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How Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’ marked the start of a new era for grime

“I want to win everything that I do,” says Skepta, leaning against a leather sofa and addressing a VHS camera as part of a 2014 mini-documentary centred around his new freestyle ‘That’s Not Me’. Three minutes in, the film cuts to Meridian Walk, north London, for the lead performance, shot by legendary UK underground music filmmakers Tim & Barry. It’s lively but understated, capturing the energy that defined the pair’s early videos and laced with the typical self-confidence of the Adenuga brothers, Joseph Junior (Skepta) and Jamie (JME). Back then, it would’ve been difficult to predict just how influential that footage would become.

Months later, Skepta sauntered onstage at the MOBOs and picked up the 2014 Award for Best Video. “The ‘That’s Not Me’ video cost me 80 English pounds!” he proudly told the audience, elated, disclosing that he’d had to find his own way to the ceremony after missing out on an invite. Meanwhile, the duo who shot the film were sat in a car park, completely unaware of why exactly their phones were blowing up.

“We didn’t even know the video was up for an award,” says Barry, one half of the duo (who prefer not to publicise their last names). “We’d been documenting grime since 2002, 2003, and we were heavily part of the scene. Shooting that video was great because it continued to put our visual identity to the scene, the music and the wider world. You can see the knock-on effect today, with so many live streams using blue screen and green screen technology, so I think we had a large impact on the scene visually.”

“We were in a car park at the Barbican when we found out about the award,” adds Tim, his partner-in-crime. “We started getting texts from friends, and our Twitter was blowing up. Once we found out what was going on, we drove back to our studio, parked up and celebrated with a single pint and a packet of crisps.”

It was a simple celebration for a defining moment in the mid-2010s mainstream explosion of the grime sound. Alongside tracks like Meridian Dan’s ‘German Whip’, Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’, and Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Rari Workout’, ‘That’s Not Me’ — released as a single on June 8, 2014 — helped catapult a proud but peripheral UK scene onto TV screens, car radios and smartphones across the country. In a revealing conversation featured on Skepta’s breakthrough 2016 album ‘Konnichiwa’, Chip sums up this transformation, asking ‘Who’s seen the country flip on its head like this, fam?’ The Adenuga brothers’ beefy, nostalgic, no-nonsense collaboration contributed massively to that switch.

“‘That’s Not Me’ redefined things,” Tim reflects. “They were trying to get grime musicians to make pop music, and that track flipped it on its head, making grime music that could be popular. Today, no one would sign an underground artist and then try to put them with an R&B singer over a pop beat. Skepta’s lyrics were like ‘I’m putting all that stuff in the bin, and I’m just gonna do me.’”

While it was centred on a fiercely independent solo vision and a distinctive Skepta sound (JME later told Anthony Fantano “I do not see Skepta produce any beats… but I know when I hear a Skepta beat”), ‘That’s Not Me’ also paid tribute to the broader scene the pair had grown up shaping and taking influence from. The track’s juicy synth line drips with nostalgia, sounding like it’s been plucked from an icy early ’00s Wiley instrumental. Its Eskibeat-esque feel comes from Skepta’s use of the Plugsounds preset ‘Bagoo’, which he describes in the 2016 documentary Greatness Only as a “very classic… flutey kinda sound.” It’s been used in a range of legendary grime tunes including Wonder’s ‘What’ and Wiley’s ‘Morgue’, and helped contribute to an infectious marriage of nostalgia and innovation.

“It felt very contemporary, but it had all the classic grime sounds,” says Tim. “We were around Skepta quite a lot at that point, and he was trying to do more creative things. We’d always tried to represent the scene and musicians in a way they’d want to be represented. He said that [the duo’s underground live streaming platform] Just Jam reminded him of pirate radio, so we decided to shoot in the style of Just Jam and put the original freestyle in the background. It was all edited live, and it probably took about 20 minutes to shoot.”

This was part of a wider nostalgic edge that influenced the so-called ‘Grime 2.0’ sound that peaked between 2013 and 2017. Alongside the use of retro visuals and synth sounds, you had freestyles like Stormzy’s ‘Shut Up’ and ‘WickedSkengman Part 4’ that hinged on classic grime instrumentals (XTC – ‘Functions on the Low’ and JME – ‘Serious’ respectively), while tracks like Dave & AJ Tracey’s Top 40 single ‘Thiago Silva’ sampled and reworked old-school beats (Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Pied Piper’ in this case).

Using terms like ‘renaissance’ to describe this period can overlook the fact that Boy Better Know, Wiley, P Money and numerous other grime artists had been plugging away for years in the run-up to this moment. By leaning on nostalgia but adding a fresh twist, the most successful rappers and producers in this wave of grime were tipping their hats to those who came before.

“I wanted to put out a video that made people feel like it was made back in the day,” Skepta told Crack in 2015. “But the reaction to it was mad. I couldn’t believe it.” As well as blowing up across the UK and swooping to Number 21 in the UK’s Official Album Charts, the song set the blueprint for Adenuga’s Mercury-winning 2016 album ‘Konnichiwa’. It also helped show how an artist could cut through with an unapologetically grimy track that stuck true to the movement’s grassroots foundations by vehemently rejecting designer brands, pretentious fashion statements, and commercial hype.

It was a message that connected. To this day, ‘That’s Not Me’ remains one of a select few tracks that redefined how grime would portray itself in a new era, an era beyond pirate radio sets and cracked versions of Fruity Loops, when the movement’s most loyal pioneers could achieve worldwide success by just being themselves. Anything other than authenticity – that’s not them.

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