Grime is having something of a moment right now. It first came across our radar when we heard DJ Stingray and Mumdance’s incredible Rinse FM b2b mix, which paired the Motor City electro of the former with the avant-garde instrumental grime of the latter. The pairing worked so well that we found ourselves wanting to dive into the history of the genre to understand more. The only thing is that the genre is so large that we didn’t really know where to start.
Fortunately, Berlin-based transhumanist artist, CTM Festival curator and occasional Telekom Electronic contributor Born in Flamez is something of a specialist. They reached out to us to provide us with 10 essential tracks from before 2005. That period in the early oughts marks the very beginning of grime’s development.
“I think I heard my first grime tracks in the summer of 2004. A buddy brought some really shitty MP3s burnt onto a CD from a trip to London. It was mostly Ruff Squad and some Nasty Crew and a lot of Wiley.
I was hooked immediately. I believe Grime was my first big musical crush. I had found my sound. I started digging really heavily and found some of these treasures only years after they had been released. So here are my favorites from the early years of grime.”
Musical Mob, “Pulse X” (Musical Mob Royale, 2002)
“This to me is THE classical grime track. I love that minimal structure, and the badass sound of the production is pure gold.”
Lady Sovereign, “Cha Ching (Cheque 1 2)” (Casual Records, 2004)
“I think the first track of Lady Sovereign I had heard was actually something called ‘Tango’, a battle song she had created with producer Medasyn. She wasn’t even 16 yet but spat double time like no one else. ‘Cha Ching became an early fave—that dope snare and that badass bass paired with her feminist humor.”
Dizzee Rascal, Boy In Da Corner (XL Recordings, 2003)
“Still a mindblowingly fresh example of minimal production—Youngsta really outdid himself here. I bought the double vinyl of this record only recently cause it felt like one of the very few things I needed to have on PVC.”
Wiley, “Eskimo” (Wiley Kat Records, 2002)
“‘Eskimo’ is the definitive grime riddim. It was one of the standout tracks on the first grime MP3 collection I owned. Based around that hollow bass sound that would become Wiley’s trademark and, like ‘Pulse X’, inform tons of later producers, it blew the door open for grime production to be whatever it wanted, while also creating its own micro-genre.”
Lethal Bizzle, “Pow! (Forward)” (Relentless Records, 2004)
“OMG POW! I believe this was grime’s biggest hit at the time—maybe of all time. Way before Skepta won a mercury. It charted at #11, and did so with absolutely zero compromise: there’s no pop hook, just Lethal B shouting ‘pow,’ and all the his buddies—some of the best MCs of that time—featuring on 8 bars each.”
Wiley, “Wot Do You Call It?” (XL Recordings, 2004)
“’Wot Do You Call It?’ was maybe Grime’s earliest hymn. There wasn’t a name for the genre yet. So before grime became grime, it had many names. Wiley tried to establish Eskibeat which later became his own personal grime sub-genre.”
Shystie, “I Luv You (Dizzee Rascal Reply” (Network Music, 2003)
“Shystie murdering Dizzee Rascal’s lyrics, and the beat is pure gold.”
Jammer, “Murkle Man” (Jahmektheworld, 2005)
“Jammer’s hoarse voice and flow are the punk of grime. He’s the most unnoticed member of [grime collective/record label] BBK but my absolute favorite. Even though JME gets points for being vegan and his ‘Poomplex might actually be my number two all-time favorite grime track, Jammer is my favorite BBK.”
Ruff Sqwad, “Pied Piper (Skepta Remix)” (Ruff Sqwad, 2004)
“Ruff Sqwad gets all the points for being there first. ‘Pied Piper’ was one of the first grime tracks I ever heard. Skepta’s remix makes it more garage-y and shows off the scale of his production skills in 2004 already.”
No Lay, “Unorthodox Daughter” (2006)
“This would be on the top of my list if it was actually from 2003 or 2004. But as it’s a bit of cheating to add a track from 2006 to this list, I’m putting it at the end. I think I first heard the Kingdom remix of this song. Listening to the original now, I have to say this might be my all-time favorite grime track.”