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Realness Lies in the Reality of the Lyrics

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"Hip-hop's claim to fame is the claim of authenticity in its undaunted portrayals of ghetto reality", writes Professor S. Craig Watkins. Here, Watkins assumingly refers to the segregation of the urban community from the mainstream; with ghetto reality being argued as the validation for hip-hop's own marginalisation within its own communities, namely that of its women and normalisation of certain actions and traits.

Does is it really comes down to blaming these outcomes on the idea of the self fulfilling prophecy? Strong stereotypes have always existed when it comes to the relationship between urban music and youth, and they never seem to be getting better. In the wake of the 2011 riots, British urban music started becoming the target of accusation: they were blamed for the promotion of a culture of entitlement. Lethal Bizzle, a UK grime artist infamously declared prime minister David Cameron a "donut" for the way in which he demonised an entire subculture and section of society without having any idea of its background or history.

Hip-hop and grime in the UK, perhaps like most cultures, is defined by the internal contradictions it faces. Arguably, it is these contradictions which keep the culture alive and current; pushing it to further its knowledge and reputation. As with most marginalised subcultures, rap, hip-hop and grime within the UK arena touch on some of the most prominent conflicting ideas, namely: materialism versus the more humble idea of life, the differing paths of what society deems successful versus the "keep it real" mentality, and one of the most prominent (which also arises not only in this culture, but has been around for centuries with regards to the notions of race, class and so forth) is that of the community versus the individual. This feeds greatly into the "us" versus "them" mentality. The marginalisation of a subsection of society due to a collection of factors. The factors? In the UK it heavily includes race, the class system, and in some respects, gender also.

The grime genre brings into question whether the media portrayal has tarnished it as a wholly black subculture, or as a distinctive black subculture. It should be noted also that research or information on this genre of music has been somewhat scarce, leading to the misunderstanding and communication not only from the media and politicians, but from the artists themselves.

Having originated in the 2000s and as an off shoot from the UK garage scene, grime started to acquire followers when the likes of Wiley and Dizzee Rascal became more prominent circa 2003: releasing their albums Treddin' on Thin Ice and Boy in da Corner respectively. Many, as previously stated and much the belief of many in the present day, believe that grime music (as with hip-hop) plays a crucial role in the glamourisation of drugs, violence and misogyny. One may want to argue that yes, these assets are discussed heavily within the lyrics of grime music; but whether they are glamorised can be disputed greatly also. These elements it seems are incontrovertible and that yes, grime does have a grounding in these. Yet, who is to say that there are many artists who are not glamourising them but instead rapping against these stereotypes and idea? An example of grime artists who have time and again talked about these topics within their raps are Akala, Mic Righteous and Lowkey. Just as their other grime counterparts, they acknowledge that drugs are rife to some, that women are disrespected and that violence is sometimes only a cuss away. Akala has been recorded stating, in the Channel 4 documentary Life of Rhyme that within the culture of rap battles (whereby one MC battles/free verses against another under time constraints), he chooses not to partake, "whilst I respect the skill involved, I personally don't battle. Simply because MC's can and will resort to everything from blatant racism, to cussing each other's mums... And that's not really my thing".

To mark out the qualities of a skilful rapper, one must look out for verbal mastery, delivery, creativity and personal style. Successful rappers in the grime scene, be they male or female, entice an audience through their stage presence, persona and what their lyrics have to say. Of course, successful rappers' lyrics must reflect the appearance of total self-confidence, and they must commit to what they are saying. The realness lies in the reality of their lyrics.

Predominantly in its infancy, grime was the work of the black working class youth subculture, though having now escalated to all races and ethnicities. As of late, grime has seen a surge in what is not normally thought of as the target market; with many artists infusing the genre with pop or dance beats broadening the audience capacity. Examples lie with more indie films such as the 2006 film Kidulthood and the 2008 film Adulthood, to more mainstream and commercialised portrayals of UK urban youths (mainly in and around London) such as E4's most recent show, Youngers.

Cultures such as grime have had profound effects and influences within British society. Since post emigration of ethnic minorities from the Commonwealth era, Britain has witnessed distinctive ethnic cultures emerging. Rooting from the growing racism and discrimination, happening through a number of avenues. Parent culture somewhat influenced youth subcultures. And the result sounds better than ever: don't dismiss it before you hear it.