Is Drake’s adoption of Grime and his signing to Boy Better Know a crowning moment for the genre or potentially a tarnishing move amidst the increasing commercialisation of British musical identity?
There were no cryptic messages or lyrical complexities to Drake’s Instagram announcement, simply stating, “The first Canadian signed to BBK” with a picture of him alongside Skepta and Section Boyz. This social media declaration came just hours after he appeared on stage with the Grime collective at a show in London, having performed at the BRIT awards earlier that night. Drake’s addition to Boy Better Know was also publicised by member and Grime legend, Wiley, as well as co-founder Skepta who posted a picture of a BBK/OVO t-shirt, alluding to the partnership. In the past Drake has been known to show his appreciation for the label with a tattoo of the logo on his arm accompanying the use of Skepta's lyrics in Used To. The pair also appeared on Wizkid's Ojuelegba, which further set in motion the BBK and OVO collaboration.
Although it may seem like a fantastic endorsement for the label, which has produced arguably some of the UK’s most culturally relevant music in the last 15 years, it might signify the slow dissipation of Grime’s uniqueness. Whether or not Drake is committed to contributing to the genre is yet unclear, and the idea that this collaboration is perhaps a transatlantic pre-album-drop marketing ploy is a cynical but plausible viewpoint. His appearance at the BRIT awards before his surprise entrance at the Section Boyz concert could be seen as somewhat negating his signing to BBK altogether. The BRIT awards are the condensing and simplification of complex social and cultural movements into palatable formats for mainstream consumption. Perhaps Drake’s association with Grime signifies this, with his music symbolising the American corporate produced ‘Urban’ image which so heavily features in the British Charts. The reality that the UK is unable to nurture, develop or sustain home-grown black music without commercialisation has been far too apparent in previous years; just look at artists such as Tinie Tempah and Emili Sandé as examples.
The closest thing that Black British music has been able to claim as entirely its own in recent years is Grime, potentially the most unique homegrown genre in UK music since punk. Until recently the genre hasn’t made an impact on the charts like Dubstep or Garage did and therefore has not been exposed to the idiosyncrasies of mainstream success. With Drake’s recent endorsement, Grime must be wary of the American influences that have nullified the originality of the genres that preceded and formed it. If Grime moves to being in thrall to American ‘Urban’ culture then it risks following Garage or Drum’n’Bass into the void of producing vacuous boybands spewing out Topshop friendly choruses in the place of what was once a truly unique sound with truly original content.
Drake’s new album Views From The 6 is expected in April. I doubt it will sound anything like Grime bar maybe the odd mention of BBK. What may have been a tactical marketing move on his part must be heeded by Boy Better Know as it would be a great shame for the genre’s individuality to open its arms to a sullying commercialisation.