The Burden of Brexit: Told through London Grime Musicians.
They find the words that we have lost in shock at our broken system”
Where I come from in North London, Grime MCs are our prophets of social revolution. They are the messengers of injustice and the activists that keep morality in the minds of voters. They bring out our inner dialogues through beats and bars in order for them to be discussed and debated. When things go wrong in London it is to these MCs that our heads turn in search of a rallying cry or words of comfort. They are our Robin Hoods clad in Adidas tracksuits. When I think about these MCs I realise that they are the Ovids, Ciceros and Marcus Aurelius of my time and place. Their words and oratory act as a catalyst for change, yet their authority comes from the experiences that they have had. Today, there is a new threat to the people of Britain - and you best believe that our musicians are ready to say something about it.
However, before I can properly do justice to the thoughts of musicians about Brexit it is imperative to contextualise what Grime musicians mean to UK culture and politics. The influence of Grime musicians on public perceptions of UK politics can be traced through the actions of a few key artists. For example, Stormzy was the voice of rebellion that pierced the inertia of The House of Commons after the horrific events at the Grenfell Tower in 2017.
During the 2018 Brit Awards, he challenged the Prime Minister with the exclamation, ‘Yo Theresa May where’s that money for Grenfell, what you just thought we forgot about Grenfell, You criminals.’ Back then, the government pledged £60m to deal with the ramifications of the fire. However, at the time of writing this there are still former residents of Grenfell who have not seen a single penny of what was promised, not to mention the copious amounts of London buildings still equipped with the same cladding that caused the fire. Now a few MCs are busy trying to prevent the whole country from going up in flames.
Akala is perhaps one of the UK’s most prolific poets and wordsmiths. Aside from being the brother of the legendary MC Ms Dynamite, he is a talented rapper, scholar and a fearless activist. In a lecture titled ‘The Battle of Britishness in the Age of Brexit’, he contemplates the implications of Brexit and the racial connotations behind its conception in front of a captivated audience. He states: ‘I was driven to the remain camp by the xenophobic tone of the “Leave” position and the role of anti-intellectualism in the campaign, convocation and outcome. For too long poor people have been painted as the inventors of racism yet it has been conceived and utilised by Britain’s ruling class now and through history’.
He adds ‘Winston Churchill for example, is often voted the UK’s favourite person, yet he often described the killings of ‘the red men of America’ as no real crime at all. His point is that the racism that pervaded the Brexit discussion was not new, rather race had defined the majority of Britain’s post war immigration policy’. The Brexit campaign was aimed at young people as being an issue of race. We were continually told that leaving the EU would allow us to unify and include the countries in the commonwealth yet vans continued to patrol the predominantly Caribbean neighbourhood of Tower Hamlets with ‘Immigrants go home’ written across them. In reflection, Brexit was a collection of promises that half of us never wanted, promises that were never intended to be delivered.
The second MC to take up the mantle of subculture activist is an extraordinarily talented young man by the name of David Orobosa Omoregie. Otherwise known as Santan Dave, this gifted rapper was awarded an Ivor Novello Award for his politically charged diatribe at the UK’s new PM in his track, ‘Questiontime’. The track begins with an incredibly impactful message about the looming threat of Brexit:
“A question for the new Prime Minister
And please, tell me if I’m being narrow minded
But how do we spend so much money on defence
And weapons to wage war when the NHS is dying?
Bursting at the seams, and what about them people
That voted for us to leave for the money that it would see?
350 million we give to the EU every week
That our health service needs
But now them politicians got what they wanted
Can you see an empty promise or a poster on the street?”
Dave’s lyrics are a perfect summation of the anger felt by a nation that was repeatedly lied to about the fiscal redistribution that would happen if the UK left the EU. This infamous falsehood about NHS spending that was plastered on the side of a big red bus was detrimental to the hopes of young people who wanted to stay. Dave has become the figurehead and voice box of today’s politically conscious youth.
Other MCs such as JME, Kano, Wretch 32, Avelino and Lowkey are continuing to help explain to the masses the political injustice present in both Britain & Brexit. Their lyrical capabilities and their online following make them indispensable allies in educating those often not in tune with politics or those neglected by it. They find the words that we have lost in shock at our broken system.
The question that often arises from those not a part of the London music scene is ‘why should we listen to these people about issues of politics?’. The answer is because they have as much invested in things getting better as the rest of us do.
They feel the effects of poor policy decisions just as fully as the rest of us. They are not removed from the cultures they represent, celebrity and success does not make artists from working class background non-persons or blank slates, rather, they embody them and make us listen to what’s happening through their skilful oratory.
Photo: Journalism Collective