Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials & the Meaning of Grime

hold tightDisclaimer: I’m not a Grime fan. But let me tell you how I came to read Hold Tight by Jeffrey Boakye. I was at Africa on the Square,  and saw the yellow book cover calling to me at one of the stalls. I pick up the book and leaf through it, intrigued and excited by the analysis of jungle and garage tracks of yesteryear. And as I’m deciding whether or not to buy it – to be honest I was leaning towards not – a woman beside me, with her son in tow, suddenly exclaims “Oh my God, that’s my brother’s book!”. I look at her bemused, wondering who/what she’s talking about, and she says again this time to her son “See that’s uncle’s book!!”. The son looks at the book, looks at me. I look at the book, I look at the woman, understanding slowly beginning to crystallise, and she says again apologetically “Sorry, it’s my brother’s book, just really…”. “No it’s fine”, I break in, “I quite understand”. And we do that British thing of smiling awkwardly at each other, but in recognition that Something Has Just Happened Here. Then she asks me if I minded if she took a picture of me holding the book. How could I refuse? It seemed like fate, how could I not buy the book?

So Mr Boakye, if you received a picture from your sister of a short black woman holding a copy of your book last October. That was me, and your sister’s excitement resulted in a sale! You owe her! And I owe both of you, because seriously, I really enjoyed reading this book!

As I said I’m not a Grime fan. I mean there’s the odd track I like, but by and large I don’t really follow the scene. That said I still I can appreciate the roots from which Grime emerged because I was and am still a Jungle and UK Garage fan. I also like cultural history, so for me this enthusiastic, energetic, humorous, ‘fanboying’ journey through a section of UK Black music history was like a fantastic joyride with an ‘Amen Break’ enthused soundtrack playing in the background.

Speaking of which, I did not know about the ‘Amen Break’! Actually I did, but I didn’t know that was what it was called and I did not connect its significance in Reggae, Hip Hop, Jungle, Drum and Bass, UK Garage and Grime till now. And if you’re reading this and don’t know what the hell I’m on about, well it’s a sign you need to read this book.

Reading through the track list, which by the way, you have to listen to on YouTube or Spotify at the same as reading, just to get the full effect, I began to get a fuller understanding the resonance Grime has amongst Black teens in the UK and now increasingly in the US. Boakye’s insightful examination does much to illuminate the cultural relevance of Grime and its journey from the marginalised underground to the mainstream.

The book’s examination of the hypermasculinity prevalent in Grime did not really illuminate anything new for me. According to Boakye’s analysis, societal expectations on men and boys to ‘be bold. Take risks. Make money. Get girls. Win acclaim. Be clever. Be strong’, is reflected in Grime’s machismo posturing, aggression and problematic lyrics which include misogyny and homophobia. Boakye does not offer any solutions – nor is he expected to – but he does acknowledge and lament the hypermasculinity in music and the obvious issues it causes within communities.

Even though the premise was to examine Black masculinity, I still would have liked more about women in Grime. There is a scattering of mentions of female MCs such as Shystie and Lady Leshurr and how, Shystie in particular, cut through the typical examples of male aggression with her message of female empowerment. It would have definitely been interesting to explore this further, especially in this current climate. But perhaps that’s a topic for another book.

All in all Hold Tight a riveting read about a genre of music defined by how unapologetically Black and British it is. Even the writing style reflects this. And maybe this is part of the reason why it was such a joy to read. I’ll be definitely on the look out for more books written by Jeffrey Boakye, and maybe I’ll listen to a few more Grime tracks along the way.

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