genre to achieve mainstream success.
“A demographic that traditionally has been viewed as apathetic and uninvolved in the social contract are more involved than ever.”
The overriding message coming from these artists has been to encourage their fans to exercise their civic rights and vote, dammit. The comparisons to American hip-hop artists willing their own fans to do the same are clear. It’s a paradox that grime and hip-hop encourage disenfranchised listeners to feel politically active, but the same people might need encouragement to head to the ballot box. However, even this seems to be changing. A demographic that traditionally has been viewed as apathetic and uninvolved in the social contract are more involved than ever. Young people and notably young BME people, are increasingly active in protests concerning issues ranging from Brexit to Black Lives Matter.
Discussions about grime finally becoming politically active have abounded in mainstream media. Publications that until recently, thought grime meant “dirt ingrained on a surface”, expressed surprise about the likes of Stormzy engaging in political commentary. That the latter is considered newsworthy is quite telling in itself. Why is that pop artists (i.e. “white” artists) aren’t required to prove their political credentials in this way? (Haven’t heard much from Ed Sheeran about the election lately.)
“Grime has long been characterised as thuggish and anti-intellectual, marginalised in just the same way hip-hop… The reality is that both genres have a long tradition of engaging in political and social commentary.”
Why has the Guardian run not one, but three different pieces expressing its delight about grime artists engaging politically? The underlying message is that it’s a surprise. The MCs who have spoken out in support of Corbyn are being praised, but it’s faint praise. One can imagine Oliver and Daisy, culturally-attuned, lifetime Labour voters, huddled over Saturday’s edition of the Guardian in a café somewhere in Islington, positively tickled pink by this news: “Gosh, can you believe A-Kale-a and Stormy are talking about the general election as though it affects THEM? Wow, now I’ve seen everything!”
Grime has long been characterised as thuggish and anti-intellectual, marginalised in just the same way hip-hop has traditionally been and all too frequently still is. The reality is that both genres have a long tradition of engaging in political and social commentary – whether that was a knowing indictment of social inequalities, or discussion of inner city life that revealed the ongoing struggles of disenfranchisement and endemic racism.
“The truth is that marginalised communities have the greatest interest in this election because they have the most to lose.”
The truth is that marginalised communities have the greatest interest in this election because they have the most to lose. As Akala put it: “The simple fact is, if enough people vote for Corbyn/Labour they will win… Britain led by the SNP and Corbyn’s Labour would be drastically different – though still far from utopian, whatever that means – to what the Tories have in mind and have clearly told us they intend.” Grime has always been a reflection of and for inner city youth, so it’s only right that grime artists have been speaking out about the general election- after all, they’re just as keen to see the back of the Tories as the rest of us are.
A new campaign #grime4corbyn is encouraging young whippersnappers to register to vote and offering them the chance to attend a ‘secret grime rave’ if they do. Check out the website here.