I've been alarmed recently to see how Grime's history is fading away, at least in the digital domain. Aficionados are probably familiar with how some of the most important tracks never even got a release. "Headquarters" by Essentials, the original version of their track "State Your Name", is a paradigm case, a posse cut Grime track where each MC would state their name and location before spitting 16 bars of lyrics – when time came to release the track commercially, the track's big name MCs such as Kano and Crazy Titch mysteriously disappeared. Perhaps it was contractual obligations, but either way, commercial releases seemed just an echo of the real music.
In retrospect it's easy to see why - some tracks were just CD-Rs sent to DJs to play on air, or in the case of Essentials, thrown into the crowd at shows. This stuff circulated quick, but old tracks would get left on old harddrives, or copied over, etc etc. But it illustrates an uncomfortable paradox: that this most digital-savvy of musics could get cut and copied until it was unrecognisable from what really happened.
(some cases in point: you can hardly find any tracks online by Essentials, although you can check out "Headquarters" via a tape rip; the amazing "Sidewinder" by Wiley, Flo Dan, God's Gift, Trim and many others is available to watch right now, but half the time I look for it it ain't there; and one which really tears at my heart is that Wiley's "Dylan's On A Hype Ting", an extraordinary response track to Dizzee Rascal, can't be heard anywhere)
Anyway, anyway: the point of this post is to introduce the excellent Grime Historian YouTube channel, which while it isn't remotely exhaustive, at least goes some way to plugging some of the gaps in Grime's history which have been punched in the last few years. There's over 200 tracks on there thus far, and it's been worth it for me simply to check out many long-cherished tracks by Ears, one of the best Grime MCs of the mid-2000s who somehow never really quite broke through and whose work seems to have disappeared into the ether. How can you resist a track called "Verb And Pronoun Boy"? I certainly can't. Ears was known for a tongue-twisting, syllable-mangling vocal style which somehow managed to always sound precise and elegant, and it's put to good effect on "Backwards Riddim", where he neatly tip-toes around a reversed version of Dexplicit's "Forward" rhythm. Finally, you can check out a version of Ears's "Fine Fine" – this is just a snippet, but this track is absolutely devastating, a sing-song delivery which darts in and out of the most futuristic body-popping beat that I'd ever heard, at least back in 2005. Back to the future...