Exclusive Interview: Grim Sickers – The ‘Stoke Away’ of the grime scene
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Travelling to all number of radio stations and making a name on live sets is a well-trodden path for grime MCs, and with good reason, but it’s not been the platform of initial exposure for everyone. Growing up in Swindon, Wiltshire, Grim Sickers had listened to Sidewinder tape packs and watched Practice Hours DVDs, but he was far away from the scene, and not just in a geographical sense. Until around four years ago Sickers was known as a rapper to his local supporters and music affiliates, and so while there was an appreciation for grime his head was elsewhere. That soon changed when he caught the eye online of Jammer, who saw his potential when many others could not, and surprisingly picked him for a clash on Lord Of The Mics 5. Thrust into the spotlight of grime’s premier battle arena, it wasn’t before long that Sickers was driving across the country to capitalise on the opportunity, touching radio in different cities whenever possible.
If initially divisive, the gruff, cartoonish aggression on mic was doubtlessly entertaining and a cult Grim Sickers following grew along the way. His mixtapes have included collaborations with not only his exciting radio contemporaries but also legends he listened to growing up such as Ghetts and Nasty Jack, but arguably the biggest chapter in his music career so far began last summer with his now infamous single ‘Kane’. A Twitter video of his bars – “I spin man like Kane, what kind of Kane? Wrestling Kane, not that Kane, N.A.S.T.Y. Crew Kane…” on a 1Xtra set with Sian Anderson impressed the acclaimed producer Swifta Beater, who offered to work his magic with the acapella for an official version; JME, whose online support for the bars soon led to him offering a verse for a remix, and Mike Skinner, whose belief in the record helped to secure Sickers a deal for it at Warner.
This writer was supposed to interview Grim Sickers at the video shoot for ‘Kane’, directed by Skinner, not only failing to do so but instead making a cameo appearance in the video. When we eventually find time to sit down a month or two later, Sickers is fresh from a week in which he as attended a BRIT Awards after party, performed in two cities and been interviewed in a national newspaper about his beloved wrestling. Things are moving quickly.
‘Kane’ is still going strong, with a new explosive remix from Ghetts set to extend its lifespan even more, and while such a prolonged focus on one single is something he admits needs getting used to – this is an artist previously known to try new songs every few weeks on his Soundcloud – a run of 20 guest features from December to February has helped appease Sickers’ habit. Driven as ever, the MC is here to make sure he takes this latest opportunity with both hands, just as he did with Lord of The Mics a few years previous. He’s made the most of the chances handed to him up to this point, and we wouldn’t bet against him now.
We went back and listened to some of your earliest work. What do you see in that artist then that is still here in you today?
I think my work ethic is the same. Then I was just a young man finding something that I liked, and I was so inexperienced I shouldn’t have been putting out CDs then really but I did anyway just to prove that I had something.
I always think I improve with every track, so when I listen to an old track it’s not really timeless for me yet. I’m not at that stage in my career when I can listen back and think ‘oh this track is good’. There are a few of them, but I never listen to my own material ever. Maybe I should, I dunno.
In those days you were very much a rapper first, right?
I was a rapper, definitely. I liked grime but where I was, there wasn’t an avenue for grime. My fans were local and they listened to rap so I made rap for them really. I knew I had something different to offer on grime, though. I had a different approach, whereas if I were a rapper I’d be a normal rapper. I wouldn’t stand out.
When did you realise you had something to offer on grime?
When everyone was laughing when I was MCing, but they weren’t laughing at me. I was so different that a lot of people thought I was swag – they might still today – but I was so different that it took me a lot of time to realise I was just special more than rubbish, and that not everyone is gonna get you. I’ve had a lot of bad comments, but I’ve got a thick skin because I knew really I had nothing else in this world to do. Music was all I had.
What’s your earliest grime bar that you still spray today?
“Black bin bag him”. I wrote it for that Grimmy dub, and that’s what caught everyone’s ear.
How do you look back on that Lord Of The Mics clash with Grimmy?
I should never have pulled out the tampon! I used it in the wrong context. [Overall] I wasn’t ready, but I think Jammer saw that there was something to me. Everyone was saying don’t put him in, who’s this guy? because nobody had ever heard of me before. I’ve never really watched that clash so I couldn’t tell you that performance, but I must have won the war.
I got a lot from it. It was a big jump for me, because I missed out radio. My first thing was clashing in the basement, and I had never done a radio set before. I went from my bedroom to clashing some guy. It was a brave move by Jammer and I’ll always be in debt to him.
Would you consider clashing again?
Yeah. I don’t think many would clash me now, I would pull a 360 on you and say mad stuff. It would be very dangerous for a vet to clash me. It’s like going Stoke away on a Monday night! That’s what I am in the scene.
At what point does radio enter the story for you?
I was living in Bristol at that time and there was nothing local. I knew I had to start going radio when I couldn’t keep up with MCs I was doing cyphers with then. They used to sound so clean! Jammz, Mez…how do these guys sound so good?! My bars are good but these guys sound so clean, their breathing and technique.
The first time I went radio was with Big Zuu at Mode FM. This is 2014. Radio was there to practice my technique. I was going once a week, but that was a lot for me. I would go to Silk [City], then I’d go to Mode or Rinse or any radio set in London. I’m in the middle between Birmingham and London, so I was going to both cities. My confidence got a lot better. MIK took me to my first Rinse set, and my confidence started rising because you’re used to your surroundings. When I first went on there I was shaking like a leaf, but the more you go the better you get.
You’ve dropped a lot of music over the last year on radio too.
There’s so much music I’ve got that is unreleased. A lot of it doesn’t work, but I’m not scared to get up and try again. If a song doesn’t work, I’ll scrap it and go on to the next one. I got that off Wiley. I kept slapping and slapping, and that led to ‘Kane’.
Is there any unreleased music that you wished would see the light of day?
I’ve got a tune with Manga that needs to come out. There’s a tune I’ve got with Ghetts that I recorded in 2015 and it’s mad, but it never came out.
We’ve heard you say before how enjoyable your first sessions with Ghetts were.
I find it weird how much he rates me. His level of MC-ing I’m nowhere near, so I think what qualities does he see in me to work with me so much? We’ve worked a lot, not all of it has come out but he came to my studio session the other day just to absorb vibes. I find it overwhelming, because his level of MC-ing is crazy. What he’s done to the ‘Kane’ remix…you think it’s his tune! It’s his best verse since ‘All Black Winter’, and that’s not a stab at anyone. He’s gone back in that mode.
You mention the Ghetts remix of ‘Kane’, which follows the JME remix that got signed. It’s gone on quite the journey! How did it get signed?
‘Kane’ gets signed when Despa [Robinson] becomes my manager. Despa has sent it to Murkage Dave, and from him it’s got to Mike Skinner. He’s text Despa, ‘how do I get involved with this record?’ I’ve been a big Streets fan, so I couldn’t really turn it down. Even before that record had come about, I used to say to myself in my head that he was someone who I’d go with. If he ever came, I would run to Mike Skinner rather than to be a part of a Roll Deep or a N.A.S.T.Y. Crew. I had chosen Mike Skinner before he asked me! He’s someone I’ve always looked up to, it’s a dream come true. So I’m signed to Mike Skinner, then ‘Kane’ gets picked up by Warner. I’ve got a two single deal with an option of a third. Really he got me that deal. The trust he has in the record is immense.
I quit my job when I signed my deal. Do you know what, I was probably writing a lot more when I was working as I was more focused. I can’t get to sleep on time, my routine is out of the window, but it feels good. I can’t complain! It might not last forever bruv so I can’t be content. I’ve got to get a strong second single, and a third single, and the Intercontinental Champ EP. I’m doing an EP and hopefully an album by the end of the year.
Do you know what the second single will be yet?
I’ve got singles there but I’m not sure which is the right one. I’ve got a lot of time. How do I follow up on ‘Kane’? I don’t know, but I will. I don’t want to be remembered for ‘Kane’. It’s wonderful record but it’s simple and I would hate to be known only for it. I want to go back into rap, to show people I can do this. Look at the Stormzy album. I’m a grime MC that can rap. I think I’m a musician, and I can definitely tackle rap as good as anyone.
We look forward to seeing it all unfold! Thanks for your time. Anything else to add?
My favourite MC is Dot Rotten. I just want that to be put in there. I think he is the best MC of all time. He’s the most underrated musician of our time. The stuff he was making at 16, like ‘Used To Be Mine’ and all them tunes…come on. I hope he gets another run.