raising the bars: grime’s most influential women give their 2 cents

With mainstream media’s tendency to lazily label grime culture as something of a boys club we decided to speak to some of the scene’s seminal female players about why that’s just not the case.

Unanimously, all agreed that their gender has never been a problem and that the thriving community is a supportive and inclusive one to be a member of with a shared passion for the music providing the network’s glue. We quizzed them on the first grime tracks they ever heard, about their favourite MCs and bars, about what’s in store for the genre’s future and just why everyone’s got a soft spot for I Luv U.

Julie Adenuga, Broadcaster

What was the first grime track you remember hearing? 

JME - Serious

Best rave you've ever been to? 

Dirty Canvas at The ICA

Best bars ever? 

What an impossible question! OH MY GOSH! WHAT?! "When I started the game, I picked up a Q/Cue” [JME]

Best female MC? 

NoLay

Song that goes off every time you play it? 

Skepta - Man

Which other women you are inspired by in the grime scene? 

Lady Leshurr

Sian Anderson DJ, broadcaster, PR, promoter

Why did you start Sightracked and who do you look after? 

I started Sightracked by accident, I was a journalist and I was interviewing P Money, Little Dee and Blacks (OG’s) for a load of different publications for their mixtape releases, other journalists would always get in touch with me to connect them so they could interview them too. After the interviews they’d ask for like “biog/ press shots etc” and the MC’s didn’t have those assets. Suddenly, I was their PR. Now I look after P Money, Capo Lee and DJ Logan Sama. 

What's your favourite grime record of all time and why?

Wiley – Where’s My Brother (Produced By Bless Beats). It never gets old to me. The introduction is instrumental based and sets you up as though it’s going to be a classical tune, but then Wiley comes in MC-ing - but melodically - almost like he’s singing, but he’s ready for war from the first bar “I told these yutes it’s over”…

How would you describe the current grime scene in the UK now? 

It’s regional. There’s real raw authentic grime coming from Birmingham (Saf One, Jaykae, Sox), Manchester (Hypes and XP) Coventry (Skatta and Subzero) Nottingham (Mez, Snowy and Kyeza) everywhere really. Grime sounds so good in other accents that’s it is like a whole new refreshing grime sound that’s managed to retain the nostalgic feel you get when you listen to old school grime.

Does it ever feel like a 'boys club'? 

It is a boys club, but women are never not welcomed into it. The only people who make an issue out of grime being predominantly male are the media, no one in the grime scene cares, there’s bare girls, the mandem look after us. 

What's the best rave you've ever put on?

SBTV x SighTracked at Outlook Festival 2014. P Money, Sir Spyro, Logan Sama, Newham Generals, True Tiger and Big Narstie. Essentially all of my favourite people on a huge stage in Croatia lenging down.

Who do you hang with from the scene? Does it feel like a family? 

It’s such a family. I guess my favourite people to hang with in grime are Julie Adenuga, Vicky Grout, Joseph Patterson, Capo Lee, Foostie, P Money, Spyro… There are too many names to mention, everyone is bless. 

Who's your favourite MC and why?

This is a hard one. Wiley and Skepta because #greatness. D Double E and Newham Generals too; Maxsta for his storytelling ability, Capo Lee because his flow is refreshing, AJ Tracey because he has this trap-rap feel to his MC style that I like, P Money cause he is the hardest barer, Chip because he doesn’t run out of bars. 

Best bars ever? 

“If I hear man say my name I’ll ring them. If I hear any gun talk on my 3310, find out where they are and link them” Skepta –  iSpy.

What other women in the "scene" inspire you? 

Julie Adenuga and Hyperfrank. They liked grime and pushed it forward when “grime” wasn’t a buzz-word. Grime has never been a business to them it has always been a sound and a culture that they love. They’ve never compromised in order to get grime out to the masses in its truest form either. That’s always been inspiring. 

Vicky Grout, Photographer

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv U. Heard it on someone’s phone at the back of a bus when I was eleven.

How would you describe the current grime scene in the UK now?

Grime’s slowly making it to the mainstream without actually going mainstream.

When did you start photographing people in the grime scene?

I started going to shows and raves when I was 17 and I decided to pick up my camera. When people see the Skepta Shutdown shot I took they’re surprised that it was taken by a tiny 5ft 1 woman.

Does the community feel like a family? 

I’d definitely call Faze Miyake, AJ Tracey and Novelist close friends. Yeah it definitely does feel like a family especially when I’m at a Butterz night.

Best bars ever by a female MC? 

When Mz Bratt says ‘Pretty little lighty but I can get dark’ in Terror Danjah’s This Year. Basically she’s saying ‘I’m a woman but don’t fuck with me’ which I love…

What other women in the "scene" inspire you?

Sian Anderson and Julie Adenuga. Although they are not musicians, they both play a huge part in the scene. Not only are they two of the most dedicated women I know, but they are also two of the waviest.

DJ Barely Legal

Why did you start your label Pretty Weird?

I started my 1xtra residency with Mistajam in 2011 and really enjoyed the aspect of finding brand new artists and giving them their first radio play and exposure.

When did you start Djing? 

I think I was about 19. I needed a hobby during university so I spent next months rent money on some technic 1210s...

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

More Fire Crew – Oi. I would have been 11 when this came out.

How would you describe the current grime scene in the UK now? 

So alive and universal. I just played out in Australia and NZ last month – this would not have been the case a few years ago.

Does it feel like a family? 

My best friend from the scene is Chimpo from Manchester and all of his Manchester crew (the Levelz lot basically) definitely feel like family. We all look out for each other.

Best bars ever? 

'Your mums got athletes foot, flat face, flat chest, blacker than soot' from Lethal B VS Wiley. Jokes!

Who's you new artist selection?

A producer called Near from Bristol.

C Cane, MC

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

So Solid –  21 Seconds, my cousin asked me if I’d heard this ‘hardddd' new track, eventually it came on MTV Base and I fell in love with it 

What's your favourite grime record of all time and why?

Ghetts Ft. Dot Rotten - Trained To Kill only because I remember how gassed I was off it. I listened to that track over and over for weeks…

Where's the best spot/venue/club to hear grime artists spit? 

Radar Radio or Mode FM are the radio stations to hear grime artists on, or 'The Den', in terms of London venues.

Best bar you’ve ever written...?

‘tika bango.. ba yebi te ba zali ba accro, ko loba makambu ba salaka te ezalaka te, musala mabe wapi ba sango’. It’s written in Lingala because it opened a lot of doors for me in Grime.

What other women in the "scene" inspire you? 

Sian Anderson, Julie Adenuga, Flava D and Ms Dynamite, 100%. 

Lilz, PR

When did you start as a PR working with grime artists?

Well, from as far back as dropping out of school at the age of 15. From working with Flukes promoting historic favourites like “Wifey Riddim” to working with producers like Rudekid on tracks like So Nice, I’ve literally always been here.

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

I think the first Grime track(s) that took me were Wiley - Eskimo, Kano Ps & Qs and Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv You. SLK’s Hype Hype was definitely a firm favourite too.

How would you describe the current grime scene in the UK now?

HEALTHY! I think it’s really special that, despite its growing commercial interest there is still a tight knit circle and some serious die-hard, cult fans that have helped keep it all authentic.

When you started out did you feel the scene was getting proper representation?

Definitely not. We only had select radio stations and of course Channel AKA. It was hard to distinguish actual talent from saturated bullshit. However, the BBKs and The Movement’s of the scene gave everyone that shimmer of hope that this actually is a serious genre with real artists that could take the charts and nation by storm.

What's it like doing a guest list for something like Eskimo Dance?

HELL. Literal hell. My phone is on divert from days before.

Sum up an Eskimo party in three words…

For me? Gruelling, stressful and busy. For ravers? BEST IN GRIME.

What’s the maddest thing you've ever had to do for your job?

Carrying 1000s of CDs in my suitcase to Ayia Napa and getting strange looks and questions from customs.

Who do you hang with from the scene?

Cheeky, the main man 2nd to Wiley behind Eskimo Dance and many other parties. Ghetts is just someone who you can speak to at 8am or midnight and he’s always there to motivate me. Wiley, well, he’s just Wiley and it’s an honour to be able to pick up the phone and speak to the legend. Chip and Novelist always give me spiritual grounding. Deep humans.

What other women in the "scene" inspire you?

Hattie Collins and Chantelle Fiddy. They’ve never compromised what they represent and in turn have become legends and have made it possible for women like me to have a career. Hyperfrank, her journalism is fearless and direct to the point and she takes no shit.

Georgia LA, Presenter, producer, journalist

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv U – shouts to the minidisc crew on the bus home from school!

What's your favourite grime record of all time and why?

Skepta I Spy is definitely up there. I’m a softie though. I love old Kano like, Night Night and Brown Eyes and Ps & Qs obviously.

What's your favourite track to play out?

Natalie Storm – Boys For Breakfast which is basically her talking about digesting lads for her first meal of the day over the Eskimo riddim.

Who's your favourite MC and why?

Personally I still think Devlin is the most talented MC we’ve seen. D Double E always brings the lols. One of his best is on Street Fighter Riddim: "Cos I'm shocking MCs like Blanka / I got money in the bank, I'm a banker / You ain't got money in the bank, you're a wanker." Fair play bro!

What other women in the "scene" inspire you?

Well look at all the things Hattie Collins has done, and has only ever been a complete G, super up for helping others and generous and with her contacts - that attitude is inspirational and what I aspire to.

Hattie Collins, Author, This is Grime. (pictured with photographer Olivia Rose)

When and why did you decide to do This Is Grime

I've wanted to do a book on grime for years, but the timing never felt right for publishers. Then around 2014 it felt right to try again. Earlier last year I had some life changing events and I think I just felt like I wanted to take on a project just because this was something I'd wanted to do it for so long and I really felt like the scene deserved it. I met up with Olivia to see if she wanted to shoot it with me. The only thing I'd change is to have done the book with [Chantelle] Fiddy. Maybe in 10 years time she will be up for doing it, we'll see.

What was the first grime track you remember hearing, and how did it make you feel?

It was a white label of Dizzee's I Luv U that my friend Fiddy played me, and my initial reaction was “Urgh, get this off!”. I was strictly a US hip hop/ R&B/ dancehall fan and I thought it sounded like horrible, abrasive noise. Then a few days later, I asked her to play it again, and it dawned on me that is was thrilling and brilliant and completely unlike anything I'd ever heard before.

What's your favourite grime record of all time and why?

That’s too hard. If I had to pick, I'd have When I'm 'Ere because it sums up the energy and the ethos of grime so well. Firstly, it's a crew tune, which is the only way anyone got on in grime back then, you had to be part of a crew, there were no 'solo' MC's in that sense. So on When I'm Ere, produced by the hugely underrated Danny Weed, you have 5 or 6 of the biggest MC's of that period, in an 8-bar rally, you have 140 BPM, you have those ice-cold synths and you have Wiley. All the elements of the culture in one place, at one time.

Can you recall the first grime artist you profiled in i-D? 

I know that JME, Jammer and Skepta were all in the mag around 2004/5 wearing Cassette Playa and JC de Castelbajac. In 2005, Chantelle and myself did a huge 20-page shoot with Jason Evans that Tim & Barry assisted. In there we had Kano, Terror Danjah, Roll Deep, Lady Sov etc.

Did you ever get any flack for being a woman in grime? 

The only time, oh the irony, was actually from middle class white boys. There used to be a forum called IXOR or something like that and all the nerdy white men would dissect grime in this hugely intellectual and pretty patronising manner. They would fanboy over all the male journalists and, predictably, diminish Chantelle and my contributions to either, not knowing what we were talking about or 'slags' who slept with the whole scene. Which was funny, because as a gay woman, I don't remember banging all the boys, but, hey, maybe my memory fails me! I've only ever been looked after and loved by the grime scene. Especially, I'd like to say, by Danny Weed, Target, Terror, JME, Kano, Skepta, Logan (even when I've annoyed him), Chip, Tinchy, Novelist and Wiley. Those guys in particular have been so generous with their time over the years. 

How has the scene changed from when you first started? 

People still do it for the love, and if the money follows, it follows. The return to the DIY ethos is really powerful - and I don't think JME gets enough credit for spearheading that idea that you actually don't need a record label, or to sell out your sound, to sell lots of records. It's all about INTEGRITY. The scene is much more white now than it once was - but that's what happened with hip-hop. In order for a scene to sustain itself, it needs to grow and flourish and to reach other groups of people. I like that the elders – Wiley, Skepta etc – are passing this ethos down to the youngers like Novelist and Stormzy. You need to work together, otherwise the whole thing falls apart.

Who's your favourite MC and why?

Wiley, because Wiley.

Best bars ever? 

All of Dizzee's Boy In Da Corner, all of Skepta, JME, Kano and Wiley's anythings, but I particularly love (I don't know why) Wiley's WD25 freestyle -  'Plus I eat lamb curry and roti/ I'm a war MC they can all quote me/ And I might punch you in the boat-y, when you get up everything seems floaty/ I guess you want to find me but I move low-key...Jheez! Plus also this line is so powerful - 'I only do black on black grime if I have to/ I know it ain't good, lets hope I don't have to..'

What other women in the "scene" inspire you? 

Every one of them – Chantelle, Laura Hyperfrank, Julie, Lilz, Olivia, Vicky, Rachel [Campbell, founder of Wired PR], Sarah Lockhart... literally every single woman in the scene because their passion and dedication and influence on grime matches, if not surpasses, that of the men.

Olivia Rose, Photographer, This Is Grime

What picture put you on the map?

Probably my Guardian Guide cover of Skepta if my Instagram following is anything to go by. That shoot got me 1k new followers in 3 days.

What's the picture you're proudest of and why?

From This Is Grime it's probably the smiling close up of Dizzee Rascal, which I shot in New York. There was something about the fact that Hattie and I had to travel half way across the world to get the shot that makes it a perfect expression of the six months we worked on the book.

What do you hope This Is Grime's legacy is? 

I hope that when we are all dead and gone, This Is Grime documents a moment in musical history that can no longer be told first hand. Hattie and I really felt the responsibility to treat the subject with as much reverence and respect as possible because we knew we had a responsibility to every single person that has worked their arse off over decades in order to make grime what it is today.

What was the first grime track you remember hearing, and how did it make you feel?

It wasn't a track it was the whole Boy In Da Corner album. I don't think I knew I was listening to 'Grime' but I know it was the first time I actually wanted to learn bars.

How would you describe the current grime scene in the UK now? 

Bursting with greatness. Invigorated, recognised, solidified, ready to progress the genre and it's reputation to the next level...

Does it ever feel like a "boys club"? 

Yes for sure, it IS a boys club, but where there are boys, there are girls and those girls (even if they aren't in the spotlight) have more of an influence on the shaping of the genre than you might think.

What other women in the "scene" inspire you? 

Hattie Collins, Hyperfrank, Lilz, NoLay... to name but a few... there is something amazing about the women who run in the boys clubs, they are real and raw and have no fear - exactly like their male counterparts.

Flava D, Producer 

How has the scene changed from when you first started? 

The quality of instrumentals is always upping. Being a producer I focus more on beats than MCs. The beats now sound a lot stronger than some of the older stuff. Like, the mix downs for example. They’re heavy enough to make a festival shake.

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

South Side Allstars Southside Riddem playing on Channel U. I was instantly hooked. Living in Bournemouth at the time, I wasn’t able to lock into pirate radio as much but there was one Bournemouth station that had one UKG DJ once a week. I’d lock in religiously each Thursday

What's the best party you've ever been to? 

Playing at Fabric for the first time at a Butterz night was a game changer for me.

Are people ever surprised by what you do? 

Sometimes I get the, “Omg your a girl and you’re white?” reaction.

Who do you hang with from the scene? Does it feel like a family? 

I’m very close with the Butterz members. It’s not just a label it’s a family.

Who's your favourite MC and why?

D Double E and these bars: “Head get mangled & dangled/to the side just like I wear my Kangol/nowadays I’m on arms/ just like a bangle”.


Laura ‘Hyperfrank’ Brosnan, Blogger and Journalist

What was the first grime track you remember hearing?

I remember hearing Dizzee's Stop Da lyrics and the first track was I Luv U taped from a radio set while I was in my school hall.

How has the UK grime scene developed over the last decade? 

Right now, it's a strong independent family unit. Everyone is creating unapologetic grime without the pressure of major labels breathing down their backs. There's no overshadowing why grime was literally thrown out from every club, exploited and whitewashed by labels, and left to rot in the back alley. Chantelle Fiddy called grime 'the fuck you to garage' and I really agree with that – it's a retaliation to garage but also the whole mainstream. Now we have GRM doing their own awards at the Roundhouse, Skepta winning a Mercury Prize and Hattie Collins and Olivia Rose putting out This Is Grime in 2016 – who would of thought? I mean Stormzy got a Top 20 with a grime freestyle – are you mad!?

Does it ever feel like a 'boys club'? 

I feel like most of the power moves behind the scenes are being done by woman – so the scene as a whole isn't a boys club but music wise it's hard for woman to be able to brand themselves because of societies obsession with placing woman in. It's never been a question of is No Lay good enough to be on a track or is Lioness going to get a reload? All the woman will throw down a skank and push up our gun fingers and as soon as you show the levels and communicate your opinions the respect is shown. I find that the real issues come from fans and their assumptions. I would hear rumours created by little boys on computers that I was sleeping with JME meanwhile I’m in flat with my girlfriend watching Eastenders. I think to move forward we as women need to have a 'fuck you' attitude and do what we want and make the music they as artist personally love - the support will come. 


Where did your career as a journalist documenting grime all start? 

I was always completely about the music. I'd always be on forums like RWD, UKmusic, Grimeforum, face-pic and MySpace connecting with people and trying to get the latest tracks off Kazaa and MSN. My friend Precious told me to start a blog for bants – that was back in 2006. I shared it on MySpace and it just blew up. Hattie Collins and Chantelle Fiddy commissioned my first print pieces for Blues & Soul and RWD Mag around that time. I then found an excuse to move to London and from that point I haven't stopped.

What other women in the "scene" inspire you? 

There are so many women doing powerful moves that are not only pushing themselves but also elevating the scene. From Sian Anderson, Julie Adenuga and Leila 'Lilz' Singh to Chantelle Fiddy and Hattie Collins. These five woman have and still continue to create opportunities as well as inspire – and they are all multi taskers!

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