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Don’t wash out the grime, MOBO

James-Easy-1Ignoring Grime contradicts MOBOs’ role and purpose, says James Easy

Looking at this year’s MOBO nominees, and guest line-up, it is yet again a surprise to see that they have failed to showcase Grime music – the sound that brought to the attention of the mainstream the talented Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder.

It has baffled Grime fans, for time immemorial, how the award show’s organisers act as though the genre isn’t important. At best it gets a fleeting reference as being where the aforementioned artists came from, but it ignores the substance and depth underlying the genre.

Chipmunk won an award, but many other Grime artists are sidelined

Chipmunk won an award, but many other Grime artists are sidelined

The calculating way in which this comes across is reminiscent of the Grammy Awards in the US, which only began acknowledging Rap in 1991, where the first award went to MC Hammer of all people. Where was the respect for the erstwhile Hip-Hop-hop greats?

The early blackballing of Rap at the Grammys was always to be expected however, since the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences who run the event, had never claimed to be about the promotion of urban/black music.

Weirdly, more respect can be offered to the Grammys because at least it was clear what they were about. If you hadn’t sold X million records don’t even consider yourself for contention. Didn’t Malcolm X once say he had more respect for a man who lets him know where he stands, even if it is wrong? The same can be applied here.

The MOBOs seems to hides its real intention under the façade of celebrating black music. What is the point of an awards show claiming to promote urban/black music ignoring what some believe to be the most exciting genre of music anywhere since Hip-Hop?

Is it lack of record sales? Is it an avoidance of the negative implications of Grime that ignorance allows people to believe represents it? Right now, it seems like the latter – which is a contradiction when you look at the lyrics of some artists they have given awards to.

Ironically, it’s Grime music that has helped to keep many young black people off the streets and out of prison. Grime’s effect isn’t to increase violence, its effect is, largely, to inspire other young boys to go and make Grime themselves; to many, it’s their most accessible route to achieving their dreams.

To my knowledge, the MOBO organisers have never publicly stated why they feel the need to treat Grime as though it doesn’t belong there, especially when the opposite is true. Grime is “of black origin” to its core – even better, of black British origin.

While it takes elements from all genres and some of its most talented and respected figures are white (e.g. Devlin MC and DJ Logan Sama), Grime is the only one that can truly call itself a creation of, largely, black British people – quite unlike some of the other genres celebrated at the awards. That distinction alone ought to be recognised by the event.

Contrary to what they would have you believe, Grime isn’t a sub-genre of Hip-Hop, and nor is Chipmunk a Hip-Hop/Rap artist. Categorising him (or any Grime MC for that matter) as either does both the Grime and Hip-Hop sounds a disservice.

The MOBOs claim to have played an “instrumental role in elevating black music and culture to mainstream popular status in the UK.” But the recent evidence suggests otherwise.

To most observers, it looks like the MOBO organisers’ ethos (towards Grime at least) is “become famous, mainstream and popular first, then we’ll take notice.” That’s precisely what they have done with the genre’s most successful exports thus far – Dizzee and Kano earlier on in the decade, and now Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk. Place your bets now for Speech Debelle becoming the poster girl of the MOBOs next year, despite her being ignored totally this year.

The lack of respect for Grime seems to be borne out of an ignorance of its brilliance, what it stands for and of the immense pool of musical talent that exists in the scene. There are artists whose lyrical ability (for instance) has the potential to match up to any US Hip-Hop artist. Similarly, there are some exceptionally talented producers/engineers who have their own captivating sounds.

For instance, how Wiley has yet to be recognised for his role in the evolution of Grime is beyond belief. There has been a recent argument suggesting that he could be considered the most important British musician of the decade. I wouldn’t disagree. His back catalogue of productions, his work-rate and overall influence on the scene is unrivalled.

What’s more, some national newspapers like the Independent and the Guardian have realised the positive elements Grime contains and are outflanking the MOBO award organisers with their knowledge and coverage of the scene.

More widely, the Mercury Prize is outflanking the MOBOs in bringing through undiscovered black talent across all genres, something I don’t believe the MOBO awards has ever done – surely an embarrassment for them.

Until this snobbish attitude towards Grime music changes, the MOBOs will always appear as nothing more than a celebration of black music (a lot of which is annoyingly US focused) already accepted by mainstream audiences, rather than one pushing black British music waiting to ‘blow’.

Their propensity to play it safe rather than to take risks makes a mockery of what they’re supposed to stand for.

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