Photographer Ellie Ramsden grew up on grime. For this south Londoner, the genre — which was born in Bow — provided powerful insight into the realities of street life in the city she called home. Here were artists that shone a spotlight on social deprivation and gang violence, as well as the cultural life of London's Black diaspora.
But as grime became a global phenomenon, she noticed that something was missing: female MCs, producers and DJs still weren't getting the attention they deserved. That's where the idea for Too Many Man: Women Of Grime began. Named after the debut single of all-male grime collective Boy Better Know in which Skepta laments the lack of women in nightclubs, this self-published book is a collection of interviews and portraits of the women — most of whom live in London — shaping the genre.
Below we've included some of our favourite images and quotes from the book, which you can purchase for yourself here.
A.G. - DJ, producer and radio presenter
“Grime has always been the most consistent in my life. Growing up in East London I definitely have a personal connection with grime. I grew up in Hackney, I’ve lived in Bow and in both of those areas grime is embedded into the fabric of society."
Roxxxan - MC
"Personally, music has always been an outlet for me. I’m a Gemini and I’m crazy, I find it hard to communicate and articulate how I’m feeling to the people closest to me. I think grime is an easy place to get out all of your anger and frustration. There’s not a lot of happy grime songs and there’s a reason for that."
Lionness - MC
"I started spitting my brother’s bars at first but then I got the confidence to write my own. I was spitting in my room one day and the boys walked past and they said 'Is that you? Come let’s go back to back' and so that’s when it all started. I was 13 at the time."
"A lot of people try to put women against each other, which is the most annoying thing. There’s about 50 female MCs and rappers I can think of right now, and there’s space for us all. Look at how many males there are and they’re all doing their thing, so why can we not coexist?"
C Cane MC
"It’s a lot harder to get people to listen to you because there’s the stigma that female rappers aren’t as good as male rappers... I think we are starting to get recognition now, but if you asked me this five years ago I would have said no. Nowadays I feel like we are slyly getting the OK, I think it’s changed because of the internet. Social media has a big part to play because it’s easily accessible to hear females rap."
Tanya Cracknell - Grime Violinist
"When I first started going into the studio I think some people were surprised to see me get out a violin, but there’s been string sounds in grime since forever, I just play them live. I improvise in the studio and at home, writing riffs that stick in your head. I try to feel the energy or whatever beat is presented to me and go from there, grime or other."
Debris - Grime Poet and Creator of Poet in Da Corner
"Give me a music scene that isn’t male-dominated… I think it’s rage, it’s anger, it’s pent-up aggression, and I’m not saying these aren’t things that females feel, but I think... where we grew up they were largely an issue for men and it was like finding an alternative outlet for that rage that wasn’t violence."
"I think a lot of guys probably do grime because that’s what all the guys are doing. Whereas if you’re a female that’s chosen to go into it you know that you love it."
Paige Cakey - MC, Singer and Actress
"As a female you have to work twice as hard as a guy, and even then a lot of male artists don’t take you in, and a lot of promoters won’t put you on the same platform, or pay you the same rate that they’ll pay a male artist, which is sad, and I hope one day it changes because it’s not fair."
Lady Shocker - MC
The future of grime is going to be mad. Grime is so great because it’s a collective, there’s not just one person who’s made it as big as it is today. At one stage grime was dying and no one cared, remember that. If Wiley had stopped pushing, Jammer had stopped doing Lord of the Mics, all the grime clashing channels and MC’s had stopped, grime would have died."
All images © Ellie Ramsden.