This year’s much-lauded winner of the prestigious Mercury Music Award was the artist Skepta with his album Konnichiwa, signalling that grime had finally hit the music mainstream.
Shortly after the announcement, music journalist Alex Petridis, wrote in the Guardian:
“It is genuinely heartening evidence that in a world of focus-grouped pop and micro-managed hype, stuff that rejects the traditional path to success pursued by big record companies can still become hugely successful.”
What’s both refreshing and remarkable about this result is how operating under such tight constraints and trying to break out of the normal pathways was essential to grime’s success.
Deprived of major record label support, grime artists self-released their albums. Airplay was generated by pirate radio stations, such as Rinse FM. Home made videos were publicised via Youtube. Fans spread the news via social media. Rather than fighting the constraints, grime positively embraced them.
Although grime is fast becoming our most popular musical export, it was no overnight success. It first emerged in the early 2000s and the fact that it was operating under such tight constraints is central to its appeal. Its sound is deliberately non-commercial, lacking the polish that we often associate with formulaic pop music. Skepta still has little time for mainstream radio:
“Radio 1 doesn’t exist to me. I don’t judge my success by anything they say.”
The lyrics and videos reflect the life and culture of living in London. It all feels fresh and relevant to its young audiences and is now attracting mainstream audiences and big music producers from across the pond.
So what are the lessons from the rise of grime for the business community?
- Adopt a DIY mentality. Don’t rely on the tried and tested partnerships and pathways as a guarantee of success.
- Embrace the constraints you’re operating under and use them as a springboard for creativity.
- Be resilient. Don’t be deflected, failure is part of the journey.
- Don’t sell out. Remain truthful and authentic in how you behave.