This article originally appeared on Complex UK.
The tenth anniversary of Lethal B‘s debut album, Against All Oddz, passed without so much as a nostalgic Instagram post or commemorative tweet over the weekend. No exhaustive radio documentary or weighty excavations like we had seen previously with Dizzee Rascal and the other landmark projects from grime’s greatest MCs. Listening back, Against All Oddz was solid, balancing head-rushing cuts like “What We Do” and “No” with the poise of tracks like “Should Of Known” as well as its title track. And yet, for all its promise, it barely scraped into the top 90. Then again, the man born Maxwell Ansah has never really been an album guy. Grime’s most successful singles artist is yet to see a full project breach the top 70, and you know what? It doesn’t really matter.
The relative quietness around Against All Oddz has been somewhat of a blessing for the Walthamstow MC. It’s allowed him to zero-in on what he excels at whilst remaining free from “the curse of the classic debut.” And, as a result, he’s remained totally unburdened from the boxes and boundaries fans hurl on a Dizzee or Kano who, for all their success, have yet to shrug off the overcasting figures of their first albums. This relative flexibility and freedom has bestowed Lethal with a loyal charter of fans more in-tune with him, and his persona. It’s a set-up that allows him to move painlessly from the grimier “Rari Workout” with JME and Tempa T, to having Robbie Williams shuffle around to “Fester Skank“—all with his integrity intact.
With grime’s recent uptake across the Atlantic, the dispute about whether it aught to be tagged as just another branch of the hip-hop family tree, has again resurfaced. Undoubtedly, there are similarities, but if grime is to be recognised as a genre unto its own—separate from hip-hop, entirely—then Lethal typifies its departure. Full-length LPs have never held the same credence in grime as they do in rap, with the former still close to the West Indian soundsystem culture that birthed it. Even now, in 2015, there’s still a heavy focus on the live element—drawing reactions in a rave or at a live show—and this is where Lethal has remained proficient.
“Pow” is arguably grime’s most famous anthem, but it didn’t make the cut for Against All Oddz. Yet, and still, the words “It’s Leth to the Bizzle records!” are enough to shut down any and every rave across the country. As grime has expanded, so has its arenas, and although Maxwell’s since moved on from pirate radio and East LDN youth clubs, his ideals have remained the same and tracks like of “Leave It Yeah”, “Pow” (original and the 2011 version) and “Fester Skank” teardown festival season, summer after summer.
If he hadn’t realised these things a long time ago, Bizzle wouldn’t be the successful businessman he is today. Since 2005, he has steadily built around his cult following and was arguably the first grime act to take the DIY ethos to social media. “Social media is my office, that’s my workplace,” he told NTFR in a recent interview. “It really pays when you can talk to your consumer directly.” Lethal has always had a reputation amongst his peers for being a bit of a workhorse and the visibility permitted by social media has only further shed light on that obsessive streak.
Then, there’s the whole “Dench” phenomenon. The phrase he and footballing cousin Frimpong coined whilst battling it out on FIFA, made its way to Instagram and Twitter and before long, Bizzle had moulded it into a successful clothing line, a national tour, and a string of summer parties in Malia and Kavos. The phrase even made its way into Scrabble and the momentum saw Lethal entrusted with penning the official England song for Euro 2012.
Dench typifies why Lethal has attained longevity in an unforgiving industry. He has never just been about the music, instead using his cunning ways to connect with generation after generation; penetrating pop culture in a way that no other grime MC has. It’s that type of hustle and tact that explains his presence here in 2015, and why he will most likely still be around in 2025.