Stormzy, Wiley and the evolution of clashing in Grime
Author: Daniel David | Thursday 9th January 2020
The internet is ablaze at the moment as we watch the back and forth take place between Wiley and Stormzy. The hype this war has created is unprecedented in the genre, with Sky News and BBC talking about it, a testament to both the growth of the genre and the popularity of Stormzy and Wiley.
Last week I wrote about The War Report, how we would go to RWD forum to discuss it and talk about it in the playground the next day, but nowadays there are different platforms for people to discuss and that’s on social media. This means that clashes have to be different, the content, the release, the timing of it all. The War Report was a weekly thing on Logan’s show, like a good TV show it had us checking in to see what the latest plot twist would be. Most fans were waiting for Ghetts to respond, but that took about 3 weeks, building up the anticipation. Now things are much more instant, we are in the Netflix binge watch era, this changes people’s expectations of how long they can wait for a response, what is said, where it is released.
Grime clashes started on radio and on raves. These clashes were different to what we hear now, as influenced by dancehall as they were by hip hop battles, radio and rave clashes were about getting a response from the DJ and the crowd. That environment led to bars were less technical, it was about what would get the crowd hyped and what would get a reload. This meant that sometimes your opponent’s name might not even be mentioned, you might just draw for one of your more popular lyrics to get a response. For some context, if Wiley and Stormzy were clashing at an Eskimo rave back in the day, the focus wouldn’t be on talking about someone’s mum or anything, instead it Stormzy might just spit “Man try say he's better than me, Tell my man, shut up” knowing he could get the crowd in a hype.
I saw someone on social talking about the Lord of the Mics clash between Wiley and Kano. Now growing up, this was another one of those videos that would do the rounds in the playground. Kids would send around rounds and watch it on those tiny Motoroal square phones or Sony Ericssons. Seeing these 2 MCs going at it was amazing for us. But they weren’t really talking about each other much. It’s not like modern day rap battles were rappers are spending weeks writing for their opponent, instead it’s a mix of their own radio and rave bars, with names occasionally thrown in to make it seem personal. This stemmed from the rave and radio scene again. As Lord of the Mics has evolved, it has become more and more targeted, with songs released prior to the clashes, or clashes being set up between MCs who were already feuding.
One thing that also changed clashing was the move over from radio and raves to releasing music. As more and more people wanted to make a career out of Grime, they knew releasing music was the way to go. It was no longer about getting a live reaction, you were no longer looking to the crowd to respond or for the DJ to give you a reload, instead it was the buzz your diss song created. For a while this could cause an issue, as you might record a song about someone saying some really personal stuff, and then run into them at a radio station or at a rave. This led people would write more personal lyrics, knowing they would get a response at a rave or on radio, it was no longer about drawing for your popular 8bar. And now this is the most common way people clash in Grime. Wiley has had his back and forths with pretty much everyone, Trim has also been very proficient. Ghetts and P Money had their back and forth along with Dot Rotten and P Money. This allows people to be more focused, to actually take the time to dig up dirt or write about someone. The change in audience means your focus as a writer can now be completely on your target, hoping to hurt that person as much as possible using words, as opposed to hoping to get a better response than them on the stage. It also changed what MCs can be good at it, you might be able to get a great reaction at a rave or on radio, but writing songs like that may not be of interest to you, whereas other artists thrive in that. So someone like Wretch would be a lot better at writing a song than being at a rave.
But truly it has been the internet that has brought about the biggest change. Partly because it killed it all off, not just here but in the US as well, hip hop fans and grime fans have both lamented how Twitter has ruined diss songs, as artists are more likely to battle it out over social media than go in the studio and release a song. That’s why when it is done in this day and age, it is a big deal.
But social media has had a different impact as well. It’s not that social media wasn’t part of previous eras, people were still talking on socials, but now everything is heavily driven towards getting the right response on social media. Drake has been the king of this in the past, making songs he knows can be turned into memes or with lines that will be Instagram captions. After all the whole thing about if a tree falls and no one hears it, does it make a sound? There are benefits in switching up how something is released. Cadell, Wiley’s brother, and the subject of Stormzy’s first song has released his response on SoundCloud, this means people who follow the scene will listen to and it evaluate it on its own merit without focusing on the gossip or the visuals. And that is happening right now, many people are listening to it and saying that Cadell has the best response out of everything, but it isn’t going to get the same attention Stormzy got, there’s no memeable content.
Stormzy has come up in an era where social media is a huge part of life, Wiley has recently been talking about trying to move away from digital and take Grime back to the way it used to be, this means that understanding of going viral, of getting social media talking is innate in Stormzy. So when he released his first tune, he bypassed releasing it a song or putting it on other platforms or any of that, he released a video, he had a cup of tea in his hand, cause that would get people talking, he talked about BBC Breakfast, knowing he would be going on there the next day. He even has a US press run coming up, so in his mind I am sure he knows this is a good time to respond to Wiley, as he now has a good talking point that will get his interviews a buzz.
Wiley meanwhile has an old school understanding. After the release of Stormzy’s first video, social media was talking, telling Wiley for his next one he needs to release a video along with it, the levels had changed. Wiley did end up releasing a video for ‘Eediat Skengman 2’ but this was after the audio had already been out for a while, and ended up being released so close to Stormzy’s ‘Still Disappointed’ that it ended up getting overshadowed.
Stormzy also knows that ‘the tea’ will get people talking, so talking about Wiley’s brother Cadell on the first one and Wiley’s mum, no matter how much truth there is in this, will get social media talking. And it did! Heathrow Terminal 4 was even trending following the release of ‘Still Disappointed.’ Stormzy also knew people were talking about how he spat over a drill beat, and how that took away points from his first song (how do those fans feel about Bashy’s ‘Fuck Wiley’ where he spits over the Ether beat?) so he picked Kano’s Mic Check beat for round 2, knowing it would garner a response.
And Stormzy knows people want an instant response, they don’t want a week to week clash, and they want the next chapter now. So at the end of Still Disappointed he gave Wiley 24 hours to respond. This emphasis on time it takes to respond to a diss is relatively new, and something that is still slightly foreign to older fans who are used to longer waiting times between tracks. Drake pulled this off perfectly when he did Back to Back after Charged Up, telling Meek Mill ‘ I waited 4 days, where y’all at.’ These time limits have led to people on social media saying someone was losing because they were taking too long to respond, or calling on the artist telling them their time was running out, as fans have done to Wiley following Stormzy’s 24 hour deadline.
One thing that has surprised me about Stormzy’s thing is how he hasn’t recorded on an original beat yet and slapped it on streaming. Again when Drake did Back to Back, he made a tune that people could play in the club. This meant that Meek would be tormented by the song everywhere he went, but I am sure Stormzy has a reason for that.
Clashing like Grime itself has evolved, but it has been an exciting time in the genre over the past few weeks, and I hope this level of excitement continues into the next decade, I hope that grime artists have releases ready to take advantage of the hype that these songs have started and that Wiley and Stormzy are eventually able to come together again.