As grime music was slowly diluted in a bid to make it acceptable for the mainstream, the artists who once pioneered this gritty genre turned to electro beats and vacuous female backing singers to sell their records. Grime became confused. The usual jaw rattling bass, rapid snares and angry lyrics had now been replaced with soft synths, pop melodies and soppy lyrical content that made Mills and Boon look savage.
However, not all integrity of the street genre was lost in its commercial transformation. In amongst the brain numbing pop records - falsely tagged with grime - have been some truly grime worthy commercial tunes that have not only kept their honour, but have also appealed to a more knowing mainstream audience without donning the teeny bopper hat.
Kano - P's and Q's
One of the first commercially accepted grime records to emerge in the UK was Kano's "P's and Q's" in 2004. Kano's creative flair for intricate similes, laced with a unique flow seemed marketable even in the early days of pirate radio sets on Deja. Kano had an edge in terms of charisma, and the release of P's and Q's proved that there was more to him than dubious gun slinger lyrics and sporadic 24 bar chats for radio.
P's and Q's was made up of a structure different to the clattering bass lines and rapid fire bars that we were used to, but it was definitely still grime, and it was good. The beat complimented Kano's now laid back style and the content was more mainstream friendly than grimes fundamental crack dealing, gun toting verses that often frequented dubplates in those days.
P's and Q's brought a sense of professionalism almost unprecedented in the grime scene at that time. Ironically, the fact that it wasn't even released into the charts, being available only as a 12" record, makes P's and Q's truly ahead of its time.
Scratchy - Girls
As a long haired, skinny white paradox emerged into the grime scene discharging bars about "B-U-N" and having leather fists, Scratchy D made his mark by being one of the most original MC's to grace the genre. After years of making a name for himself on sets and dropping notorious war dubs, Scratchy seemed to put grime on the backburner after the first Roll Deep album received little praise from the original fans.
However, Scratchy was working quietly behind the scenes on a masterpiece, as proved by his first mainstream release "Girls."
This is a track that every man can surely relate to. With a chorus - half sung by Scratchy - consisting of bars like "Girls, they do your nut in, I've opened up the door but now it's shutting," this track is the perfect example of how to do light hearted conceptual grime. Some would probably argue that a lack of foghorn bass and explicit content makes this tune unworthy of the grime title, but the genre has evolved whether we like it or not, and tunes like this are an example of how it can be done properly.
Despite its promise though, Girls didn't exactly make an impact on the charts; even Scratchy's half naked missus gyrating on the kitchen floor couldn't push it into the limelight. This is more likely down to the record labels PR department in my opinion though, as they pushed the younger wordsmith Devlin a little harder at the time.
Wiley - Numbers in Action
The self-dubbed "godfather of grime" seemed always destined to blow as his back catalogue has more consistency than most. The MC/Producer would've arguably been sat upon the podium a long time before now, had he stepped back from his bitter disputes with record company executives.
But as is the same with his music, Wiley has never been one to shy away from conflict. If he's not slewing the next MC claiming to have snared his crown, then he's publically humiliating big noise PR firms and dumping whole albums worth of studio tracks on to the internet for free. Regardless of Wiley's sporadic behaviour and often bizarre theories when it comes to music, he is one of the most consistent creators of decent commercial grime.
Although breaking properly into the charts with Wearing my Rolex - an electro tune - Wiley has since kept mostly true to his roots by balancing acceptable mainstream grime releases with hardened grime tracks in between hits on his albums. Numbers in Action is Wiley's latest release, and it feels like grown up grime for fans of proper music, whether that be grime or anything else.
With the right management and PR, Wiley could be the pioneer of commercial grime that's actually still worth listening to (unlike his old friend Dizzee Rascal), proving that there's definitely method in his madness.
Despite some grime artists making big money by wearing huge chains, having the charisma of a grey wall and talking about themselves in the third person whilst excessively using slang, there are many commercial grime tunes out there that are actually worth their salt. I think the problem is that commercial grime can suffer from the same problem as old school grime once did - a lack of concept, or the same repetitive one. Some artists have allowed the sound of the estate to become a subgenre of pop music - now known as "urban" - by constantly talking in their songs about expensive night clubs in which they find beautiful one night stands and gallons of champagne.
No true fan of grime really wants to hear about all that over a watery electro pop instrumental, and whilst the genre had to evolve to make money, it didn't have to lose its integrity, as proven by the artists mentioned above.
We can't just blame the artists though, after spending years doing real grime and going nowhere, it's understandable that some will jump ship in a bid to make money. It's just a shame that record companies want rehashed N-Dubz sounding nonsense to sell to the drones of teeny boppers, rather than grown up grime that will appeal to the original listeners who once bought bootleg Sidewinder tape-packs and white label dubplates from Rhythm Division. But there's still hope, amongst the pretty boy love tunes and contrived party tracks, there are still established artists out there trying to break the mainstream with commercial grime that's actually worth its salt.
Follow Jake Hanrahan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OiJake