Grime artists have always had their finger on the pulse.
If you walked through Bow in the mid-2000s, you would have thought Akademiks sponsored the entire scene. Dee Cee’s on Roman Road could hook you up with custom airbrushed Nike Air Force 1s, fitted New Era caps, throwback NBA jerseys…whatever you needed to look the sharpest on the block. But these items would set most people back some serious pee and coming off the back of draconian nightclub legislation alongside a slowly declining vinyl market, disposable income was scarce. Seeding from big brands was even harder to come by, and while some of the top MCs might’ve been dressed to the nines in exclusive American imports and oneaway creps, this was usually self-funded and respectable brand partnerships were still a distant speck on the horizon for most of the Grime scene.
Perhaps the earliest examples of Grime acts used as influencers by brands were Roll Deep, who were kitted out with black Nike tracksuits for the iconic ‘When I’m ‘Ere’ video in early 2005, and regularly received drops from Adidas in the years before that in order to elevate the status of the label. Typically brands were reticent to recognise artists, even when overtly referenced in songs. That same year Lady Sovereign released ‘Hoodie’, where the famous ‘three stripes’ of Adidas remained an aspirational aim, rather than material reality.
For Dr Joy White, Grime artists have always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. These ‘artist entrepreneur[s]…resides in “the ends” or poor neighbourhoods, with very few resources’, ‘create work for themselves or others or both’. This guile and self-determinism has been shown by countless artists and homegrown platforms.
For Dr Joy White, whose book Terraformed examines the intersection of politics and music in Newham. Grime artists have always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. These ‘artist entrepreneur[s]…reside in “the ends” or poor neighbourhoods, with very few resources’, and who—despite these limitations —‘create work for themselves or others or both’. This guile and self-determinism has been shown by countless artists and homegrown platforms. SB:TV, JDZ Media and GRM Daily were all once bedroom ventures that later surpassed mainstream competitors through content creation that provided on-the-ground insight and lifestyle recommendations. Building successful ventures from the ground up doesn’t go unnoticed. And while artists often had to deal with unequal creative partnerships that used to stretch as far as a free pair of kicks, artists are now working with brands to mutually further their reach.
Despite consistent support from a small number of iconic shows like Soccer AM, whose music programming has always been on the cutting edge of a cross-section of cultures, throughout the majority of its lifetime your chances of hearing the current Grime hits on your television were mostly extremely limited. However the past few years have seen a boom in Grime placements across advertising, fashion, and sports programming: Dexplicit’s instrumental for “Pow” soundtracked a beaming toddler dancing around in his new bedroom for Zoopla; Skepta and Lethal Bizzle’s “I Win” galvanised two cartoon roosters jostling for a slam dunk with KFC; and Treble Clef’s infamous “Ghetto Kyote” instrumental lit up the catwalk for Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton Spring-Summer collection.
The most striking development, though, is the rise in bespoke campaigns. Most festive periods are filled with drab, overly emotive adverts from John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Argos. In December 2019, however, D Double E teamed up with IKEA to deliver one of the most memorable Christmas shorts in recent time.
The most striking development, though, is the rise in bespoke campaigns. Most festive periods are filled with drab, overly emotive adverts from John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Argos. In December 2019, however, D Double E teamed up with IKEA to deliver one of the most memorable Christmas shorts in recent time. Picture the scene. A family idling through a Sunday afternoon in their run-down flat. Suddenly, all the inanimate objects in the apartment come to life, berating the layout and furniture choices: an aloof china Panda calls the place “disgusting”; a Maneki-neko, complete with waving paw, lambasts their tired decorations; before a green T-Rex utters the now infamous line: “It’s very, very unacceptable”. The campaign was a runaway success, resulting in a follow-up single ‘Fresh’n’Clean’, innovative T-Shirt designs and a 2020 round-up freestyle in a similar vein for BBC Radio 1’s Greg James. And D Double E’s voice once again graces televisions this festive period appearing in Camden Breweries latest advert as The Camden Giftnotist.
Taking bespoke campaigns to extremes saw P Money team up with production outfit Star.One to create a track from scratch to market Subway‘s plant-based menu options earlier this year. Using the rather unique hook of sampling frequencies of the electro-magnetic signals given off by plants themselves, this very tongue in cheek campaign really pushed the envelope for big corporations signalling the importance of the voice of Grime artists endorsing their brand message. The project was documented by legendary videographer Jamal Edwards of SBTV fame.
Instead of enduring beige indie ballads on the home screen of FIFA, you can tune in to P Money, AJ Tracey, Manga Sauint Hilare and Kamakaze, while Joy Orbison’s Still Slipping station offers you the opportunity to drive a Pegassi Tezeract through a Los Santos shopfront listening to Mez and Grandmixxer’s “Babylon Can’t Roll”.
The formative period of Grime from the late 90s through the turn of the millennium would have seen many of your favourite acts splitting their teenage years equally between pirate radio and their Playstation or Nintendo 64 consoles. So to see that Grime has also gone big into the gaming world is no surprise. Especially considering how many tracks name drop classic titles: from JME’s ‘Mario Flag’, to D Double E’s ‘Streetfighter Riddim’ alongside fabled tales of (proto-Grime) artists cutting their teeth making instrumental beats on the PlayStation with Music 2000 or even Mario Paint on the SNES.
The 2019 launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare featured Silencer going toe-to-toe with P Money, Flowdan and Asher D, and now Grime and Rap acts have become a standard presence at COD activations every season as brands like Rinse FM and Ultra Haze curate events which reflect the current musical tastes of the majority of their players. Grime is even more prominently featured in games like FIFA and recently updated Grand Theft Auto V. Both publishers have enlisted a huge number of Grime releases for their licensed in game soundtracks. Instead of enduring beige indie ballads on the home screen of FIFA, you can tune in to P Money, AJ Tracey, Manga Saint Hilare and Kamakaze, while Joy Orbison’s Still Slipping station offers you the opportunity to drive a Pegassi Tezeract through a Los Santos shopfront listening to Mez and Grandmixxer’s “Babylon Can’t Roll”. Thanks to publishing companies like Metropolis and MaxMusic working closely with both artists and publishers, the Grime community now eagerly awaits the tracklist reveals of these big titles.
West London MC Big Zuu has also been leading the way. Alongside the success of his award winning Dave Original series “Big Zuu’s Big Eats”, which recently received a BAFTA nomination, he has regularly featured as a guest on SkySports—predicting an impending Liverpool swoop for Kylian Mbappé— collaborated with Pret A Manger for their vegan “Meatless Meatball Ting” range and even taken to the pitch for 2021’s Soccer Aid.
And most Friday nights on Channel 4 are now presided over by Big Narstie and Mo Gilligan on their BAFTA-winning show. The first season of the Big Narstie Show saw a 94% share increase for 16–24 year olds, and guests since its launch have spanned across Sir Spyro, Thandie Newton, Craig David, and even Ed Sheeran, the godfather to one of Narstie’s children.
Effectively, then, we’ve come full circle. From Grime artists’ aspirational purchasing of American brands to becoming embedded in the mainstream marketplace, where huge retailers like JD Sports are taking the lead from performers. JD started life in Bury, Greater Manchester, but is now a worldwide brand registering over £3.8 billion in revenue for first half 2021, up from £592.2m for the year in 2008 where it officially changed its name from “The John David Group PLC” – catchy, eh? And whilst it may have been a rare hype to recognise an artist on a JD billboard or in an advertising campaign in years past, now it’s commonplace as their regular yearly Christmas advertising campaign is bursting with cameos from the culture.
In 2016 Manchester’s own Bugzy Malone partnered with the JD Sports owned Supply & Demand to launch his own B Malone clothing line which was sold exclusively in JD stores. The release of his own X1 shoe sold out instantly as his fanbase clamoured to snap up a pair.
These “artist-entrepreneurs” have offered a playful take on Grime culture that both resonates with a wide audience and has inspired clothing outlets to market street styles that reflect the everyday outfits of the scene’s most celebrated performers. But it is not just retailers that have looked to harness the voice of Grime to promote their message in recent years.
Underlining the cultural zeitgeist that was his rise to nationwide musical stardom the year before, 2016 saw Manchester United opt to use Stormzy as the voice to announce one of the biggest transfer deals in world football as Paul Pogba signed from Juventus. There were 13 years between Lady Sovereign’s ode to the three stripe and Stormzy’s lucrative deal with Adidas (penned in 2018), but Grime MCs and DJs have been knocking on the door since the days of Avirex hoodies and Air Max 90s at Eskimo Dance. As Tinchy said back in ’07, there have always been stars in the hood, it just took the brands time to catch up and realise the levels.