Grime pays

As grime mu­sic pushes into the main­stream and the num­ber of tie-ups be­tween brands and artists in­creases, how can au­then­tic­ity be pre­served?

Campaign UK - - CONTENTS - By Brit­taney Kiefer

As grime mu­sic pushes into the main­stream and is met by brands ea­ger to tie up with artists, how can au­then­tic­ity be pre­served?

For artist and pro­ducer Prince Rapid, the early days of grime were a time of in­ven­tive­ness – not least when it came to the chal­lenge posed by scal­ing the heights of in­ner-city tower blocks to mount ra­dio aeri­als. He was an orig­i­nal mem­ber of Ruff Sqwad (pic­tured be­low), a group formed 15 years ago in Bow, east Lon­don. It is now con­sid­ered one of the key pi­o­neers of grime mu­sic, a genre that emerged in the cap­i­tal in the early 2000s and is in­flu­enced by garage, jun­gle and hip-hop. In the early days, grime’s only out­let was pi­rate ra­dio, which ex­plains why Rapid – whose real name is Prince Owusu-agyekum – and many of his friends found them­selves set­ting up rooftop broad­cast sys­tems. Those were the lengths they would go to get their sounds heard. You no longer have to tune in to pi­rate ra­dio to lis­ten to grime. Mykaell Ri­ley, di­rec­tor of the Black Mu­sic Re­search Unit at the Uni­ver­sity of West­min­ster, worked on a re­cent study of the genre (“State of play: grime”) com­mis­sioned by Tick­et­mas­ter. He de­scribes grime as the most “sig­nif­i­cant mu­si­cal de­vel­op­ment within the UK for decades”. So, as grime goes main­stream, com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties have in­evitably fol­lowed, and brands as var­ied as Adi­das and HSBC have used it in their mar­ket­ing. Just last month, grime poster­boy Skepta – win­ner of the 2016 Mer­cury Prize, UK pop­u­lar mu­sic’s most pres­ti­gious award – starred in Nike’s tri­umphant vi­ral ad “Noth­ing beats a Lon­doner”. Nike’s agency, Wieden & Kennedy Lon­don, said Skepta was cho­sen for the video pre­cisely be­cause he is some­thing of a hero to many young Lon­don­ers. This wave of brand in­ter­est is tes­ta­ment to grime’s grow­ing in­flu­ence. But the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mar­keters and sub­cul­tures is rarely an easy one. “A bit like punk in the 1970s, grime is the sound of anti-es­tab­lish­ment youth,” says Henry Scot­land, man­ag­ing part­ner of Iris, which has worked with grime mu­si­cians for brands in­clud­ing Su­perdry and Adi­das. “Un­less the brand al­ready plays some role in youth or street cul­ture, there’s a real risk of ap­pear­ing to ap­pro­pri­ate a sub­cul­ture they have no per­mis­sion to play with.” Owusu-agyekum him­self fronted an ad cam­paign for soft-drinks brand KA, when it held a com­pe­ti­tion last Septem­ber to dis­cover the best emerg­ing grime artist in the UK. The win­ner, Birm­ing­ham rap­per Lady San­ity, was re­warded with an artist-de­vel­op­ment pack­age and recog­nised at The KA and GRM Daily Rated Awards, a grime in­dus­try cer­e­mony. Owusu-agyekum’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with KA Drinks made sense be­cause he grew up drink­ing its prod­ucts, he says. The com­pany was also al­ready in­volved in the grime com­mu­nity, hav­ing co-cre­ated and spon­sored the Rated Awards for two years.

Value ex­change

That kind of au­then­tic­ity was also ev­i­dent in Adi­das’ 2016 col­lab­o­ra­tion with grime MC Stor­mzy, who pro­vided a sound­track to mark foot­baller Paul Pogba’s trans­fer from Ju­ven­tus to Manch­ester United. The pair are mu­tual ad­mir­ers and from a sim­i­lar back­ground, says Gareth Leed­ing, cre­ative di­rec­tor of We Are So­cial Sport, the agency be­hind the cam­paign. “The value ex­change was right for both the tal­ent in­volved and the brand. It felt au­then­tic and be­cause of that every­one came out on top to­gether,” Leed­ing says of the work. “It needs to be a col­lab­o­ra­tion to make sure both sides are happy and [the work is] au­then­tic to what they would nor­mally do.” It also helps if the brand and artist have a

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