Grime and hip-hop are not the same. However, especially in recent years, there has been a degree of cross-influence between grime and hip-hop, with the latter influencing the former.
The influences can range from a passive integration of American hip-hop rapping techniques employed in grime emceeing to grime emcees flat out rapping over pure hip-hop beats on multiple tracks across a predominately grime album.
Much of this predilection for hip-hop influence across grime appeared in grime mainstay Skepta’s recent and highly acclaimed album “Konnichiwa.” But Skepta’s latest release, the 6-track EP “Vicious,” may very well be the clearest representation of American hip-hop’s contemporary trend of appearing within UK grime.
The hip-hop influence on “Vicious” becomes obvious just from glancing at the EP’s list of featured artists. Track four, features UK trap rap collective Section Boyz, track six features the unmistakable A$AP Mob bastions A$AP Rocky & A$AP Nast, and the second track features, of all people, cloud rap pioneer and living meme, Lil B. And while it wouldn’t be unthinkable that this assortment of hip-hop artists could adjust their approach to be more grime-centric when working with a grime legend on an (ostensibly) grime record, the opposite is true, and their presence inflects “Vicious” with a degree of hip-hop convention that rivals the foundation of grime on which the EP seems to be built.
None of this is to suggest that this hip-hop influence (or any hip-hop influence) is a negative force on grime or on “Vicious.” To the contrary, many of “Vicious’” more interesting moments come from the cross-genre (and cross-national) genre blending of two comparable but wholly different genres. Lil B’s distinct oddball aesthetic riding atop the most straightforwardly grime-sounding track on the whole album on “Sit Down”, for instance, amounts to some of the more interesting grime (or at least grime-related) artistry to come out of 2017. Even on tracks where Skepta goes solo, “Vicious” is never purely grime, nor does it try to be. “No Security” is just as much a trap rap piece as it is a grime song, and the fusion benefits it greatly.
Unfortunately, these “a-ha” moments that take place at the apex of genre-blending creativity are few and far between, with the bulk of “Vicious” feeling less like a prime synthesis of hip-hop and grime and more like a collection of very standard hip-hop and grime tropes thrown on top of each other; the effect isn’t a dissonance of sound so much as it is one of tedium. Over half of these tracks seem to try and get by on the strength of genre-blending alone, and in the process, don’t actually exhibit production or rapping that is creative or engaging. It’s a shame too, as the moments within “Vicious” that do hook the listener simply ooze with potential and leave one craving more; more never comes.
“Vicious” isn’t exactly a failure of an EP, but it is an ultimately forgettable one. Its greatest strength might be in its acting as a catalyst for Skepta to take the more interesting experiments within the EP and fleshing them out as he continues to make music. Whether or not Skepta will, however, identify the most successful aspects of “Vicious” and expand on them (while cutting out the disposable) remains to be seen. With any luck, Skepta may very well have another “Konnichiwa” in him.