Book cover
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5


"It's not how it used to be!" wailed Norman, "used to leave ya key on a shoestring inside the letterbox… Come In! Help ya'self to a cuppa tea!!!" A veteran of World War Two, he sat sunbathing in a deckchair on Lambeth Walk, drinking himself to death outside shops that had shut forever. He would turn up alone every day with his chair and some cheap alcohol – a stoic last stand on a folkloric corner of south London once home to the world's most famous street market but now, in the summer of 1998, a desolate concrete jungle and the playground to a gaggle of children who would often tease him when they scampered by. "Black…bastards," Norman would mumble, the words eventually seeping from his contorted lips, bloodshot eyes bursting from his skull.




Assassin thought Delusion may have been his cousin but they were not close. Their respective postcodes began to war in the summer of 2005, reflecting a vicious trend that was starting to spread across London as youths clamoured to 'rep their endz'. Krafty, who had grown up in E3 but went to school in E14 and was part of Bomb Squad, began taking his Isle of Dogs mates to youth clubs where they clashed with boys from E3. The chaotic emceeing nights were cancelled when things became too dangerous. A threat of mindless violence loomed in the psyches of some youths who seemed alienated from almost everything except their illusions. The volatile leader of E14 Movement declared his ambition to become a billionaire record label boss amongst clouds of skunk smoke in his bedroom studio at his mother's house, perhaps unaware that the 'urban' music game was so precarious.







"Youth these days don't know nothing, they don't know the truth 'cos they got no one to guide them," said 'D' Rowe, who once owned a well-known station called Genesis, but now believed that pirate radio was the most destructive phenomenon that had ever come into the black community. "All of a sudden some guy's got a mic in his hand and he's the man about town. He's come from nowhere, he's used to nothing and he'll talk anything to make himself look big. A lot of what you hear coming out of these kids mouths is ignorance. Half of them have got no mind, they might have an idea but they got no mind, just a big ego. And that's where the destruction sets in. The ego is a terrible, terrible thing, very dangerous. This dumb ego thing has pushed out the gun shooters and the knife stabbers."







Hype Hype

Mighty had been brought up around a Harlesden church by a single mum from the Caribbean on a low income, and had followed a familiar path of slipping away from Sunday school into a street education. Van Damage had been raised by his dad, who had been close to the notorious Kray twins in the east end and ironically had moved out the area to raise his son away from the gangland he'd seen. "I grew up listening to pirate radio, I had a real love for the music, a passion for the emceeing thing and it was great," said Van Damage. "I would go home, write lyrics and… think, 'wow this is something I always wanna do.' But as I started getting recognized and moving forward the love slowly started to deteriorate cos of…" Mighty took over. "...Cos of the shit that came with it, the people hating on you, man trying it, wanting to test you out… so it's making you feel… 'I gotta fucking do things now', do things to people to let them know 'fuck it, I'm not that dude'."




"Media stereotypes enhance the concept of being 'ghetto', and young people have become lazy and don't bother to think for themselves... or read books of wisdom or listen to old people," said Ayiko, who used to be a DJ on London's underground hip hop scene when my journey into the inner-city began a decade earlier. "There are radio stations where the whole programming is geared towards the young who then disconnect from the wisdom of the old. They think they know everything and everything is about them. Then they ghettoise themselves by looking at the stereotyped image of a black person… and the thing is that black people do have a natural pride and they love being black – it's the most wonderful thing. I'm mixed race, my daughter, River, too. But she falls into the same trap. She so much wants to express her blackness that she takes on roles of stereotypes and I tell her, 'That's not black, that's being forced into poor living conditions in a prison-like situation.' The term ghetto relates to the Jewish experience where people were forced into a place where they didn't want to live."


press release

'DON'T CALL ME URBAN! The Time of Grime' is a photographic record compiled over a 12 year period, focussing on the youth of London's inner-city at a vital time, taking as its prism the genre of grime - the most significant and controversial musical expression to emerge from the UK since punk. Grime was essentially the UK's own authentic response to hip hop, an angst-ridden, confrontational music conveying the hopes and frustrations of an apolitical generation locked into decaying housing estates. The book is a visual reflection of what grime represented, chronicling the conditions that spawned the genre. It is a combination of music portraiture, social documentary and architectural photography.

Many black youths reject the 'urban' label that has been imposed on them by commerce and the media. There is a significant discrepancy between perceptions of black culture as 'cool' and the often-harsh reality of being born black on a London council estate. 'Don't Call me Urban!' takes us through the raw environment from which the new stars of British popular music, such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder emerged, and introduces us to many other hopefuls who remain stranded in bedroom studios, hidden amongst concrete blocks glamorized in countless music videos. 'The Time of Grime' is an era when 'clashing' and postcode warfare have emerged, when young lives have fallen victim to absurdly trivial disputes, when rampant material aspiration collides with grim social reality. The book is a unique and penetrating document of an era in which London's inner-city youth has veered out of control.


artist profile

Born in Singapore in 1970, Simon Wheatley found photography on the streets of post‐communist Budapest in his early twenties, and began photographing London’s council estates in 1998. Attracted initially by a controversial urban regeneration scheme on Lambeth Walk, the work evolved into a study of the youth. His assignments for the underground music magazine, Rewind (RWD), beginning in 2004, facilitated contacts that enabled him to chronicle the grime scene that had begun to burgeon in London. At this time he was also working on another project around regeneration at Elephant and Castle. ‘DON’T CALL ME URBAN! The Time of Grime’ therefore represents an assemblage of work that has evolved over the last decade.

He also lived for some time in Amsterdam and his body of work entitled Liberal Limits glimpses the end of an era in which Holland’s ‘liberal’ façade crumbled with the country’s political swing towards the right. From the end of 2005 he worked over the course of a year on a project in suburban France in the wake of the banlieue riots that had raged across the country. He was initially assigned there by Time magazine, via Magnum Photos, the agency he had entered that year. Since exiting in 2008 he has mainly been in Calcutta, exploring his maternal ancestry while engaged in a study of yoga and its philosophy. He continues to photograph.

photo: Siddhartha Hajra