The wheels continued to turn for grime in 2022. Blay Vision’s ‘Cammy Riddim’, perhaps the biggest tune of the year, gave fans and emcees something to get hyped over. This genre keeps going no matter what, but it’s been a while since something outside of an album or song had people talking. I wrote in-depth about ‘Cammy Riddim’ and version excursions here, but it’s worth reiterating how the distribution model was crucial to the tune taking off.
Anyone could buy it from Bandcamp and upload it to streaming services, with Blay asking only for a 50% producer credit on PRS. It’s hard enough to make money from independent music in 2022 — thanks, Tories — so it’s a commendable move. But grime, a largely DIY scene at present, benefits massively from someone opening the lines of communication in this way. The monetary gains might not be as big, and artists can’t afford to do this all the time, but mobilising a whole scene is surely a priceless feeling.
Alongside ‘Cammy Riddim’ came a host of new and returning emcees, each lighting up the airwaves and releasing a mixture of singles, EPs and albums. Duppy, Renz, TiaTalks and Squintz stopped the narrative that grime isn’t relevant to young people, while Kruz Leone and Jus Rival got back into music. Tunes from the latter two don’t appear in this list, but excluding them from a write-up about the year in grime would feel disingenuous, as they both captured the minds of their respective fanbase with their output.
Brazil’s grime scene continued to flourish, with Jesse Bernard’s excellent film COMO VOCE giving an insight into the movement’s main players and highlighting the socio-political context intrinsic to the sound. Emcees from the U.K. collaborated with artists from Brazil, and it feels like grime is now a worldwide genre, the two undergrounds connecting based on the love of music and desire to create new things.
Twitter Spaces became an unlikely part of grime this year, too. Although, it’s not surprising when you think about it, as grime emcees have always been ready to harness new technologies put in front of them. In all honesty, it wasn’t for me, with the feature being mostly used for arguments, which are entertaining for all of five minutes. However, producer clashes did take place there, with JME, Duppy, Logan, Skepta and more pulling up and pressing play on some of the heat stored away on their hard drives. Speaking of clashes, Logan and GHS finally battled it out on Mode, perhaps the most entertaining clash I’ve seen for a while.
Just like the past three editions, this list is unranked and consists of tunes that I came back to repeatedly over the year. Buy them, stream them, show them to your friends or use the list to catch up on music you might have missed this year.
D Power Diesle, Footsie & Stogie – Dead Now (prod. By D Power Diesle)
Grime veteran D Power Diesle kicked off 2022 with “Graphene, Vol.2”. A lean project with little filler, it came armed with a prestige cast of featured artists. The likes of President T, Manga Saint Hilare, Jookie Mundo and Jammz were just a few of the names on the record, and ‘Specialist’, the latter’s collaboration with Diesle could’ve well made this list; but it was ‘Dead Now’ that caught my ear from the jump. Built around rippling square waves, bruising rhythms and echo-drenched samples, the beat has that sci-fi-inspired, otherworldly atmosphere that grime production seems to always get right. Minimal yet hard-hitting, abstract yet still tangible. Think Rude Kid’s ‘UFO Mode’ or Masro’s ‘Alien Invasion’ and you’re halfway there. As for the emcees? Well, they did the beat justice. Diesle, Footsie and Stogie stepped up for this one, trading hype bars and war lyrics with ease, as if they were passing the mic round on a Tuesday night radio session.
Adam R & Efflex ft Ozzie B & Tintz – Don’t Watch Me Like That
Production wizards Adam R & Efflex really made an impression on me this year. Their joint tape Purpose Vol.1 was a vibrant take on grime, packed with intriguing textures and plenty of space for the emcees to show their personality. That run continued for the duo individually, with both artists producing for underground spitters and Efflex landing a load of tracks on Jammer’s latest grime beat compilation. Purpose Vol.1 had a few standouts — shout out to Joe Fire’s ‘Dinner Time’, Snoopa’s ‘Wild’ and Slickman Party’s ‘Chrome’ — but I came back to ‘Don’t Watch Me Like That’ the most. This one featured Ozzie B and Tintz, the former referencing everything from the Bobo Shanti to his disdain for people who talk shit with an effortless sauce. Tintz’s verse flits between hype talk and introspection, and the line “When I get the bag, will I feel complete?” has been burrowed into my head for the best part of a year. Sometimes grime emcees only need a few words to communicate the complicated, and Tintz did in nine words what some would need nineteen to do. Overall, ‘Don’t Watch Me Like That’ fused style, pattern and personality – a winning formula for any grime tune.
Tia Talks – Skank Under The Moon (prod. By Jammz)
Remember Clubhouse? That’s where Tia Talks discovered she could spit bars. That initial spark led to an appearance on Wiley’s most recent album, a handful of radio sets and eventually her debut EP, Tia’s Talking, which dropped on I Am Grime in early November. Not too shabby for just under two years. Tia’s come-up is a reminder talent can come from anywhere, and that grime can still nurture it without major label infrastructure. The EP itself, while only four tracks long, is as solid as debut records can get. Tracks like ‘Tia’s Talking’ and ‘Level 60’ are straight-up speaker breakers, while ‘Venting’ sees the young emcee bring her reality to life. However, the standout and one of my favourite tracks of the year is ‘Skank Under The Moon. Here, Tia Talks captures the excitement of a night in the city. From the positive tension of getting ready to the joy felt at peak time, not forgetting the connections, sights and afterglow felt through the peaks and troughs of the evening. Throw in Jammz’s dancefloor vetted UKG beat, and you’ve got a certified banger.
Kyeza & GYRO! – Treddin’
DreamWORLD dropped in March, a five-track project which saw Kyeza vocal beats from GYRO and the two collaborate on some instrumentals. EP opener ‘Treddin’ caught my ear for a few reasons. First: the production. An avalanche of eski clicks, each mutated note tumbling from the speaker, followed swiftly by an aftershock of drum hits designed to rumble the foundations of the body. Second: the delivery. The cadence of the Nottingham accent has always fit well with grime, but Kyeza delivers his lyrics with a fury like no other. He starts, reaches his peak and only stops at the track’s end; a continuous energy storm that keeps the gun fingers in motion from beginning to end.
Duppy – Dots On Us (prod. By Lolingo)
Before this year, Duppy had been bubbling on grime’s underground with radio appearances and singles, but he put it all together in 2022. His debut EP — Now You See Me — dropped in February, with more vocal tunes and beats following throughout the year. It was an impressive release, self-produced with some big tracks, but September’s ‘Dots On Us’ really caught my ear. Here, Duppy gets candid about the realities of the police’s treatment of him and other young Black men, venting his frustrations over intense bass blasts and fast-paced rhythms. He turns serious subject matter into a club-banger, two-fingers up to the establishment and making sure everyone knows that he’ll still live life regardless of harmful stereotypes.
Renz, Squintz & Duppy – 5 Bills (prod. By Duppy)
Renz has been at it a little longer than Duppy, first coming to the attention of grime fans as part of the crew MobSet. Much like Duppy, though, it felt like he put it all together this year with his debut record WhoopDiDiDooTape. The tape packed breathless lyricism, heavy beats and a lot of diss lyrics into thirty-five minutes; tracks like ‘PullUpInADinger’, ‘Leng Dinners’ and ‘Can’t Clash Me’ really stood out. I chose ‘5 Bills’ for this list, though, as the intense delivery and rapid beat made for the type of tune that just blows your brain apart. Grime at higher tempos can be tricky to get right. If the flow isn’t on point, it ends up sounding sloppy. Luckily, Renz, Duppy and Squintz came correct, denouncing expensive drip and rubbish emcees.
A.G x Taliwhoah – No Shade
To me, R&G is the British take on what USA producers were doing in the mid-2000s. Grime production owes a lot to artists like Timbaland and Darkchild, so it makes sense people would put their own spin on what was happening overseas. Unfortunately, tunes like this don’t really happen anymore, and I think the last knockout R&G tune was Kelela’s ‘Enemy’. However, the style fully came back around this summer. DJ & producer A.G dropped GML in June, a versions EP featuring Manga Saint Hilare, St.Plates and Taliwhoah. ‘No Shade’ — Taliwhoah’s version — was on repeat for me. She lays the law down on a washed love intrest, reminding herself (and us) that the best love comes from within. The contrast between the vocal and atonal beat really brings out the weirdness of the latter; those minor key synth runs get plenty of space to shine alongside Taliwhoah’s melodic vocal.
140Aks – Cammy Riddim (prod. By Blay Vision)
Cammy Riddim took grime by storm in 2022, and it was exciting to see the genre have something beyond tunes and sets to engage with. Pretty much every emcee released a version, so it would be impossible to look at them all, but Duppy and Jammz’s versions really stood out to me. My favourite, though, was from 140Aks. He’s a talented emcee we don’t hear much from — check this bar if you don’t believe me — and the beauty of version excursions is that they can get people inspired. Aks makes light work of the beat, paying homage to a number of classic flows, generally approaching it with plenty of style and finesse. Hopefully, it’s a precursor to more material next year.
Lolingo x Elf – Freaky
No one is lipsing to a grime tune. Emcees have plenty of charisma, but heavy-handed lyrics mean their bedroom tracks often fall flat. Luckily, Elf and Lolingo bucked the trend. ‘Freaky’ dropped via Coyote Records in March, and it’s built around a chopped-up guitar riff and a bumpy set of drums, with plenty of Timbaland-era vibes for Elf to spit the work atop the beat. He approaches the instrumental with style, confident in his approach and sounding off on the things that make him go wild for a lover. Stick ‘Freaky’ on the after-hours playlist, and the sparks might fly for you the reader…
LDizz x Snowy – Showers (prod. By GoldTeeth)
‘Showers’ is like a relay between two champion sprinters. The mic is LDizz and Snowy’s baton, and they pass it back and forth quickly, taking up so much space on the beat that the synths sound like they’re squeezing through the speakers. In true grime fashion it’s an instant rush to the body, the moving parts creating three minutes of high-octane forward motion.
Razor x Kenny Davis – Steady
Whether it be grime, rap, poetry or any spoken-word art form, a varied set of inflections — or lack of — can make or break the whole operation. On ‘Steady’, Razor strikes a balance between neutral and guttural, crescendoing between the two, contouring his voice over a set of bouncy rhythms and punchy synths from producer Kenny Davis. Both vocal and beat come together to create a lively texture, grime made to be turned up loud and enjoyed on the largest of speakers.
Crafty 893 – Boot It
Crafty 893’s album landed on Tru Thoughts back in October. With it came the album opener, lead single and title track ‘Boot It’. Much like the rest of the record, ‘Boot It’ didn’t strictly stick to the grime Crafty made his name on, with the South London emcee deploying motion blur flows over icy synths, clipped vocal samples and slick 808 arrangements. The vocal delivery and overall speed of the tune gave it a grime feel, a reminder fluid approaches to genre can yield exciting results.
Joe James – Guilt Trips (prod. By Lemzly Dale)
Five projects in one year is an impressive output, even in a climate where artists are expected to deliver music to their fans on a regular basis. ‘Guilt Trips’ is taken from CRAWL, Joe James’ fourth release of 2022, and it features the emcee reflecting on inner peace and relationship woes, sneaking in a laugh-out-loud piece of wordplay around the Will Smith and Chris Rock incident, which still lands nine months after the fact. The beat, produced by Bristol’s Lemzly Dale, is sugar-sweet, packed with syrupy sax lines that noodle off into the ether, an updated take on the R&G formula from the early 2000s.
Manga Saint Hilare ft. Razor – Evil Eye (prod. By 301Circular)
Back in 2020, Manga Saint Hilare dropped ‘Thoughts & Prayers’, a track that hit the speakers with marching rhythms and synth lines of biblical proportions. In 2022, he dropped ‘Evil Eye’. I’m not sure if you can outdo a word like ‘biblical’, but he’s gone up a level with this tune. Here, he belts out the hook as though his inner monologue is speaking to his psyche through a megaphone. The beat — produced by 301Circular — contributes to the boldness, as half distorted, half majestic chords rain from the speaker over rousing 808 patterns. Topping everything off is a guest verse from Razor, and the final result is a cathartic, striking three-minute denouncement of obstacles, fake friends and competitors from two of grime’s best.
Frisco – We’re In Control (prod. By Cairns Hill)
A niche corner of the internet will tell you that drill is a threat to grime, but its existence gives emcees the chance to fuse established styles with new ones. On ‘We’re In Control’, Frisco did just that. The beat, produced by Cairns Hill, features the hollow bass and gliding 808s you’d expect from drill, and the BBK emcee laces it with a fast-paced delivery. If I heard this at a grime rave, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, and the fact that artists can play with conventions in this way is exciting for music lovers.
Jawnino, Kibo & Renz – Choongtingz (prod. By Oliver Twist)
In addition to emcees spitting grime flows over drill and trap beats, there’s been a few young artists experimenting with grime’s conventions, blending it with other influences or choosing to separate themselves from the genre’s canon. You’ll hear it in music from the likes of Brbko, TripSixVivo, Kibo and Jawnino, the latter two appearing on this track with new-gen spitter Renz. ‘Choongtingz’ is built around a piano riff and modulated vocal coos, the three emcees spitting back-to-back about various love interests, and I challenge you not to sing that hook for a week after when you’ve pressed play.
Kayes Mensah, Naike & Ampong – Abacus (prod. By Kayes Mensah)
Kayes Mensah’s debut album — For My Sake: Not Yours — is full of high-quality beats and storytelling, the latter really standing out to me when I pressed play on the record. He can also do the rave-ready, energetic grime that we all know and love, which is why I picked ‘Abacus’ for this list. The track is a fireball of wordplay and technical delivery, and there’s attention to the finer details too: hushed adlibs ring out on the second guest verse, and you can never moan at the textures an idea like that creates.
p1caps – Phoneless (prod. By LiTek)
Manchester’s long had a grime history, but this year it felt like more artists from the area came to prominence on the underground, thanks to clashes, tunes and sets like this. One of the emcees that caught my eye was p1caps. He released ‘Hulk Hogan Freestyle’ in July and then went one better in November with ‘Phoneless’. The track — produced by LiTek — is spacious, with lots of open space filled by a bare-bones drum line and delayed bleeps and samples. That gives p1 a springboard to reflect on life growing up and the merits of keeping the Do Not Disturb button firmly switched on. It’s reminiscent of grime in the late tens when emcees seemed more open to vocalling beats with an experimental edge.
Low End Activist x Emz – Get Get
Summer saw producer Low End Activist release Hostile Utopia, which mixed mutated instrumentals with a selection of emcee-led jams. The album’s lead single — ‘Get Get’ — featured Bristol’s Emz, and he delivered a set of everyday life lessons over a steely, rolling and screwface-inducing beat with plenty of rhythm.
Reek0 x BXKS – Realist Set (prod. By Reek0)
Reek0 doesn’t feel like an artist you’d instantly associate with the grime ‘scene’. He’s not regularly on Mode FM, for example, but the tunes on his 2022 EP Reek0 by Reek0 feel like they could’ve only come from someone who spent their formative years rinsing the various underground genres in the U.K. ‘Realist Set’ drafts in fellow up-and-coming spitter BXKS, and the two dovetail nicely. Reek0’s stretched-out flow compliments BXKS’s pinpoint style, all delivered over a beat that sounds like someone signal jammed the tones of your favourite jazz player.
Jammz x Duece Lumiere – Forgive Me (prod. By J Beatz)
Jammz’s debut album dropped in November — read the review here — and it was an example of how at its strongest, grime is a conduit for looking within. There are plenty of bangers on the record, too, but ‘Forgive Me’ really stood out to me. Here, Jammz pulls back the curtain, choosing to go toward the times he got it wrong in life. It’s a part of his artistry we haven’t heard before, and importantly a great tune, which is why it made this list.
Jake Plisken x Tintz – Mind Ur Business
Rounding out the list is a track that dropped at the beginning of the year. ‘Mind Ur Business’, by Jake Plisken and Tintz, is a delightful barrage of lyrics, with Tintz spitting consistently over a scorched earth dubstep beat. Continuous gun fingers when this one lands on the speakers.