When you think of British youth culture, you normally think of the stereotypes portrayed on television. Either the drug taking, partying, sex festival that was Skins, or the desperation and fuck ups suffered regularly by the Inbetweeners (much to everyone else’s amusement). Then we had the skinheads, the casuals, the Perry Boys, the mods and the rockers, each bringing with them a different kind of style and music.
However, the youth culture in Britain is, and always has been, fast changing and now we are seeing the emergence of so called ‘Roadmen’ and their influences in the music industry, namely Grime.
Above: Stormzy is famous for his lyrics “I was on the road when Dizzee made I Love You” from ‘Know Me From’.
First of all what is a Roadman? The slang “doing road” actually refers to selling drugs on street corners. A common occurrence on deprived estates across the UK whereby funding has been cut by the government to the area and youths see their only way of making real money by doing illegal activities, and the respect that comes with gang culture. A Roadman is generally defined as a boy in his teens who is only interested in a few certain things. Mainly black tracksuits, pouch bags, plenty of The North Face and the latest Nike’s on the feet are staple ‘Road’ attire. Bikes are the vehicle of choice for most Roadmen, petty crime, ‘shotting’ and smoking weed are the primary daily routine, with the occasional Nandos or some fast food restaurant when hunger strikes. There are certain criteria to fulfil in order to be a true Roadman, but more of that later.
Above: Labels like Supreme x The North Face have become associated with the UK roadman subculture.
In the early 2000s Grime music started emerging out of East London through pirate radio channels such as Rinse FM, courtesy of Grime legends such as DJ Slimzee, and soon grew quite a following from the inner city estates to the suburbs further a field. The artists performing on stations like these were young people, some might say the very blueprint of Roadmen. Artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Kano performed on Pirate radio to young people and the lyrics were precisely how Roadmen behave. Weed, girls, violence, music and clothes were the main topic of the songs and soon began to resonate with the youngsters who either wanted to be just like the artists and life a life similar to theirs, or had nothing so they aspired to be rich and somebodies in the future. Jeff Chang, an award winning author and critic on Hip Hop music and its culture stated that Dizzee Rascal’s lyrics are “capturing, encapsulating, and preserving” the life that he and his peers live on the streets every day.
Nowadays, Grime has taken on an altogether more mainstream look, with performers such as Stormzy, Skepta and Lethal Bizzle literally becoming household names. Grime is a far more respected genre than when it originally began and has now gained global recognition in its own right.
Above: Typical ‘Road’ attire, black Nike down jackets and Nike hoodies.
It is this ‘life on the streets’ that makes somebody a true Roadman and it still is most active in London and other major cities such as Manchester. Gangs are still as violent and drugs and crime go hand in hand with being a Roadman. The term Roadman is a lot more sinister than people tend to realise as they think it is just a group of boys hanging round street corners with nothing better to do. This is nowhere more evident than the Noel Clarke ‘Hood trilogy’ films ; Kidulthood, Adulthood and Brotherhood. Gritty, real, and with tragedy, laughter and everything in between they perfectly sum up the life of a proper Roadman.
The Roadman dictionary is also a must have accessory for any wannabe road types as they use their own slang to communicate. Words such as “wasteman”, “endz”, “blud” and “bare tings” with “hard food” being a commonly used word for class A drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
As Grime has become more prevalent in British society and British culture, it has migrated more to suburban areas and with it, the image of the Roadman. However, the watered down version, where middle class teenagers with a rebellious streak walk around with their chests puffed out thinking this qualifies them as Roadmen, is still nothing compared to the real life inner city Roadmen that ‘keep it real’ to quote Ali G.