So you think you know grime? We speak to the Liverpool beat man and Big Narstie collaborator to find out how Scouse trap differs from grime.
After a couple of false starts, grime music seems to be taking off on a global scale. From Skepta pipping David Bowie to the Mercury Music Prize at the end of last year, to Giggs appearing on Drake’s latest release More Life, grime has been disturbing the status quo on both sides of the Atlantic. But there has always been a regional disparity with grime, and artists outside of London and Birmingham have found it incredibly difficult to break through. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, and Liverpool is one of the most exciting new hubs for UK rap.
It has become necessary to draw a distinction between grime and the larger UK rap scene, as artists like TREMZ have begun to almost craft their own genres in an attempt to distance themselves from the often London-centric world of grime. Tremz coined the term ‘Scouse trap’ as a way to define his music, seeing that it didn’t fit in with what was going on in the rest of the UK.
I got to speak to Tremz, and I took the opportunity to ask him what it was that drew him toward the trap sound. “It’s the jumpiness, it’s the energy,’ he said, “It’s all about vibes. I feed off vibes.” When I asked him if he saw a big distinction between his music and grime, he said, “I just find what I do different from everyone really. Not to sound up my own arse, but I just find that what I do, I don’t really compare that to grime.”
It is certainly difficult to compare Tremz to the majority of grime, with the main distinction being the melodious style of his flow, similar to a lot of the most popular American rappers. Grime seems to be stuck in a cycle of more traditional styles of flow, focussed on speed, linguistic acrobatics and complex rhyme schemes, whereas American rap, the older of the genres, has phased into a softer, much more musical style of flow. Besides a couple of notable exceptions, the American rappers who are getting the most traction today are hardly even rapping at all, more half-singing in this strange, almost trance-like staccato style. That is one of the main reasons why it is difficult to compare Tremz to grime, just as it is near impossible to compare Lil Yachty to Rakim, or any one of the lyrically-focussed forefathers of rap.
It is this modern style of flow that really highlights Tremz amongst his fellow UK artists, and the fact that he is ahead of the curve in this way is a clear sign of his success. As Tremz pointed out himself, “I’m not a rapper like Wretch 32, you know what I mean? Wretch 32 is a rapper. I’m not the bars man, I’m the guy who makes music. So, when I’m writing bars, I’m not even going for mad punchlines and whatnot, I’m going for what I really think someone is going to sit down and listen to.”
Despite the American comparison, Tremz’s music still feels very British, and it’s a sound that slots in well with UK music past. Considering the timing of trap – emerging from the American South in the mid-2000s – and the resemblance of the beats to a lot of the bass music coming out of the UK at that time, there must have been some musical cross-pollination there. And when it came to the style evolving into EDM, it was British producers like Rustie and Hudson Mohawke who took the sound and turned it into something really special. This is why it feels right to hear British artists like Tremz rapping over trap beats, just as MCs would have rapped over garage or jungle in some shadowy club in the 90s, ushering in the very beginnings of grime.
Trap is now the most dominant form of rap instrumental in the US, so it goes without saying why the UK scene has decided to jump on the sound. Tremz’s decision to distinguish himself from grime is a smart one, giving him the sort of trademark that is needed in a genre as stylistically driven as rap. Although there have been many incredible rap groups, the genre is very much based on the idea of the individual artist, and that artist being able to convey a vivid picture of their personality. This makes it very important for MCs to try and find ways to make themselves stand out – Tremz is doing an excellent job in this regard.
But the beats are not the only thing that is different about Tremz. There is something more intrinsic, more innate; the accent. I think the Scouse accent, along with the mainstream music industry’s aversion to anything different and new, is one of the things that has held Liverpool rap back in the past. Tremz takes a more positive spin on the issue, stating, “It annoys me, but at the same time, would they take as much notice if I didn’t have the accent?” This is a good point as, although the music industry may be constantly stuck in its ways, the public are always crying out for something different, making it possible for new sounds to filter through. Just as there was widespread rejection and confusion toward the southern American accent when the South started rising to prominence over there, there is bound to be some resistance to other accents, and other voices coming through in the UK.
I may be slightly biased, but I think that it is great to hear a Scouse accent in UK rap. It offers an arresting change from the sometimes quite repetitive cadence of London rappers, and the infamously aggressive tone of the Scouse accent, coupled with Tremz’s energetic delivery, creates a raucous atmosphere that is perfectly suited to the blunt and uncompromising trap beats.
There is also a strong sense of aggression in Tremz’s often violent, often obstreperous lyrics. This lyrical style is in part linked to the influence of drill music, a Chicago-based brand of trap characterised by ominous beats and dark, violent lyrics, brought to the fore by the likes of Chief Keef. But Tremz alludes to a more overarching explanation for the content of his lyrics.
“Some people have heard three of my songs and think I’m just glorifying violence,” he explains. “But just because I’m talking about violence it doesn’t mean I’m glorifying it, because the average person is brought up around violence. The average lifestyle has got all that sort of stuff. Not just violence, drugs and whatnot, just the negatives of life.”
Whether explicitly political or otherwise, rap music has always been a movement, and an artform that is, by the very nature of the stories that are authored within it, inextricably linked with societal issues. From the rappers that use their music as a way to comment on their lives and the struggles they face, to the media who look to rap as an explanation for those very struggles, rap music is decisively political.
One of the most recent examples of this is #Grime4Corbyn, a movement championed by a host of grime artists aimed at getting young people to register to vote, preferably for Jeremy Corbyn. This led to Corbyn’s name making a brief appearance on the member’s section of the Boy Better Know Wikipedia page. Boy Better Know member JME then held an interview with Corbyn, in which they talked about everything from vegan Chinese food to the housing crisis. #Grime4Corbyn is the kind of project that is needed in the sterile political landscape of today, and it certainly seems to be making a difference. Even Danny DeVito has tweeted his support.
It is great to see UK rap being both political charged and commercially successful. It’s definitely a good time for an artist like Tremz to be coming up. You can sense his ambition as he talks about what he learned from Big Narstie, who appeared alongside him on the track BD Gang, from Tremz’s latest mixtape Lifestyle Of A Pirate. Though it is impressive to hear Tremz on BD Gang, out of his comfort zone, rapping on a grime beat, and going toe-to-toe with a grime artist like Big Narstie, it is Tremz’s originality and drive for progression that will serve him best as he seeks to make his mark on the scene. As a sign of this ambition, Tremz also talks about a completely new sound that he is getting ready to drop at the end of summer, something that he says will really shock his fans. This is very encouraging, as it seems like it’s rappers who play with their fans’ expectations and strive to experiment with new styles that really force people to pay attention.