When it comes to the pioneers of grime, names such as Wiley, Chip, Kano and Dizzee Rascal come to mind, but little is said of their equally-talented female counterparts, such as Shystie, NoLay and Lioness, who helped propel the eclectic genre, borne out of reggae, dancehall, ragga and dubstep in the early 00s from pirate stations to its global position today. But what do we know about the women in grime?
Now grime has finally reached the mainstream waves, and with grime stars rising to prominence both in the UK, European and US charts, it’s obvious the genre can only go one way – up. With new ventures being explored – Stormzy inking a major deal with his #Merky label and Atlantic Records, as well as his #Merky festival residence continuing at Ibiza Rocks and grime godfathers Wiley and DJ Target producing books with major publishing houses Penguin Random House and Trapeze Books, as well as it’s about time the women of grime got their cut.
Exploring the women of grime is photographer, Ellie Ramsden, who has working on her Too Many Man series for the past couple of years, having been a life-long devotee of the genre. In her photos, Ellie draws attention to the faces of grime both behind the mic, and behind the scenes.
Female artists have always been present in the scene, with MCs such as Amplify Dot, Lisa Maffia and Ms. Dynamite paving the way for talents such as Little Simz, Lady Leshurr and Nadia Rose. Even female RnB artists made cameos on grime tracks, such as Sasha Keable’s early feature on Conrad the Scoundrel’s ‘You’ll be dead b4 grime is”. And their presence goes well beyond those who spit bars.
Whilst most have heard of Julie Adenuga, the U.K. anchor for Beats 1, former DJ at Rinse FM, and sister of Skepta and JME, and Sian Anderson, grime ambassador and DJ powerhouse, securing the coveted drive time, renamed Grime Time slot on Radio 1 extra, not so many have heard of Rebecca Judd, Westside DJ, Madam X, DJ at NTS, Jossy Mitsu and Alia Loren, both Radar Radio regulars, NTS DJ A.G and Flava D, both a producer and DJ on Radio 1. The countless women at the forefront of radio production, as well as music video production, such as Shan Brown, video director and producer, highlight women too are media pioneers of the genre.
The female talent in the grime scene is boundless. Women are at the forefront of grime journalism, with music journalist Hattie Collins documenting the scene from its humble beginnings to publishing her This Is Grime book on the genre with female photographer, Olivia Rose, with Hodder & Stoughton. With female figureheads such at the head of reporting, such as journalists Chantelle Fiddy and Laura Brosnan, and photographer Vicky Grout. Equally important for bringing grime to the masses are the women behind the PR, marketing and social media. GRMDaily news presenter, Joelah Noble, and former co-editor of GRM Daily, Elle Simionescu-Marin (now A&R consultant for Polydor) are just two of the hundreds of female media powerhouses transforming the status of the genre.
In the same vein as female MCs, female artists are diversifying the genre and challenging the stereotypes of what defines a grime artist by changing it up. Grime violinist, Tanya Cracknell and grime poet, Debris Stevenson, are both illustrating how diverse the genre can be.
What’s more is what females in the music scene are doing to ensure that female grime artists get the platform they need. Industry professionals such as award-winning songwriter, Carla Marie Williams, launched her Arts Academy event, where grime artists such as Laughta B (pictured below) were able to both harness, and showcase their talent. The YaggaYo grime team launched a ‘female takeover’ event, featuring new and upcoming talent from grime artists such as Radar Radio regular Jossy Mitsu, and grime MCs Miz, Nerva, Miss Twist and Deelaydee. Lady Leshurr also launched a Girls in Grime event with Red Bull Music Academy, resulting in this Game Over-esque session.
Despite the sheer talent and diversity of these artists, there still remains under-representation for women in grime. Neither female grime artists nor female MCs have been nominated in this year’s BRIT awards. No female artists in the grime, hip hop, or even rap genre made the shortlist for the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2017. Even at last year’s MOBO awards, the grime category was a stark portrayal of how little female grime artists are recognised, with all-male nomination list (despite female grime artists being present in other categories, such as Little Simz, Nadia Rose and Lady Leshurr, who made the shortlist for ‘Best Female Act’). The only grime artist to be featured in NME’s top 50 albums of 2017 was Stormzy.
With female MCs such as Cardi B and Nicki Minaj dominating the charts here and across the pond, including British MC, Stefflon Don collaborating with French Montana to produce the chart-topping Hurtin’ Me, it’s pretty clear there is a market for female rappers and their potential is limitless.
The British music scene is not short of female talent. With the rising recognition of musicians blending genres, such as IAMDDB, Jorja Smith, Joy Crookes and Mabel, to name a few, it’s clear that the demand for female artists is ever more present. The disregard for female talent in grime has grown tired, and with the uprising of women-led movements like Time’s Up, there’s never been a better moment to address the lack of support for females in both the grime music scene and beyond.
Photographs are from photographer Ellie Ramsden’s Women In Grime series, as part of her upcoming book, Too Many Man
Written by Cassandra and Camille . Website: www.cassandracamille.co.uk, Twitter: @mircassandra