The review of Grime Kids is so full of joy that it will make you want to grab your Discman and blast the music of So Solid Crew.
A TV series portraying the journey of a group of black adolescents in an urban environment brings to mind a specific perception. The portrayal of harsh misfortunes and gang conflicts in an oppressed and heavily policed community. However, despite addressing the harsh realities faced by young black teens in London, Grime Kids also radiates a contagious sense of happiness that may inspire one to don a vibrant tracksuit and play So Solid Crew on an outdated Discman.
Initially, the depiction appears to be more conventional: in black and white, a cluster of black boys huddle behind a wall, appearing fearful. One of them takes a long drag from an asthma inhaler, his gaze darting back and forth. However, the tone suddenly shifts as the show bursts into vibrant Technicolor: hip-hop music starts playing and the scene is actually a group of students engaged in a playful water fight – happily drenching each other and scampering through the streams of water from their guns.
The TV series is based on DJ Target’s influential book from 2018. Target, a grime pioneer and BBC radio host, was a founding member of the Roll Deep collective, which included notable grime artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, and Skepta. Playwright Theresa Ikoko, known for her work on the critically acclaimed teen drama “Rocks”, has written this adaptation. The show follows a group of friends who have just finished their GCSEs and are navigating their way into adulthood while being heavily invested in music and having fun. Set in the early 2000s during grime’s rise, the characters look to pirate radio and underground dance scenes as their path to success. The ensemble includes sweet and romantic Dane (Yus Jamal Crookes), tech-savvy Bishop (Tienne Simon), warm-hearted yet naive Bayo (Juwon Adedokun), contemplative Junior (Gabriel Robinson), and prodigal son Kai (Shanu Hazzan), who has returned to Tower Hamlets after living in Bristol for a few years. Their shared dream is to make it in the music industry and have an unforgettable summer. As expected at their age, friendships are just as intense and complicated as romances, and the show highlights the importance of their bonds. Through all the challenges they face, they find strength, joy, and support in each other, and their love for grime never falters.
The performances of the entire group are delightful, with a lived-in detail. Even though they were not yet born during the time when flip phones were considered cool, they effortlessly adopt the language, fashion, and attitude of that era without appearing to simply play dress-up for a sense of nostalgia. Kai, who is seen as a disappointment by his father, is the crew’s secret weapon with his natural charm and impressive rap skills. However, it is Hazzan who truly stands out as a rising star, confidently pulling off the bold colors and questionable jeans of the time while sporting a stylish red durag like a model in Vogue. Beyond his swag, Hazzan displays equal skill in portraying both the flashy new grime star of east London and the quieter moments of devastation. His innate coolness shines on screen but he also reveals the insecurities that plague Kai as he struggles with feeling worthless in the eyes of the world and his own family. Through his art, he channels his pain and rejection, pouring it into vibrant notebooks, and his moments of success are both touching and well-deserved.
However, amidst the joy and excitement of open mic nights and house parties, there lies a subtle tragedy – these young individuals still see themselves as children, despite the world seeing them differently. Bayo’s words tug at the heartstrings as he questions if this will be their final summer as kids. This thought is particularly poignant considering the prevalent societal view that 16-year-old black boys are seen as adults and often perceived as threats. As Dane’s grandmother cautions him, “You don’t have to do anything wrong to be seen as wrong. You’re no longer a child, but a black man in England.”
Despite numerous changes, Grime Kids maintains a fresh and lively atmosphere, akin to a brand new pair of Reeboks. The show avoids relying on nostalgic tactics, instead challenging our preconceptions about the origins and environment of grime. In today’s society, we continue to struggle with allowing young black individuals to simply be themselves, recognizing underground music scenes as legitimate art forms, and promoting black joy on screen as much as we do black trauma. Grime Kids does not aim to lecture or criticize, but rather serves as evidence that there is still a plethora of untapped talent waiting to be discovered, and that we should not let anything hinder us from having a good time.