“You get smoked like Philly
Think you’re big but you’re just a little willy
Load magazines like Chantelle Fiddy
Make a man say ‘oh my diddy!’”
Meridian & Roll Deep,
It’s late at Rinse FM station party. MCs, DJs and headz are rammed into a small (literally) underground east London venue. A scream goes up at the bar. Skepta’s just dropped his new bars that name-check Chantelle, and that scream says she’s feeling them.
When I first heard those bars, if I hadn’t been sitting down, I probably would have fallen over. I was in a hotel room in California, but even 5000 miles from home, their impact and significance weren’t lost on me.
Ironically I first met Chan in west London, at some waste showcase. She was smoozing some major label a&r. The PR I was talking to for some reason already had taken a severe dislike to Chan. It wasn’t the best beginning of a friendship.
Through Deuce magazine (RIP), we soon found we had common ground. More than that, we had a common mission. It was 2002/3 and 2step garage, in the eye of the industry and the media, was officially “dead.” Unaware of the efforts of a few co-pioneering bloggers, we looked around us at UK magazines. We saw a garage-free medium. Contrast that with the explosion of new sounds to be found flourishing around us on London’s streets, and you have the essence of what in effect became a full time quest.
Three years later and things look a little better. Sure, there’s an obvious glass ceiling to the majority of MCs’ careers and only a few will ever sign to a major, but at least grime artists are playing in New York, Brussels and Tokyo. Wiley and Skepta look out of place at V Festival, but at least they’re there. Lethal B, Roll Deep, Kano, Dizzee x2, Wiley and Statik have all dropped albums. Run the Road is on volume 2.
So what’s so special about a Skepta lyric name checking Fiddy?
Firstly freelance journalism is a thankless task. For ages MCs felt they didn’t need journalists, probably because their peers don’t read magazines (bar RWD or the Source), because on the whole they’re written by and for middle class white audiences. Also print criticism is, to them, akin to verbal on-road merkery – something to strike back against.
It’s also a thankless task because there’s no money or long term future in magazine journalism - I’ve never found a landlord that will accept rent paid in promo CDrs. It’s hard work: the only reason to do it, bar none, is because you believe in the words you write. All other motives are aberrations. All this considered, thanks from an MC is a gratefully accepted gift. Wiley said my name on the mic at FWD>> once - it made my week. But Skepta writing bars about Chan: that’s next level.
The second reason why that lyric is so big goes deeper into the essence of grime. Dizzee and Wiley, back in 2002/3, had the vital vision that grime would be about artists not MCs, about culture not DJs. But post the Rephlex “Grime” compilations, and with the snide Grimm Dubz series for sale online, a lot of people, especially the new Rephlex/IDM recruits, want to confuse a culture with a sound.
I’ve debated definitions of grime before. The grime scene, in the strictest sense of who that means, is a particular London generation. Their lyrics, their language, their reference points and their attitudes are distinct. Though it has changed a little in the last year, with labels interacting with grime artists than ever, on the whole to outsiders, the scene is remarkably impenetrable. You can have their digits, you can meet them and visit their studios or their estates, but largely over time, you won’t even register as part of their world. Just listen to all their lyrics: they’re about their acute local micro environment.
So when Chantelle’s name is being used, it means she’s crossed a line very few non-members of generation grime ever achieve. And that’s so big, it had to be said.