Right place, right time. Throughout music history, combinations of location and circumstance have conspired to forge unlikely flashpoints, birthing radical sounds and scenes and pushing them into wider public consciousness. But even more dramatically localised than the residents of Haught-Ashbury and their acid-soaked Summer Of Love, or three alumni from Belleville High School accidentally programming techno in amongst Detroit’s industrial landscape, the core nexus of grime culture took place in an almost laughably low-key setting: a cramped, dimly-lit parental basement; The Dungeon, aka Jammer's mum's cellar.
Lord Of The Mics may have sprung up in an unassuming East London stairwell but its influence far outstrips those modest beginnings, stamping a defining imprint on a major part of British culture in the 2000s. Embryonic strains of grime had existed on pirate radio and in raves like Sidewinder for a number of years prior, and clash culture had been around for decades, imported largely from Jamaican soundsystem culture. Still, Jammer’s homebrewed DVD series brought another dimension to the emergent sound, gifting a visual element that legitimised and massively expanded the appeal of what had previously been tricky to definitively pin down.
Whereas nowadays it takes mere seconds to access archival footage - say you fancy checking Dizzee and Crazy Titch’s aborted sparring match on the roof of Deja Vu FM, there are dozens of available uploads to pick from - when Lord Of The Mics 1 dropped in 2004, it was a major event. It pioneered several years where road DVDs were the hottest thing in grime, bar the odd chart infiltrating single. Which is funny in a way, as the majority of contenders in that first edition were mates from the same schools and estates, still clearly taking cues from the arcade games of their youth: lifting the infamous Street Fighter sample to announce rounds, or Kano referencing Mortal Kombat in his hilariously over the top promise to rip Wiley’s spine out.
Male-dominated aggression was naturally a key component of the emergent sound, but some of the truest tension in LOTM came later down the line: Slew Dem looming imposingly over Fudaguy as he clashed Rage in Vol.2; Marger swinging wildly at Lay Z when Vol.3 returned in 2011; the infamously debased mum cusses between Demon and Bashy. In the early days, it was about bragging rights and making a statement. Bars bounced back and forth at nearly impossible speed, Esco always lurking in the background, gassed excitement from Jammer: these became Lord Of The Mics’ hallmarks. Which isn’t to undersell the talent being documented - Kano and Wiley’s white-hot clash is as seminal a moment in the development of British music in the past 10 years as you’ll find. Not that they knew what it was to become. As Jammer tells us in the video, had Wiley simply not picked up his phone that day, the landscape of grime might look very different today.
Beyond obviously affording us hours of unmissable entertainment, Lord Of The Mics has plenty to answer for in its wake. For one, placing the impetus on DVD mixtapes helped foster a DIY ethic. Pretty much anyone with a handicam or, from Vol.2 onwards, a flip-screen phone could do it; a democratisation of music before the internet had switched up into its present role. Adding an unfussy visual representation of seemingly basic elements - the fashion, the low-key surroundings, the jovial pack mentality - helped cement a sound and scene that was mutating and progressing faster than anyone could keep up with. As scores of contemporary YouTube comments pay tribute to, watching the fluid interplay between “K-A-N-ain’tshottingno-Os” and the Eskiboy being told “no room for you, so move over” inspired endless nights of aspirational crews huddled round in dank rooms going over ‘Pulse X’, scrawled notes clutched in hand. Lord Of The Mics lit the fuse on a tinderbox that blew up in a serious way.
Naturally you can draw a throughline to Boiler Room - the influence of LOTM on what we do is self-evident. Some of our favourite moments over the past four years have spawned from the same culture: as well as featuring original heads Boy Better Know and Newham Generals, the kind of multi-MC live PAs helmed by grime aficionados like Bok Bok and Slimzee have been equally strong; plus, the recent Ratking demolition in London displayed similar shades. It’s that same strive for rawness, for authenticity, for purity of sound and vision - the qualities displayed on LOTM, from the first edition to the most recent. Ten years on, it echoes louder than ever. That’s why we’re proud to be showcasing a Lord Of The Mics special takeover on Boiler Room, with some of the greatest grime MCs of all-time - and many of the best contestants in LOTM history - letting rip across an 80 minute cypher: Ears, Jammer, Skepta, Frisco, Bashy, Wiley and many many more. We’re fucking pumped, and we hope you’ll be joining us on May 19th.
Below is our BTS, shot at the original Dungeon, directed by Cieron Magat.