Friday, March 25, 2005

Go on then!?

This piece Lives blighted by adversity and governed by the gun, appeared earlier this month but due to broadband nightmares I haven't been able to post it.

To me, from my experience of London and listening to the experiences of people who seem to live around guns, it seems the most accurate portrayal of the issues that I've seen in the national media. No talk of wishy washy initiatives or schemes, no rhetoric or bitter blame, just a grassroots representation of the psychology that exists in the darkest bits of our cities.

All this from a survey of just 15 men. It begs the question, "why the hell wasn't it done earlier?"

This paragraph is on the money:

What emerges most clearly from the research is that the problem is social as well as criminal, and that it defies easy answers. All the 15 men had been victims of crime. Significantly, only three turned to the police. The majority abided by peer group codes which obliged them to seek personal retribution for fear of being labelled a grass. One said: "You go to the police, you're a low life." Another added: "If someone kills one of your people, you don't want to think of them going to prison. You're going to want to kill him."

This too, seems to fit the patterns of current urban voices:

One offender described the strong pull of such a lifestyle. "Kids are hungry because they have seen what they can achieve without going to school," he said. "They say 'I don't want to go to college or school. Look what my cousin can do. My cousin makes £1,000 a week.' They think it's all right." Another said: "I'm more likely to see a rich person in the 'hood that's made money from drugs than somebody in the 'hood that's made money from being a doctor, so I will learn from what I am closest to."

As does this:

"It is not just about drugs, it is certainly not just about yardies, and at best 'gangsta' rap has only a peripheral influence," they say.

I was listening 1Xtra's audio of dancehall's Sting event in Jamaica yesterday and was really struck by the lyrical differences between grime and dancehall. Although Jamaica may well have more guns, through religion there is still a conscious voice in dancehall, telling the gunmen to put their weapons down. The lyrics, on the whole, are fixated by/directed towards women.

Grime, perhaps London's equivalent voice, on the whole has no conscious side, especially live, and lyrically is almost without exception fixated by/directed towards other men.

I'm also haunted by something drum & bass artist Klute said in a biog interview with me late last year. Drawing on his experience of punk yet describing the current state of d&b, he commented on how scenes that rev themselves up often find it a dead end. Ultimately, revving is a cul-de-sac, where as the energy levels rise, the only thing left for them is to rise yet further before ultimately stalling.

Apply this to grime and you wonder where we're headed. Dynasty's set on Cameo the other week just descended into shouting. Roll Deep on Westwood has had me mesmerised for the days since it happened, but Skepta's lyrics - that generated huge response from the Entourge - are of concern. How can "go on then/go on then/Go on then/GO ON THEN/GO ON THEN!!!!!" be adept lyricism? Sounds like revving to me… and no one wants grime to stall.


rob them co said...

i think - well i'm sure u urself recognise the problem already - but so much of grime's appeal to ppl has been the re-engaging of crowd hype (via h-core continuum blah if thats wot u want to call it(which by the by surely demands burning bright as it can until it extinguishes itself?)) versus say live rap's usual awkward recitation that it seems slightly unfair to suddenly shear grime lyrics of their agit-p(r)op excitedness for want of lack of content; and while ur live dancehall example neatly bypasses the question of live hype context vs recorded material to be relistened context it's still fanciful to say ragga has grown out of gunman lyrics or anything. perhaps 'grown around'?

furthermore i can't help but think that had u quoted skepta's entire lyric, which if i remember right goes something like "gworn then gworn then draw for the chetti/ make u look like a bowl of spaghetti" and then attributed it to d double we would all be clapping politely at another delightful flight of lyrical gangsta fancy.

i dunno, i mean, u don't not have a point. but u put it quite harshly.

Derek Walmsley said...

Like Rob Them Co I quite dig Skepta's lyrics actually, but your comments about Dynasty are for me spot on.

Each radio sets I've heard by them always descends/ascends into the same lyrical riff- "It's marcie... it's fen.... flash that lighter bup bup bup bup bust that skeng!". The meat of the riff is just gun noises- usually the kind of thing that's shouted after the rewind, not before it. Anyway, there are usually about 100 rewinds of this lyric in Dynasty sets, which purely on a formal level (ie regardless of gun-content) gets pretty tedious.

Mind you, Dynasty tunes I've heard have been pleasantly surprising.

Desy Boy said...

Get a life mate. It's just kids letting off steam. If you bother to listening to a whole set you'll realise that JME and Skepta run thru a variety of lyrics and subjects in their verses but if you take hype up highlights of anything (including many white middle class England fans' day) then you could argue that the whole nation is made out from yobs and hooligans. Like it or not, violence or at least the threat of violence, is exhilartating to young males. If you're from the kind of environments where these guys are from (where your rep is more or less the currency) you would understand that.

However, if the listeners of these records... scratch that, the inner city listeners of these records had viable alternatives in life they would treat this as much a part of entertainment as I treat Jet Li flicks. But when these guys are spitting what could well be someone's reality then it's up to those responsible in society (duh, everyone) to make sure that viable alternatives to having a comfortable life are provided. If not then "go on then, go on then, go on then, go on then you fool / lick a man in the jawside with a stool..." won't just be a amusing lyric but a credo for your next head kicking appointment.