OUAG presents: Our favourite tracks/albums of 2019

(Photography by Mark Mattock)

2019 has been another great year for Grime music. There's been a constant stream of new music with serveral of the scenes leading names releasing huge projects, alongside plenty of indie lables having a successful year too. At Once Upon A Grime we've each chosen three of our favourite Grime tracks of the year, plus our favourite album too. Check out the list below.

Graeme Day's selection

This one from the Nottingham young King was the first Grime track that brought back that old school love of Grime for me this year. Raw, energetic, electric flow and not giving a fuck. Snowy said it how it is on 'Reddit' and caused quite a stir. This definitely made a few artists within the scene re-evaluate themselves and up their workrate and quality in 2019.

With the release of 'Money Over Everyone 3' it's been hard to pick a favourite of P Money's musical offering this year. 'Where and When' with Giggs and 'No One' get honourable mentions. P questions other MC's choice whilst humbly bragging about his ten year and counting stay in the Grime scene. Honest and out spoken, P Money reins as King of Grime again in 2019.

A lot of people's first reaction to this song was simply "wow". Skeppy started off 'Bullet From A Gun' with an eye-opening and thought provoking quote that'll be quoted for years upon years. "When you realise she was never your girl it was just your turn". That had us all thinking about our ex's of the past. The rest of the album wasn't half bad either was it? 

Album of the year: Kano - 'Hoodies All Summer'

Strickly Grime wise, it'll either be P Money's or JME's albums. But the album which has held the most replay value for myself personally has to be Kano's 'Hoodies All Summer'. Kano followed up perfectly from 'Made In The Manor' on a similar sort of vibe, but still that grown and reflective vibe. The highs and lows. Those who've grown up with Kano's music will hold this one close to their hearts, that's for sure.

(Photography by Cicely Grace)

We love nostalgia. As grime has changed in styles throughout the years, it’s amazing to hear remnants of its original sound. Similar to how Manga’s Outsiders Live Forever was such a great record, and how Sir Hiss’ production skills are captivating. Kamakaze created a truly grime song, that would have fit suitably in place 15 years ago, seeping with nostalgia - the sounds, the lyrics, the message. The melody is sweet; the forefront timbre sound is warm; the lyrics are about enjoyment, not material gain; the narrative is of friends. Anyone growing up with grime, with a collective of friends connected by a love of music, with hopes of creating something above the norm, and especially from rural locations can relate to this joint. Kamakaze revived his childhood collective and spirit on this joint, and continued the appreciation through visuals and a remix featuring Cornelius and Twisted Pennys. As an added bonus, the record has made its way into Redbull’s Top Grime & UK Rap 2019 playlist; along with several other tracks from the Leicester MC.

Skepta truly has formed his own sound since 2014. Darting between grime and rap, the once-Meridian Crew affiliate has evolved his sound away from strictly grime, as can be heard many times throughout Ignorance is Bliss. However, grime does poke its screwfaced expressions in here and there. One such song from the 2019 album is 'Redrum' - written and produced by the BBK frontman. Most notable comes from sinogrime influence - heard from the main melody of a Chinese sounding timbre. This sound helped form the creation of grime (Jammer - 'Chinaman'; Wiley - 'Shanghai'; etc), and any time it’s used now just opens a flood of fond memories. To enhance this record and push it outside the norm of UK music/grime. Skepta reaches out to Atlanta rapper KEY! The American artist completely turns down speed of Skepta flow, and spits his own down-south style. The song is already hard, getting KEY! to lay another style over it makes it special.

Kahn, one half of Gorgon Sound, hails from Bristol and has been a notable producer and DJ within the grime scene for nearly 15 years. He ventures into the realms of Dubstep also, which is seemingly where some of his dark, gritty and devilish sounds come from. These styles lend themselves somewhat in this focused track ‘Rolling Remix’. The original song was released in March within a same-titled EP containing 2 other tracks - dropped under White Peach Records. Kahn took this excellent partnership of Sir Hiss and Emz and adjoined his own style – encompassing bass and cracking percussion. The hi-hats are especially intriguing here as Kahn presumably turns away from the common sounding hi-hats taps, and seeks more authentic, raw sounds.

The original is fantastic as well, though still I lean more towards Kahn’s remix. I feel its slightly dirtier, muddier, grimier; the bass is a little more prominent; rhythm a little faster; vocals a little more pronounced in the mix. Relevant props to Sir Hiss and Emz though, as there record is the basis that this great remix came from.

Album of the Year: Stormzy H.I.T.H

With a blend of top-class production, interesting, eloquent and relatable content, and the odd banger; Stormzy's H.I.T.H was by far the album that I appreciated most during 2019.
It houses much of what one could ask for. Gullines from 'Big Michael', 'Audacity', 'Wiley Flow', 'Handsome' and 'Bronze' for the streets; introspectiveness from 'Crown', 'Rachel’s Little Brother' and 'One Second' for the content heads; passion and inspiration from 'Superheroes' and 'Do Better'; heartfelt singing from 'Don’t Forget to Breathe' and others; a hugely personal tip on 'Lessons'; and the pop bangers of 'Pop Boy' and 'Vossi Bop'.

As a sophomore album is difficult to create at times, it’s good to see that Stormzy’s level of creating content and music has not suffered. I believe his first album held better content for a wide audience, but this record genuinely spoke to me personally - his worries, his perspectives, his relationship issues, his desires. I feel that this album was Stormzy talking to himself, question things he has done, giving us a heap of rapper competitiveness and above all else, telling himself that there’s still more to go. The lessons, experiences and guidance he relays through this album can be translated into any field of work or passion.

The production is noteworthy here as well. There are clear levels to production and Stormzy has access to some of the cleanest and outstanding producers are littered.
Granted it may be debatable if this is a grime album. But Stormzy is the poster boy for grime like it or not. Tempo’s within 130-150bpm are frequent throughout, and for the significance and importance of what Stormzy as done for UK music, I feel this album deserves recognition. It is a genre evolution from a young man formed by grime, who now implements what he has been taught with his inner skill to create UK rap innovation. Furthermore, it seems like the South London artist is making the music that he wants to; not being swayed by higher ups or record labels - which, at his level, should always be saluted.

(Photography by Hyperfrank)

The first track released from Money Over Everyone 3, 'No One' captures the thoughts of one of the scene’s most unwavering figures. Having refused to compromise his sound for mainstream success over the years, P embraces this artistic independence and calls out the pretenders he sees moving around him. Even though it’s the shortest track on the album, the lyrics and beat have an incredible impact that cannot be ignored.

This cut is as infectious as it is unpredictable. Mez’s voice and style are instantly recognisable, riding a clattering, garage-infused beat from Scratcha DVA. The off-balance rhythms are electric, and Mez draws for pure hype bars. Somehow, the cut manages to distil all the essential elements of Mez’s live performances into a polished but still organic 180 seconds - that’s why it works so well, and is sure to get a powerful reaction whenever and wherever it gets spun.

4BZ (Forbes) & Vibe Chemistry - 'Bricks & Bats'

With vocals from Southampton's Forbes and production from Vibe Chemistry, “Bricks & Bats” is the unexpected and attention-grabbing opener from the pair’s album Flashbacks., released back in February. The organic instrumentation and distortion-laden details combine lethally with the warry bars and brittle tone of the Southampton MC. Forbes seems to never stop switching up his flow to match the variations in the beat, giving it an electric, infectious energy. This track is criminally overlooked, as is the album as whole.

Album of the Year: Jme - 'Grime MC'

The fourth album from the BBK co-founder, Jme’s long-awaited Grime MC album was finally released after months of cinema screenings, unannounced sets on the street, and one-off merch drops. Vocals from Giggs, President T, Wiley, Merky Ace, P Money, Shakka, Big Zuu and Skepta are peppered across the LP over unreal production from Preditah, S-X, Tre Mission, Blay Vision, Splurt Diablo, Deeco, and recently crowded Beat Boss Lewi B. Getting to number 26 on the UK album chart through physical sales alone, it just goes to show that honest, authentic grime isn’t going away any time soon.

Bradley Marshall's selection

Grime could use a bit more warring, so it was nice to see Wiley and Skepta enter the year in a competitive spirit. 'Wish You Were Here' was released in early February as a response to Wiley's 'Flip The Table'. The title and chorus of 'Wish You Were Here' is a nod to Wiley's Birthday Bash (which happened a week prior to the release of the song). In true Wiley fashion, he didn't turn up. 

The ever underappreciated subgenre Rhythm & Grime had a few underlooked releases this year but this topped the chart. The lack of female vocalists in grime currently also makes this one of the more unique releases to drop this year. Smooth, R&B-esque vocals work very well over grime and 'If You're Looking' is a great example of that. 

'Predator vs. Prey' is one of the more interesting productions of the year. Creative use of the bagoo (Wiley bloops), deep drums, quiet vinyl-esque crackling, and grimey bass lead to an alien and metallic instrumental. Nico lends his lyricism to the record after a lengthy 1 minute 20 second instrumental intro. The long intro lets you soak up the instrumental a bit more than usual songs allow, and the result is an enjoyable one.

I'd imagine not many have had the idea of taking this raw, gritty electronic genre from East London council estates and merging it with traditional instruments of Ethiopia, but London To Addis does exactly that. The project is an instrumental album from No Hats No Hoods that features a variety of top-notch producers mixing grime with Ethopian music. It's not exactly a fusion that you'd happen to happen, but the cross-cultural grime music that's on this project is both very creative and enjoyable to listen to ("Blue Nile" is the best song on the album). There is no other instrumental project out there that has came out of grime that sounds like this. Hopefully, it will lead to more cross-cultural fusions, but currently, it stands highly as one of the more creative projects to come out in the last 5 years.

(Photography by Olly Bailey)

Tim Sander's Selection

Sir Hiss & Emz- Rolling

In a year full of outstanding projects and realeases, one that stood out was the ominous and eerie rolling from Bristol's Sir Hiss and Emz. Hiss' heavyweight instrumental sways and stumbles around Emz's bars, stopping only to deliver the chorus.

In a world where the quare aren't spitting about girls and McDoanalds, tracks that reveal the "lighter" side of grime don't happen as often. A softly strung instrumental allows all three MC's to take turns in trying to impress.

As a true fan of instrumental grime, finally having this iconic flip after hearing it on radio for months is great feeling. simple, impactful, effective. Refixes reflect on the time of grimes genesis, taking influence from the other genres of the time, but this takes on a classic piece of music to create a timeless work that transcends the genre.

Album of the Year: Jakebob - 'Titan'

I enjoyed hearing a different side to the Leominster producer this year, with some creative vocals laid down reflecting on life in the midlands. The clash of tempos and moods were well thought out and created a really solid body of work.

(Photography by Misha Meghna)

Jacob Durand's selection

Tasked by Drake with being a part of the 'Top Boy' album, Ghetts' track 'Listen' is a dark depiction of life, perfectly in tune with what the programme seeks to stir within viewers. The song is a typical Ghetts effort; raw and vivid, yet remaining incredibly articulate and smooth; "Them man are all pricks I don't like them lames but I'm cordial. Still light up a wig and turn mans face into cornmeal". A gritty Sir Spyro beat is the perfect accompaniment for what was an excellent showing from one of Grime's real legends.

Perhaps the most underrated song of the year, the Wize produced 'Don't Lack' is a playful tune with an uplifting yet quintessentially grimey feel. Cadell instantly begins the song with the assertive lyric "I'd be a millionaire if I had a pound every time girls ask me 'Are you Cadell?'". The Bow spitter spits with poise and confidence - his second verse is particularly cold. Sense offers a catchy and jumpy hook which ties the entire song together, and the guest verse from fellow E3 MC Delusion - who has been around in Grime forever - is energetic and hard. Overall it was a great offering and a real summer Grime tune.

Dropping in early May, shortly before his 'Tyrone 2' project, Mez's Go Freestyle provided exactly what you would expect in a tune from the Nottingham wordsmith. The Freestyle features a series of disses against Yizzy and Chip, married with an intense and icy interpretation of Dizzee Rascal's 'Go' from producer Grandmixxer, who has been supplying some of the best beats in Grime for a while now. The song features multiple flows, but all retain the same braggadocious energy and aggression that we have become accustomed to from Mez. 

Album of the Year: Capo Lee - 'Heart of A Champ'

There were plenty of high profile Grime releases this year, with Skepta, JME, P Money et al all dropping projects, but I have opted for North London MC Capo Lee's effort; 'Heart of a Champ'. The album is a real journey, and perhaps the first time we've seen a project that reflects all aspects of Capo's music. It combines Capo's usual relentless, raw style on tracks like 'Money Thirst' and 'Coulda Been' whilst many other tracks on the album are more introspective and offer listeners the chance to learn more about Capo through his work. Guest features from Landoni, Lola Snow and Happi certainly do not disappoint, and all in all the album is a mature and complete piece from one of the most consistent shellers in the Grime scene.