Grime has come a long way in the decade it’s been a signal on the lower end of UK music’s radar.
Born out of pirate radio and illegal raves, the genre and music makers who were there at the beginning have all grown up, achieving much success on the way. Dizzee Rascal’s performance at last year’s London Olympics opening ceremony was an indication of just how far the music has come. And the likes of Dizzee, Wiley, Skepta and JME continue to make exciting sounds. It’s just now these songs are doing damage to the pop charts rather than underground club nights and parties.
You can add Lethal Bizzle to that list of the grime’s forefathers. Since his days with More Fire Crew, he’s been an integral part of the scene’s DNA going on to win a MOBO award with solo single Pow. He's quite a different character compared to his pirate radio days. Now, instead of getting into skirmishes with the police, he’s released two albums, set up his own clothing line, performed songs for football crowds and been name checked by Dame Judi Dench. He’s almost, dare anyone say it, on the brink of becoming part of the establishment.
M recently visited Bizzle in a basement studio near London Bridge to get the low-down on his approach to writing songs, being an ‘urban’ artist and how he and his one-time rival Wiley kissed and made up…
Can you remember the first songs you wrote?
It was when I was in More Fire Crew back in 2001. We were just writing lyrics for fun and free-styling. Then we were introduced to a producer and went to a studio where he played us beats. We spent ages listening to this beat and he asked us to put some lyrics down. I was used to holding a mike in my hand in a rave. But here the mike was free standing. You put headphones on. So the studio was a whole new experience. You can re-do your verse, perform another take and make it perfect. When you’re live, you’re running out of breath. You might not be clear. The studio allows you to work on honing your craft.
More Fire Crew’s Oi was our big hit and went top ten. When you make music as a new comer, you never know if it’s going to blow up. It’s quite hit and miss. You believe in yourself but it wasn’t until we had a hit that I realised this is what I really wanted to do.
Did you produce your own music?
Like a lot of others, I used to make grime beats on a PlayStation. I went from there to Fruity Loops, just making little beats. We’d rhyme on them and do demo tapes in bedrooms.
Then I got more into writing. Mainly because no one ever really recognised the producer and I wanted people to know who I was. So I went in harder on the lyrics. I had a name in the area as I was on pirate radio with Wiley. We were hood stars because of it. But I decided to take my writing to the next level rather than concentrate on beats.
How do you think your songwriting has evolved?
Back then I used to just write words. There wasn’t much of a topic. Just how I was feeling that day or what I’d been doing. Now I can structure songs better. When I’m writing, I think of a beginning and an end and work out what I want to say in the first verse. Then build it. Like Police on my Back – a song from my second album – I was recounting a story. I now spend more time on the detail compared with when I first started out. I don’t like to write anything down. If I’m using a pen, it’s like I’m doing an exam.
Which song are you most proud of?
I Should Have Known from my first album. It was another deep record which tells a story I went through when I was living in east London. Any time I listen to it, I feel like I’m painting such a picture I’m actually there. Also another track called The Come Up from my second album is another story. It explains the journey of living with my mum, getting up to stuff I shouldn’t be and her getting really pissed off when I got arrested or in trouble. These are my two favourite tracks.
Is ‘urban music’ in good health?
I’ve been in it since the start and feel we’re in a place now it hasn’t been before. The So Solid and More Fire crew era was amazing. But now we’re given more opportunities. We now have more influence and fans which is mainly thanks to social media. It allows you to promote your music and become a star online without having a major deal.
There’s 100 percent more infrastructure with things like the MOBOs in place. As long as we keep making music, then the more people will look into building things. The more power we get, the more it’ll keep everything moving.
Have you got advice for aspiring grime artists and MCs?
The obvious one is work hard. Nothing ever comes easy but I feel it’s a lot easier to be recognised now. When I started, the internet and YouTube weren’t that big and iTunes wasn’t even invented. Now you’ve got Twitter and Facebook as well as all these platforms to help you promote music.
Now a lot of labels are also looking at these things to see if you have a fan base to find out what kind of artist you are. Before, they’d listen to music in an office and say let’s have a go at working with it. Now they want to find artists who are ready. So don’t wait to start your career or wait for that big record deal. Just go out and do it - pretend you are a label, get your music out there and do the odd show. You need to take advantage of the resources you have in front of you.
Find out more about Lethal Bizzle and his music projects from Twitter and his Stay Dench website.