Son Raw has a dubplate for every potluck.
Considering grime has always been coded as futuristic, it’s a bit bewildering to consider the idea that genre now carries historical weight. Nearly 18 years old depending on where you want to place the exact starting point, Grime has seen its fair share of ups and downs, slumps and revivals. Notably, its 2016 high water mark led to a load of biographies and analyses, before receding in favor of new approaches and subgenres. Yet almost all attempts at documenting grime focus on the same narrative surrounding its early years: the pirate radio sets, the white label singles, the council estates, the unfairly targeted raves.
These are topics that Slackk’s Grimetapes blog covered nearly 10 years ago, so it’s unsurprising that its recent revival as a cassette/digital label would take on a new approach. What is surprising is that the “lost” material being brought back to life hits so close to home. By presenting contemporary producer Nammy Wams’ “lost dubs,” Slackk casts his gaze on the untold history of a movement he’s still very much an active part of.
Boxed’s first wave (don’t get it twisted, they’re still throwing parties) coincided with grime’s big comeback moment, but always stood a bit to the left of its mainstream glow up. Every edition I attended was full of up and coming emcees spitting bars in a circle, but the focus was on a cohort of producers who’d go on to make an impact on grime and beyond. Nammy Wams was one of those names whose dubs were always in the mix, particularly Slackk’s, but bar the odd track on a compilation, his work was never available for purchase. That he was a known entity at all speaks to the slightly trainspotter-y nature of Boxed’s audience: everyone was trading radio set tracklists, and looking out for rare dubs, even if the music was never available in a wider context. Yellow Secret Technology attempts to address this commercial void, collecting over an hour’s worth of material made between 2013 and 2018.
This expansive time-period allows for different trends and ideas to pop in and out of the album’s 20 tracks. There’s hints of Drill, the Chicago-born, UK-transformed trap variant, and R&G, a more melancholy, feminine take on grime, but principally the project zeroes in on the type of emotional, synth-heavy sinogrime that was Boxed’s defining center in its first few years. On paper, this might seem a bit meat-n-potatoes or “grime for grime nerds”, but the beauty of this material is how Nammy Wams finds countless ways to experiment all while sticking to fairly rigid parameters in terms of tempo and style.
The knock against grime’s instrumental new wave was that it was a retread of past glories, but tracks as varied as Rocks, Miharu, Spill, Less highlight just how far producers like ‘Wams stretched and twisted the genre’s original 8 bar variations into bizarre new shapes, honing the emotional resonance without sacrificing functionality for DJs and emcees. It’s a testament to both Nammy Wams’ strengths as a producer and the tape’s A&Ring, that it functions equally well as a front-to-back atmospheric listen as it does DJ food for true believers still mixing this stuff.
It’s admittedly a bit strange to see a “retrospective” label surveying a movement I tried to cover in real time on this very blog, but it’s also encouraging to see that “lost” material from this era still has an outlet. Though eclipsed by the more media-friendly rise of emcees like Stormzy, Boxed often felt like the underground heart of grime’s resurgence, laying the groundwork for its commercial assault, along fellow instructions Butterz, Local Action and Bandulu. Often times however, its best material didn’t have much commercial potential or simply wasn’t released for personal reasons, but Yellow Secret Technology proves there’s no time like the present to change that to inspire the next generation.