“It’s a Corbyn ting” – Stormzy
Grime; London’s mash up of UK garage and jungle music. Rapid, syncopated breakbeats featuring jagged electronic sounds, with a gritty lyrical depiction of urban life narrating a grungy beat.
But why, in 2017, did Grime have such an impact on politics?
On 18th April 2017, Teresa May called for a snap election, “to make a success of Brexit.” She confidently did so, with the aim (and expectation) of winning a landslide Tory majority. In fact, she wasn’t alone in her thinking. The early polls indicated that the Tories were leading by 25%. The story of how Labour turned the election around is arguably one of the most astonishing political fightbacks in modern campaigning history.
Ever since I can remember, I have always been interested in politics. My parent’s heads would be fried after any long car journey with me in the back seat. I somehow always managed to annoyingly dominate the conversation and turn it into my own, car-sized version of Stephen Nolan. So, naturally, I find myself fixated on every news outlet, political party broadcast and social media channel during election time.
The UK general election in 2015 saw less than half of under 25s casting their vote. In 2017, however, 64% of registered voters aged 18-24 fulfilled their voting duties, with the highest youth share since 67% voted in 1992. And who or what have we got to thank for this? Schools? Colleges? Parents? Westminster? No… Grime.
The relationship between grime and the government has always been a somewhat trepid one. In a 2003 radio interview, former politician, Kim Howells attempted to ‘slew’ (that’s Grime terminology for insult by the way) the grime scene, branding the artists as, “macho boasting idiots.” Grime artists are not known to publicly advocate for political parties or politicians either. Skepta (one of Grime’s most influential artists) even raps about his mistrust for the Police and politicians alike in his chart-topping hit, “Shutdown”.
“This ain’t a culture, it’s my religion
God knows I don’t wanna go prison
But if a man wanna try me, trust me listen
Me and my G’s ain’t scared of police
We don’t listen to no politician
Everybody on the same mission” – Skepta.
Grime has somewhat originated from the same people and places government legislation has hit the hardest in its austerity measures over the last ten years: dwindling prospects of owning a home, increased job insecurity, zero-hours contracts, bedroom tax and underfunded schools are just some of the many measures that have drastically impacted upon the British working class. When we look at it like that, David Cameron’s “we are all in this together” campaign now seems completely out of touch with Britain’s current reality.
Growing up surrounded by a musical genre so closely aligned with personal struggle, Grime has been dubbed as a soundtrack to many Brit’s lives. The 2017 election allowed (arguably for the first time ever) people to engage with a political figure whose own values directly replicated their lived experience. Jeremy Corbyn’s understanding of working-class issues and racial oppression struck a chord with many. It wasn’t long until the Labour Party’s PR powerhouse capitalised upon this particular appeal and promoted it to the masses.
It began when a number of Grime artists stirred up a conversation about politics. Stormzy was one of the first artists to publically express an interest in Jeremy Corbyn;
“Young Jeremy, my guy. I dig what he says. I saw some sick picture of him from back in the day when he was campaigning about anti-apartheid and I thought: ‘yeah, I like your energy’…That’s why I like Jeremy: I feel like he gets what the ethnic minorities are going through and the homeless and the working class.”
After that it was rapper AJ Tracy. He liked what Corbyn had to say so much, he made an appearance in a Labour party video. He spoke about rising house prices, how he’s in serious debt because he chose to study criminology at university, how the NHS is “one of the jewels of the UK” and further contributes to 2017’s rise of ‘Corbyn-mania’ by stating, “It’s a Corbyn ting. Not a Tory ting.”
Next up, one of Grime’s originals, JME, met Corbyn for cosy sit down lunch in London. Snapchat users seeking the latest updates from JC were greeted with something unexpected;
“It’s JME on Jeremy’s Snapchat and I’m here right now to tell you to register to vote!”
A promotional video released just days later, showed the pair discussing council housing, off-putting university debt, poorer communities and why people should vote labour. JME states that he has never voted in any election and Corbyn attempts to explain the difference he could make if he does this time around. The video portrays Corbyn as being someone young people can trust and (as JME puts it) “it feels like (you’re) out for lunch with (your) mum’s friend.’”
Grime based pro-Corbyn posters were placed around South London, showcasing artists such as Stormzy trying to persuade the ‘mandem’ to vote;
“The Tories hold Croydon by 165 votes (that’s literally it) – even your dad’s got more Facebook friends. Stormzy says vote Labour! ’”
In the final week of campaigning, the Grime4Corbyn movement was born, in which live music events were held in London and Brighton featuring panel discussions about the links between Grime and Corbyn’s politics. A website was launched and thousands of young people started posting and sharing Grime4Corbyn content across social media.
As young leaders and self-proclaimed political role models, the Grime4Corbyn movement was far from a gimmick. I highly doubt that in the run up to the election, Labour sat down and came up with the idea to use Grime music as a means of mass communicating to their selected target audience.
When a number of artists began to tease the idea that they may have an interest in voting ‘Jezza’, Corbyn’s campaign team capitalised upon this to the extreme. A selection of official and unofficial means of political public relations helped to encourage thousands of young people to vote. Corbyn claims that his success came from purely standing up for what he believes in. He didn’t ask for individual popularity and he certainly did not foresee ‘Corbyn-mania’.
Whilst I do believe this to be somewhat true, I think that the content the Grime scene created for Corbyn’s campaign was PR gold dust for the team behind him. Labour used the content that was already being created, targeted the Grime industry and ultimately reached the demographic and culture their manifesto and party policies directly related to.
Whatever you believe, the snap election brought about a real positive change for engaging youth in politics and enforces the power and persuasion of social media in political influence. After all, as Corbyn says, “political change doesn’t always come from a politician, does it?”
Hannah Martin is a final year Bsc student in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @HannahMartin596, and Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-martin-b31334112/