These British Women Are Breaking Into Grime's Boys' Club & We Couldn't Be Happier

by Sagal Mohammed
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Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Chip — they’re the first names that come to mind when listing the pioneers of grime. In the past few years, grime fans have turned to the likes of Skepta, Stormzy, and Krept and Konan, all of whom have been flying the flag for the London-born genre since it crashed over into the mainstream music scene in 2017 in the UK and beyond. But despite this progress, female grime artists have continued to be overlooked. That, however, is about to change.

For as long as grime has existed, women in the genre have struggled for parity with their male counterparts — a fact fans were all reminded of by this year’s Wireless Festival lineup, where only three female artists were on the original bill across the three-day event. You could argue that this is because the genre has historically been male-dominated, with the exception of leading female MCs like NoLay and Shystie (who by the way, are still very underrated). But its current renaissance has brought a host of fresh new female players, all of whom are more than capable of holding their own on a track — a key criteria for success in the genre — and delivering top class bars while at it.

May 25 sees the release of Generation Grime, Sky's new documentary series that delves into the history and origins of the genre. Featuring interviews with the aforementioned stars as well as DJs, producers, and industry experts, the absence of women on screen is very apparent — in episode one we meet one female record executive and Shystie, making the lack of parity seriously noticeable.

The series begins with a focus on the story behind grime, and highlights just how global it has become, having now been adopted everywhere from Australia and the streets of Russia to Western Europe and the States. As the popularity of the genre continues to flourish, it’s time we got to know the women of the moment, so here are three of grime's key female players you need to know about in 2018.

Ms Banks

Hailed by i-D in 2017 as “the most important woman in UK rap,” rising MC Ms Banks earned her place on the grime radar after her impressive "Fire in the Booth" freestyle on Charlie Sloth's Radio 1Xtra show did the rounds on social media back in 2016. Since then, she’s gone from strength to strength, collaborating with industry heavyweights like Stormzy, JME, and Stefflon Don. She even caught the eye of hip hop queen Nicki Minaj, who quoted her popular verse from "Yu Zimme Rmx" on Twitter last year.

As reported by i-D, the 23-year-old, whose birth name is Tyra Banks — turns out there’s more than one — was born and raised in South East London, and wrote her first bars aged 11. Reported by NME to be influenced by the likes of Ms. Dynamite and Estelle, her uncle was an MC in an old grime group called Essentials. Ms Banks' new mixtape, The Coldest Winter Ever, was released in April 2018.

Lady Leshurr

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Best known for her electric Queen’s Speech video series — one of which had us all chanting “brush your teeth” in 2015 — Lady Leshurr has cemented her place as a firm favourite within the grime scene. Despite gaining prominence on social media in recent years, the Birmingham-born MC has been in the business for a decade, and has been supported by music royalty like Erykah Badu.

Earlier this year, she returned with the fiery “Black Panther” (a nod to Marvel’s box office hit) reminding us all of her prolific bars and ability to deliver wit, speed, and sass, all at the same time. Currently signed to RCA records following a brief stint with Atlantic, the 29-year-old is set to drop a new LP this year, with Complex reporting that she’s working with Deputy, who previously collaborated with Rihanna, and Timbaland.

Nadia Rose

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Croydon MC Nadia Rose broke onto the scene with her 2015 hit “Station.” Since then, she went for her cheeky remix of a video of the Queen and Prince Harry to promote her single "Boom." Her witty word play and masses of energy (the video for the aforementioned “Station” sees her dancing around a railway platform without a care in the world) are part of her appeal, and Rose's number one ethos is to enjoy yourself. "Everything we’ve done has stemmed from the fun factor. I can’t do boring," she said in a interview with the Guardian in 2016.

In May of the same year, she signed a record deal and her single “Skwod” became a summer anthem, with an appearance on Glastonbury's Park Stage following in 2017. As reported by Fader, Rose, who is now 24 years old, hails from a family of musicians; her father is a dancehall DJ and her cousin is fellow grime star Stormzy. I can’t even begin to imagine what their family karaoke nights must look like, but I'm desperate for an invite.

These are just three of the best female grime artists you can expect to hear more from in 2018. I can't wait to see what more they have to offer, and what other talent emerges in their wake.