The emergence of grime is one of the most significant developments in twenty-first century British music. Growing out of pirate radio and urban culture in London in the early 00s, grime builds on the sounds of UK garage. It is characterised by its aggressive sonics, and gritty rap lyrics.
This article highlights some of the most influential grime artists to emerge from the scene. Covering both mainstream grime superstars and underground artists, this list highlights a selection of the best grime rappers (MCs), producers, and crews.
One of the founding figures of grime, Wiley, born Richard Cowie, is a grime rapper and record producer from East London.
Wiley first tasted success as a member of UK garage crew Pay As U Go Cartel. The group had several hits before disbanding, with Wiley going on to form Roll Deep – a crew which eventually included fellow grime giants Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Skepta.
The multi-award winning artist’s crowning achievement is his 2016 Godfather album, which entered at number 9 in the UK charts. NME awarded Wiley an ‘Outstanding Contribution to Music’ award for the record, which was followed by the respectable 2017 Godfather II and 2020 Godfather III. He was awarded an MBE in 2018 for his services to music.
In recent years, Wiley’s rapping career has been overshadowed by controversy, including anti-semitic comments on social media, and charges of assault and burglary.
Tinie Tempah is a British rapper who first found success in 2010 with his debut album, Disc-Overy. He has since released two more albums and won several awards, including two Brit Awards and three MOBO Awards.
Tempah’s music is a mix of grime, hip-hop and pop, and he has been praised for his lyrical ability and catchy hooks. Aside from his breakthrough Disc-Overy album, his hits include ‘Girls Like’ (feat Zara Larrson), ‘Pass Out’, and ‘Written in the Stars’ (feat. Eric Turner).
Tempah is also well-known for his fashion sense, and he has been featured in several high-profile ad campaigns.
Kano is a rapper and seminal grime artist who hails from London. He first came to prominence as a part of the grime crew, N.A.S.T.Y crew.
His debut single ‘Ps & Qs’ was a massive success in the underground grime community, and his debut 2005 album Home Sweet Home went on to become a commercial success.
Kano’s early years started with a promising football career, associated with Chelsea and West Ham. After abandoning his football career for music, he went on to release one of grime’s biggest albums.
Now, Kano is best known as an actor, especially thanks to his roles and Adulthood and Top Boy. Check out his hit grime tracks ‘Ps & Qs’ and ‘Made in the Manor.’
Ghetts, born Gervase Mark Anthony Stimpson, is a rapper from London with roots in Jamaica and Grenada. Another former member of the N.A.S.T.Y crew, Ghetts has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the game, including Kano and Stormzy.
His 2014 debut studio album, Rebel with a Cause gained him significant acclaim in the grime community. In 2021, he released his third album Conflict of Interest.
The album includes his hit single ‘Skengman’ featuring Stormzy, which is Ghetts’ biggest commercial success to date (ignoring the Ed Sheeran release).
Skepta is one of the biggest names in grime music, and has been making waves in the industry for two decades.
He first came to prominence in the early 2000s as part of the grime collective Boy Better Know. He has since released five studio albums, collaborating with some of the biggest names in music. Skepta is respected as both a rapper and a producer.
Skepta’s fourth studio album Konnichiwa is his most highly-regardly album to date. Released in 2016 to critical acclaim, Konnichiwa won the Mercury Prize for best album in 2016. One of the most respected artists in the grime scene, Skepta is known for his raw, unvarnished lyrics and his energetic live performances.
Check out Skepta’s single ‘That’s Not Me’ featuring Jme for a taste of classic grime.
D Double E
D Double E is a rapper, DJ, and grime producer from London who first came to prominence as a member of the grime crew N.A.S.T.Y. Aside from his solo career, he forms one of half of the duo, Newham Generals.
D Double E is respected as one of the best grime artists ever. Skepta declared him the ‘greatest of all time,’ and Dizzee Rascal has said that it was D Double E who inspired him to start rapping.
D Double E features on Lethal Bizzle’s 2004 hit ‘POW!’ as well as Skepta’s 2016 ‘Ladies Hit Squad.’
After years in the game, in 2018, he finally released his debut album Jackuum. Check out ‘Lyrical Hypnosis’ off that record for a taste of a his talent.
Dizzee Rascal, born Dylan Mills, is an English rapper and songwriter. He rose to fame in the early 2000s as a grime artist. His first solo album, Boy in da Corner (2003), won the Mercury Prize and is considered to be one of the best grime albums of all time.
Dizzee Rascal was awarded an MBE in 2020, but recent years have seen his reputation in tatters, after being convicted of assaulting his former partner.
Dizzee Rascal can be credited for bringing grime to a wider audience, blending it with catchy melodies, and reaching a mainstream audience. Get a taste of his music with hits including ‘I Luv U,’ ‘Stop Dat,’ and ‘Dance Wiv Me.’
Lethal Bizzle, is known for his unique style that fuses garage and grime music. He first came to prominence as a grime MC as part of More Fire Crew, on their single ‘Oi!’ which reached the top 10 of the UK single charts.
His aggressive debut solo ‘Pow! (Forward)’ was one of his biggest successes, despite being banned from radio play and in some clubs. Further singles including ‘Rari WorkOut’ and ‘Fester Skank’ were also major successes.
Lethal Bizzle’s 2005 debut album Against all Oddz was followed by the 2007 Back to Bizznizz and the 2009 Go Hard. His 2017 EP You’ll Never Make a Million from Grime was his highest-charting album release.
Lethal Bizzle is known for his catchphrase and fashion brand ‘dench,’ which has received support from Judi Dench via LADBible, in the form of a rap with Lethal Bizzle. Worth checking out!
An early member of both the Meridian Crew and Roll Deep crew, JME is a long-standing voice in the grime scene. He has collaborated with the likes of Skepta, and been heavily involved in the Boy Better Know label.
JME rose to success with big singles in mid-00s including ‘P’ and ‘Serious.’ His 2015 album Integrity> was seminal in developing the sounds of contemporary grime. His following albums Blam! (2017) and Ignorance is Bliss (2019) cemented his reputation as one of the most innovative and most-respected grime artists.
For a taste of JME’s sound, check out ‘Man Don’t Care’ from his Integrity> album.
Better-known today as an author and activist, Akala was also a key player in the development of grime in the 00s.
Akala’s debut 2006 album It’s Not A Rumour saw him rise to success, with singles ‘Roll Wid Us,’ ‘Bullshit,’ ‘The Edge,’ and ‘Shakespeare.’ That same year, he was voted the Best Hip-Hop Act at the MOBO Awards.
While Akala focuses on writing and activism today, his mark on grime is indelible. His last studio album was the 2015 Knowledge is Power, Vol.2.
The UK grime scene has extremely strong roots in London. Hailing from Manchester, Bugzy Malone was the first grime MC to break the mold and reach commercial success outside of the capital.
The accomplished Manchester rapper grew up surrounded by crime, and his name ‘Bugzy Malone’ was given to him while he was serving a prison sentence.
His King Of The North (2017) EP is arguably his most successful ‘album’ to date, peaking at number 4 on the UK album charts. His 2021 album The Resurrection is well worth checking out.
Recent years have seen Bugzy Malone’s acting career take off, including appearances in Guy Richie’s The Gentlemen (2019)
Stormzy is one of the most prominent and successful grime artists in the UK, and one of the most successful British rappers of all time. He first rose to success with the viral sensation ‘Shut Up.’
Stormzy went on to be awarded ‘Best Grime Act’ at the MOBO Awards in 2014 and 2015. His debut album Gang Signs & Prayer (2017) was the first grime album to top the UK album charts. His 2019 single ‘Vossi Bop’ also reached number one in the singles charts.
Stormzy’s lyricism tends to stray away from the darker side of grime, and he has been praised for his lyrics and for promoting positive messages about mental health and black masculinity.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Vossi Bop,’ as well as his 2022 single ‘Die Hard’ with Knucks.
Chip is the stage name of London-based grime rapper Jahmaal Fyffe. He is one of the most successful, and most-respected grime artists in the UK, and his accolades include winning the 2016 MOBO award for Best Grime Act.
Chip’s debut album I Am Chipmunk (2009) reached number two on the UK albums chart, and featured four top ten singles. The four studio albums that followed have all been successes, and his latest, Snakes & Ladders (2021), is no exception. That said, I Am Chipmunk remains the most critically-acclaimed.
Beef and diss tracks are not uncommon in the grime scene, and Chip has found himself in quite a number of lyrical feuds. Chip has exchanged disses with the likes of Yungen, Bugzy Malone, Tinie Tempah, and Stormzy, to name a few.
Kamakaze is a grime rapper with a unique story. One of the lesser-known artists on this list, Kamakaze has a big underground following, and has achieved a reasonable level of commercial success.
Before rising in the grime scene, Kamakaze (real name Matt Robinson) was a midfielder for Luton Town FC. Hailing from Leicester, he is one of the few grime artists on this list whose roots are not in London.
His mellow 2019 single ‘Last Night’ draws on elements of UK garage, and is a great introduction to the artist. If you enjoy the vibe, dig into his 2021 album Wavey Shirt Wednesday 2.
Tinchy Styder is a Ghanaian-English rapper who became one of the biggest names in grime music. He has received a number of nominations and awards, including a 2011 MOBO win.
A member of Wiley’s Roll Deep crew, Tinchy Stryder regularly featured on the pirate radio shows that defined the early years of grime music. His name derives from the video game ‘Strider’ and his relatively small height, 5 foot 3, earning him the nickname ‘Tinchy.’
His early albums Star in the Hood (2007), Catch 22 (2009), and Third Strike (2010) saw the peak of his commercial success. In recent years, he has focused more on business ventures connected with the music industry.
Make sure to check out his hit single ‘Number 1’ for an introduction to his sound.
Lowkey (real name Kareem Dennis) is a rapper whose music touches on elements of hip-hop and grime.
Born to an Iraqi mother and English father, he is a prominent political activist, especially on Middle East issues.
Lowkey released his first Key to the Game mixtape in 2003. His political 2011 album Soundtrack to the Struggle is his greatest commercial success to date, reaching number six on the UK R&B chart.
Aside from being a respected member of the UK grime scene, Lowkey has also delved into the world of rock music. On his rap/rock crossover project, Mongrel, he worked with ex-members of the Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, and Reverend and the Makers, releasing a single album, Better than Heavy in 2009.
Flirta D is a king in the underground grime scene. Despite achieving relatively little commercial success, he is one of the most-respected, and most intriguing artists on this list.
Known as ‘the guy who makes noises’ Flirta D is an intensely skilful rapper whose bars come saturated with vocal sound effects that sound like audio samples. Making his name on the underground radio shows that grime was built on, his distinctive and sometimes humorous style has earnt him enormous respect.
Find out about Flirta D and hear some highlights of his unique contribution to grime in this video. An essential grime artist to check out, if you aren’t already familiar.
Hailing from Lewisham, South London, Merky ACE is the grime alias of Aisa Khan Sampson-Spencer. A grime MC and producer, he was a founding member of the Family Tree grime collective.
Aside from his Merky ACE project, he also makes beats under the name Splurt Diablo.
Part of the ‘new wave’ of grime, Merky ACE released his debut mixtape, Blue Battlefield, in 2011. Later signing to Dizzee Rascal’s Dirtee Stank label, he featured on Dizzee’s 2012 Dirtee Mixtape 2, further propelling his reach.
Merky ACE dropped his debut full length album War is Normal in 2018. Despite relatively modest commercial success, Merky ACE has a big underground following. Check out his most recent 2021 album, Catch Up, Vol. 4.
Manga Saint Hilare
Manga Saint Hilare is one of the underground legends of UK grime, thanks to his more personal and intimate lyricism.
An early member of Wiley’s Roll Deep crew, Manga Saint Hilare (real name Matthew Reid) stands out from many of the artists on the list thanks to the subject matter he tackles in his music. Addressing more emotional topics from mental health to gender dynamics, his lyrics are not typical grime fare.
His perspective on the consumption of grime is notable. ‘The majority of the audience aren’t road yutes,’ he told Huck magazine. ‘So where are all these millions of views coming from? It’s just people who are obsessed with the culture and they think it’s a game.’
Despite its humble commercial success, his 2017 album Outbursts from the Outskirts is arguably one of the best grime albums of recent years. His talent has been acknowledged with a MOBO nomination for ‘Best Grime Act’ in 2020.
Giggs is the professional name of rapper Nathaniel Thompson. Hailing from Peckham, London, he is arguably amongst the top five most commercially successful grime artists of all time.
His 2008 debut studio album Walk in da Park reached number nine on the UK independent chart, and has been credited with introducing a slower pace of rap flows when compared with other grime releases.
Giggs’ fourth album Landlord (2016) charted at number two in the UK album charts, making it his most commercially successful release.
Giggs’ rejects the grime label, preferring instead to describe his music under the more general term ‘UK rap.’ He has collaborated with some of the UK’s biggest artists including Dave and Jorja Smith.
Check out his hits ‘Lock Doh,’ ‘Peligro,’ and ‘Straight Murder’ (featuring Dave) for a taste of Giggs’ sound.
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