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Various Artists, ‘Run the Road, Volume 2’ (Vice)

By: Will Hermes

Watching a genre invent itself is one of pop’s great thrills: With rules ill-defined at best, even artistic duds become compelling for how they complete the cultural picture. So it is with U.K. grime, which has been a train-spotter’s fairground for the past year. That’s not to say it’s been easy to track, so the Run the Road series remains useful for those who don’t (yet) spend their days banging Rinse FM webcasts and trawling MP3 blogs for ripped white labels.

More so than the first set, Run the Road Volume 2 shows a scene speedily mutating, with artists like Kano, Sway, and Crazy Titch inviting the question of what grime exactly is. Dirty post-jungle beats with rappers? Hip-hop with weird accents? East London dancehall reggae? One trademark continues to be humor, which hip-hop can always use more of, and which perhaps anticipates U.S. purists finding British vernacular laughable from the get-go. The clattering “Gotta Man?” features current hot boy Doctor, who has a classic black London flow that teeters between West Indian yard chat and Cockney. He plays up the former in what appears to be a pickup attempt at a traffic light, conducted over an electro-dancehall gallop by grime heavy-weight DaVinChe, with a wit that’s as much Benny Hill as Biz Markie. Doc also chants the hook on the opener, “Get Set,” a posse cut riding a Ben Hur–scale fanfare courtesy of producer Low Deep.

Unlike U.S. rap, grime producers often get billing alongside the MCs (Kanye, take note). So add Mizz Beats to your shopping list; her glitchy, loopy, Squarepusher-ish “Saw It Coming” may be grime’s headiest track yet. The women represent: Lady Sovereign charms on a dizzy jungle-flavored remix of “Little Bit of Shhh!” and No Lay generates heat, if not much light, with “Unorthodox Chick.” But the standout is pale boy/film fanatic Plan B spitting over crude acoustic guitar riffing on “Sick 2 Def.” One part Fugees’ “Vocab,” one part Nas’ “Rewind,” and two parts Eminem shock- rhyming, its product-of-my-environment shtick is shallow but brilliantly deployed, and it adds up to nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes that’s better than simply being good.

SEE ALSO: Dizzee Rascal, Boy In Da Corner (XL/Matador, 2004)