Hattie Collins has been covering Grime since before it even had a name, so it’s safe to say that she’s a veteran in the documentation of this culture. It’s no surprise either that she’s the first to write a book on the subject, with her newly released THIS IS GRIME providing an oral history that takes it back to the days of Ladies Hit Squad and 187 Crew.
With the input of everyone from Wiley and Dizzee to Skepta and Jme, Novelist and Stormzy to Martin Clark and Chantelle Fiddy, the book offers up a non-linear and contradictory insight into the tale of the UK’s most exciting musical movement, offering room for reader interpretation, opinion and growth as the legend continues to build.
After catching up with photographer Olivia Rose yesterday, we got into deep conversation with Hattie, to discuss the creation of Grime’s first history book, and the future of the culture…
How long has the idea of this book been in your head?
I think probably six years. Around 2010 Tinie Tempah’s manager called me to ask if I wanted to ghostwrite Tinie’s book. I was like “I don’t know what that means, but yes I do!” So I ghostwrote his book which was basically just helping him to assemble stories that he wanted to tell. So then from that I got an agent who would send me to meet people to go and have an interview for One Direction’s book or whatever – which FYI I did not get! But I would meet these publishers and be like “Oh, what about doing a book on Grime?” And they’d be like “Ahh, that’s cool, but do you know Ed Sheeran? Can you get a book on him?”
So I’d been mentioning it to people, but I didn’t really have a solid idea. I just thought we should do a book on Grime. I think when me and Olivia sat down, between us the idea of it came about. Then when I actually went and pitched it to the publishers, they were like “Oh ok, you want to do an oral history with images.” Rather than just “a book on Grime” which is a bit vague.
I think when we sealed the deal creatively on what we wanted the book to look like and what we wanted to say, that was much more attractive to publishers who could see what we could do and be like “Oh right, we could probably sell this to people.”
What made you choose to make it an oral history?
Even though I was around the scene at the beginning through Chantelle Fiddy – she told me about this new music, so I was around the scene from like 6 months to a year after it first started happening, it’s still such a murky area. You know in hip-hop they’re like Kool Herc, in 1974 he went to Jamaica, saw them DJing, came back and brought the idea – there’s like a narrative. With Grime, so many people did so many different things at the same sort of time.
Obviously you’ve got Wiley and everyone knows that Wiley is the biggest instigator of the scene and the biggest innovator of the scene, but I just though, rather than me telling the story – who cares what I think? – it’s much more interesting to read from the people that were there at the beginning. And also their parents, like talking to Jammer’s mum or whatever, all of those different perspectives.
I feel what’s good about an oral history is it can be a bit contradictory. There’s a really nice line in there from Martin Clark, who us the O.G. of journalism as far as I’m concerned, that says “It turns out memories can be rewritten.” So that’s what’s interesting about the book, you do get all of these different takes on the same thing. Memories, time, ego – all of these things tend to filter our recollection of things. So rather than me write what I think happened and have everybody slew me, I just thought why not let the people that actually created this tell the story from their perspectives, their different recollections, just let the story come out that way. I just think it’s more interesting to read.
The conflicting stories and opinions really give the book a lot of character…
There’s so many big characters in grime as well. Another reason for doing this that was because this was an easier way to get people in like – lots of kids today aren’t going to know who Prancehall is, but he’s one of my favourite voices in the book, because he’s so funny. Kids today might know RWD Mag but they don’t know about the RWD Forum, they might know SB.TV but they don’t know what the RWD Forum did. I can have Alex Johnson in there. It would have been harder to do that if I was doing that as a book written from myself, because people wouldn’t care. That format is a really good way to express a musical genre and a subculture, much more effectively than it is have one person try and jam it down people’s throats what they think happened.