As a genre that emerged from the working-class youth in London, grime shows just how much the music has always gone hand in hand with social issues in the UK. The likes of Skepta and Stormzy have cemented themselves in the global consciousness due to their flair for the offbeat sounds and their politically-minded lyrics. But the female artists have historically been excluded from the conversation around many genres, including grime. As the world becomes more aware of its prejudices, they have only just begun to receive the deserved level of attention and praise.
An old article in 2016, an established NYC-founded music publication, The Fader, has run a feature highlighting seven women pushing grime forward. This marked one of the starting points of such a positive change in media representation. The article especially emphasizes those who contribute to the genre in more than one way. For instance, Julie Adenuga, who was an anchor at Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, has massively helped popularize grime worldwide, contextualizing it amid many other genres. A trailblazing force in the London scene, Madam X is a standout name too, making connections between grime and techno with her Kaizen label and a residency at NTS radio.
As true for many music genres, grime has DIY roots, and Rebecca Judd is one of the younger DJs who cut her teeth as a presenter at Westside, a local grime radio station in London. Now at Beats1, she has continued growing the audience for the genre as it was reaching widespread popularity. Arguably, the grime’s transition from a niche sound to the mainstream genre was finalized when the leading voice in music journalism Pitchfork has followed the discussion on gender equality in its ranks the same year. In a long-form feature, the magazine posed the ironic question of where the admiration for the women in grime is, considering their presence has been palpable since the genre’s inception in the early 2000s.
As one of the pioneering grime artists, Chanel Cali AKA Shystie rose to prominence due to her track ‘I Luv U’ - a response to Dizzee’s infamous track of the same name. In her lyrics (and simply by her persona), Shystie was challenging the heavily male-centric world of grime at the time. So early was her participation in the genre that it was still commonly referred to as UK hip-hop because of the lack of a proper term back then. Shystie was also the first grime MC to score a record deal with a major label. In 2004, she came out with a debut LP ‘Diamond in the Dirt’ on Polydor Records, a Universal Music Group subsidiary.
Although many women who achieved great success in grime appear to have left the scene in recent years, there are a few consistent staples. In the mid-2010s, A.G. was the host of a widely popular M’n’M radio show, but she is still an integral part of the community and even occasionally pleases her fans with a new track. The internationally renowned Lady Leshurr had gained prominence in 2015 due to her ‘Queen’s Speech’ series and has been on an upwards trajectory in her creative career since then. Artists like NOLAY and Nadia Rose inject a pop sensibility into their grime productions and intentionally move away from a conventionally masculine take on the genre. These women pave their own path and lead the way for aspiring grime artists of all genders.