It’s been common over the past 18 months to hear the uninitiated discussing a ‘resurgence’ of the grime scene. However, it would be more accurate to say that the movement has simply experienced the next stage of it’s evolution. Young MCs and producers - who have been around grime for as long as they can remember - are perfecting their own approach with a new fluidity of influences, and maturity of sound. While the world is watching Drake elevate the status of a chosen few, the next generation artists from London’s underbelly have been holding council, preparing their own campaigns for glory.
One night in March a vanguard from four corners of the capital assembled in a basement in New Cross, with only one item on the agenda; to shell. Ets was there from West London crew MTP (My Team Paid), PK represented North’s YGG (You Get Grime) and every member of South East’s Vision Crew select committee joined them. Invigorated by Internet radio sets and increasingly sprawling fanbases, grime’s new blood are making crucial moves in the direction of career longevity by connecting, collaborating and breaking the insular mentality that kept the scene static the first time around.
The embodiment of this mentality of interconnectedness is Vision Crew’s own Ezro. The 19-year-old Lewisham native is perhaps best known for producing AJ Tracey’s early breakout single ‘Spirit Bomb;’ a feat he achieved only a few months into his production career, aged 17. Telling me that he had to take a day out from college to record the single at Red Bull Studios, it takes a minute for Ezro to ease into his own recollection because, as he made clear in a preface to our conversation, he is recovering from the aforementioned New Cross rave the night before.
With the pervasive wheel-up screech still ringing in his ears, I ask him how it feels to be part of such a thriving new scene, particularly on nights when a shared love for the sound assembles it’s various leaders of the new school, himself included, under one sweat lined, low-hung, ceiling. “It’s sick. When everyone comes together on nights like that, it shows us all that the work we’re doing is for a reason; the people are listening.”
Although he doesn’t commit to suggesting that he is actively trying be progressive with the music makes, Ezro’s approach is refreshingly open-minded, especially when it comes to the instrumentation and form of his production. He is always ready to take steps beyond the confines of 140 beats per minute and constantly looks beyond the high-rise blocks and low-strung speakers of London for inspiration. His musical education began early in his youth when, taking cues from his brother, MC and producer ACE, an interest in cultures far removed from his own was sparked within him, turning his attention to Japanese animation, Chinese soundscapes and storytelling in the great American rap album.
“When I started I was just doing it for fun, like with my friends,” he says when we talk about his early motivations. “I’ve always liked music, but there was no intention of getting anywhere. Eventually, as I was sticking to it, it developed into something better.” In its infancy, Ezro’s foray into music was an amalgamation of these things, translating the interests of him and his friends into the music they’d listen to on their phones at the back of the bus.
“Outside of grime, I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop,” he reflects, “but also a lot of random stuff too, like old-school Chinese music. I’m always looking for sick samples to put in my own beats. I can’t tell you my sources obviously, but I like the sounds of Asia, and always try to take shit from decades ago and bring them into the new world.” The result is a unique brand of UK rap that is steeped in mood and atmosphere, instrumentals with etherial synths and drums reminiscent of Portishead layering up in support for bars that ring deeper than the traditional concerns of rave-ready grime tunes.
His debut album 'Ghost in the Blue' takes it name from Masamune Shirow’s 1989 manga series Ghost In The Shell. He was introduced to it through the 1995 anime incarnation which his brother owned on DVD and he’s been obsessed with since childhood. “As I’ve grown up watching it, and getting older I’ve properly understood the concepts behind it,” he says. “It was a big influence on my music, and so now it’s me trying to bring all that together, along with where I come from and that stuff.”
As is often the case with work rooted in grime, Ezro’s deft lyricism throughout the album paints vivid pictures of London living. These snapshots of the ends are juxtaposed constantly with samples and instrumentation with strong Japanese influence, and skits taken from North American TV and cinema. ‘Ghost in the Blue’ has a narrative strength and cinematic quality you don’t tend to get in music born out of MC culture. “For me, for an album to be good it has to feel kinda like a movie - from start to end. I’ve listened to Dr Dre, Ab-Soul, Kendrick [Lamar], Mick Jenkins, and paid attention to the way they structure their albums, and adapting the style to fit mine.”
The album is enormously varied, and so is an impressive display of Ezro’s versatility as an artist: tracks like the Novelist-backed ‘Do Not Trouble Me’ and the Fetty Wap sampling ‘Love for the Girls,’ (featuring the rest of Visions Crew) show Ezro to be a meticulous and accomplished producer. The more ambient moments, such as ‘Higher Powers,’ and it’s long spoken word introduction, present the listeners with a considered and intelligent MC, highly lyrical but still accessible. It’s tough to pin down Ezro’s sound, as it flows so freely between the various branches of UK rap culture. He is an artist that has fully immersed himself in the scene, but instead of trying to emulate the pioneers of grime and UK rap, he is audibly to learning from their history, and plotting his own path forward.
“If I’m spitting on something it has to give me a certain feeling,” he reveals. “I need to know it’s going to be a banger. In terms of lyricism, I try to make sure what I’m saying has a message.” If grime, or any form of UK rap music is to enjoy longevity of it’s American counterpart, it will be the progressive, globally inspired artists like Ezro that keep it moving.