This World Isn't Even Safe For Me. This is a Suicide Bomb
For 10 years, Trim has been grime's perennial outsider. Fred MacPherson walks a decade in his shoes and discovers he's planning to detonate his past.
All photos by Jake Lewis
“Shape shifting Sith Lord, sick thing Van Helsing, Sith Trim Shankvan Tali, itchin' from kitchens to biscuits, E14 I does this…”
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video for Roll Deep’s “When I’m Ere”. As 140 beats per minute of melting Middle Eastern arpeggios, tongue twisters and dog barks stuttered out of my speakers, I genuinely thought the guys on screen might walk down my parents’ LAN connection, out of my 17th birthday Compaq laptop and beat me to death with baseball bats.
Nearly ten years on and a thousand think pieces later, grime’s rise and fall has been well documented, but it isn’t as simple as a few done good and the rest fucked it. Sure, it’s a genre often spoken about in the past tense that’s only given us a handful of genuine icons, but the knock on effect its had has been considerable: whether that’s the return of the grime instrumental as bona fide club music (Darq E Freaker, Preditah, Spooky Bizzle et al), its subconscious influence on trap and hip-hop (angry Youtubers accused Footsie’s "Spookfest" of sampling "Tom Ford" a year before it came out, and "Ni**as in Paris" really isn’t a world away from Jammer and Lewi White’s 2006 remix of the Countdown theme tune), or the occasional crossover banger.
“My name is like a tarnished wall… and I am always last of all”
Though they’d arguably peaked by ’05, there was a time when picking your favourite member of Roll Deep was as hard as choosing your favourite Pokémon: Wiley perhaps too obvious a choice? Dizzee for his legendary pre-Napa features on "Eskimo" and “Regular”? Scratchy for that crazy battle-cry he could make with the back of his throat (and pioneering the samurai top knot)? Maybe Flow Dan, Riko or Jamakabi with their yardie flows? Manga for having the gall to do it all in a pair of glasses?
Or maybe it was the guy calling himself Taliban Trim, doing interviews about Afghani heroin in these very pages and coming out with scattergun lyrics like: “girls get lashed, it’s like sets get crashed, it’s like guns get bust, it’s like can’t move us, it’s like yards get rushed, it’s like nans get cussed, it’s like tunes get merked, it’s like brains get worked, it’s like who’s that bird? It’s like Trim’s the word, it’s like have you heard my verse? It’s like you can’t get worse. It’s like that.”
Some rappers have bars for days, Trim has bars for years. Since 2007 - when I’d only pick up VICE for the legendary Grimewatch column and would still buy mixtapes based solely on Cameo’s recommendation in the basement of Uptown Records (RIP) - Trimbal’s released ten mixtapes in the time it took Chronik to release one. That’s not including his appearances on the classic Creeper tapes (never officially released but easy to find online) or In At The Deep End with Roll Deep, his joint EP with Roachee, a load of random free downloads (seek out Monkey Features Part 2 - not to be confused with Volume 2 - for "3000", "Blinded" and studio version of his F64) and countless features on music by everyone from Terror Danjah to Hot Chip. That many tracks (well over 100) make for a pretty ominous canon, but thanks to his label’s new Bandcamp page, his ‘Trimography’ is finally (almost) all in one place.
As one of the few first-generation grime MCs who’s still going but has never consciously attempted any sort of crossover (as Big H put it so well in an interview last year - “Crossing over? Where to?”) it’s hard to pick any single release that defines Trim (though Soulfoods 1 and 2 are a good place to start) but that’s testament to his shapeshifting, tireless creativity.
“Sith, surfing waves Poseidon couldn’t cast out. I’m a myth.”
He has a fantastical and disjointed flow, full of wordplay that he’s happy to take on and off the beat. The lyrics have an almost psychedelic quality - no mean feat in a scene that still sticks to pretty literal subject matter. His imagery flips from gritty to surreal in a moment, referencing everything from Lord of the Rings to football to 12 Monkeys to obscure bits of children’s pop culture (Teddy Ruxpin anyone?), disgraced American athletes (I had to google Tammy Thomas), and a lot of Star Wars. It’s worth noting that Osama Trim Laden was calling himself Voldemort long before Giggs finally finished watching all eight Harry Potter films and started rallying his fans to petition JK Rowling to write Hogwarts: The Early Years. More recently, Trim’s flow’s been brought back into public consciousness by James Blake’s earth shattering Harmonimix of “Confidence Boost”. A truly evocative listen, it’s all the more impressive when you hear its source material - an off-the-cuff minute-long a capella on Soulfood 2.
“I went to five schools including prison”
It would be impossible to talk about Trimski without mentioning some of his legendary clashes. He’s got to be one of the most entertaining proponents of beef in the whole scene. Back in ‘04, him and Wiley went on Rinse and sent for pretty much everyone (so many classic bars on this but Kylea’s “Eskiboy is too bizarre for daytime radio/ I don’t give a shit about daytime radio” verse feels more relevant now than ever). A few years later came his series of laugh out loud “war reports”, a roll call of every single person in the grime scene and their personal business. Leaving Roll Deep in ’07 after an altercation with Marcus Nasty in Napa (why’s it always Napa?), he started taking more and more shots at his old compadres, especially Flow Dan*.
*n.b. For an exhaustive analysis of one of Trim’s most out there war dubs, and a brilliant lesson in grime in general, check out that Blackdown’s painstakingly detailed dissection of The Lowdan from Soulfood 3. Trust me this is some Dorling Kindersley incredible cross-sections shit.
The apprentice eventually turned on the master in Trim and Wiley’s top drawer battle of New Year’s Eve 2009. Although Trimetheus didn’t necessarily win that round you have to give it to him for going up against the godfather, and riling him up enough with "Dat 1" to elicit the 10/10 "Now Hear Diss", in which Wiley immaculately tears into Trim and still finds time to flick Big H off his shoulder too. After a couple of back and forths, Trim ended his "1st Freestyle of 2010" by declaring himself the tortoise to Wiley’s hare, a promise that he may still make good on. He had his own entertaining take down of Big H (and the rest of Bloodline) that same week, on the abstract theatrics of "Stars in Their Eyes", using their own flows and lyrics against them. It’s no wonder Big H dedicates one of his 16 bars on "German Whip" (his only airtime in years) to promising to “punch up Scratchy, chief up Trim”, though it looks like Trimothy may have already got the last laugh, catching man driving a 206 on Instagram last week.
“Look, I’m blacker than a black tracksuit with a black hood, black boy with a black crew, black macbook/ black iPhone, Blackberry, no black hook, one line flow yet again, I’m black look.”
After all the releases, beef, freestyles and features Shankvan’s given us over the years, it’s a relief for him and us that we’re finally getting a full album out of him this year - the aptly named Crisis. I got a chance to catch up over email to find out what we can expect and why it’s taken so long.
Noisey: You’ve said a few times that Crisis will have no features and no choruses. Is that you drawing a line in the sand between you and what other UK rappers tend to do when they make albums?
Trim: Yeah I’ve basically been pushed in a corner. And instead of being noticed for my actual skills, people have got a perception of me: that I'm difficult to work with, that I don't love my job, that I haven't worked or work hard enough. So I thought I'd give ‘em more reason to not care, by making an album they can't sing along to, so they can only notice the skills. But I’m also releasing music in between singles to prove I can do choruses and features (Vol13, Vol14, and Nangest EP Part 2 with Roach are all out before my album)
There’s been rumours over the last few years about when your record’s coming out and who’s releasing it. What went wrong with Rinse? And are you happy to now be doing it fully independently?
What happened at Rinse was that they’re just a small label and didn't care about me enough. Certain acts pay the bills and to jeopardise that to take a chance on me wasn't gonna happen. I wasn't gonna wait for their acts to stop progressing for them to then use me. So we agreed to release me from the contract. I’ve currently started my own label, we'll be bringing my singles and mixtape out on Secluded Area Of Music. I’m in talks with a couple of labels but doubt any will wanna release this album! So looks independent!
It can be a bit of a grey area for sometimes, but what would you say are the key differences between a mixtape and an album for you? Is it about quality control? Do you ever worry you’ve put out too much music?
Albums should have a story to tell and take you away from your normal mixtape world. Mixtapes are like practice to me, a time to try unusual things. Also, you can never have enough music. For my age and how long I’ve been here I still don't think I’ve done a quarter of the work!
When James Blake interviewed you on his Radio 1 show earlier this year, you described yourself as “a product that hasn’t been bought yet” - is Crisis going to be the most sellable version of Trim yet?
I dunno if it will be most sellable product, I hope it will be. But the album crisis is about me and how this game picks you up and puts you down, uses you, plays with you and your emotions. How the people in it always want you to think less of yourself, toying with us as we commit and put our life on the line.
You’ve said a few times that there’s going to be a new version of "The Lowdown" on the album. Is anybody safe?
Err nobody's safe! But this Lowdown is also a suicide bomb for some of the things everyone thinks or maybe thought of me. And why I don't think this world I'm in is even safe for me!
What do you think of the current state of British rap music? Would you still identify yourself as a grime?
I'm an artist. I love all music and refuse to limit myself to one genre. I do what makes me happy. I’m not sure about the current state of any genre really, I just focus on the competition - which is myself.
The producer Teddy recently tweeted that “grime is an expensive genre. You cannot do grime if you don’t have money.” As someone who’s put out ten mix tapes independently, what advice would you give young MCs wanting to release with no financial backing?
My advice to anyone wanting to do music is DON’T! Unless god literally comes down and tells you to. And even then after my experiences, I’d still say no. If you insist on doing music, you can't really be chasing money, you have to do it out of love otherwise you’ll give up. Do what you have to do to get by, by all means, but you will go without from time to time and you will have people constantly telling you that something isn't good enough or that you don't work hard enough. Just make sure you love music to the point where you are willing to risk your liberty and lifestyle for it and not see family members and have weird relationships with women cos they may not understand your passion or the hours you need to work.
“There are some things I may forget, and if you hear such things / There is nothing I’ve said I regret / I can say I’ve lived, I can say I’ve lived.”
The album Crisis will be released through A Secluded Area of Music this year.
The single “Vending Machine” is out now.
Back catalogue and latest news all at Trim’s new website now.