Roll Deep were the preeminent, pioneering grime crew before the genre was even called grime. The East London blend of hip-hop and techy electronic music -- in which the beat bounces around like it's got the hiccups and the rhymes skitter erratically over the top -- evolved out of the U.K.
garage rap scene, inspiring critic Simon Reynolds to dub it gabba-gangsta-garage. The group's informal lead MC and producer, Wiley, preferred to call his sound "eski," but he was doomed to be dubbed "the Godfather of Grime" whether he liked it or not. The extended crew fluctuated up to as many as 20 members, though it averages around 14, only half of whom represent the core group on any given album. Alongside Wiley are Flow Dan (who gave the crew its name), Skepta, Scratchy, Manga, Riko, J2K, Breeze, Brazen, Killa P, Little Dee, and DJ Karnage as well as producer Target. Dizzee Rascal was an early member and Wiley's protégé -- his first solo album, Boy in da Corner, contains several shout-outs to the group -- but while Rascal broke out and won critical acclaim and a Mercury Prize, Roll Deep remained underground. Many of their recordings were released on white label only and the best way to hear them in London was on their regular slot on pirate radio station Rinse FM. Although they originally came together in the late '90s, several of the crew being former members of the Pay As U Go Cartel and concurrent members of Boy Better Know, they were officially founded in 2002. After losing Dizzee Rascal, they signed to Relentless Records and released their debut album, In at the Deep End, in 2005. With Roll Deep still bristling under the grime label, the album contained several songs with a less hardcore, more commercial sound. Despite that, the album didn't sell enough copies for Relentless and they were dropped from the label, forming their own Roll Deep Recordings for future material. Their 2007 follow-up, Rules and Regulations, adhered more closely to the grime template, but a year later, after the success of Wiley's solo single "Wearing My Rolex," The Return of the Big Money Sound signaled a comeback of their blend of grime and pop music. ~ Jody Macgregor, Rovi