Behind me a pair of perma-tanned hulks alternate between chugging on a weight-gainer drink called Mass Fury, grunting, and battering punch pads. Elsewhere, muscles bulge, chrome contraptions creak and manbeasts snarl. This is Ab Salute, a “hardcore gym” in deepest Essex, and somewhere among the sweaty botany of straining limbs and ripped torsos is grime veteran, social-media entrepreneur, and resolute iron-pumper Lethal Bizzle.
As it turns out, Lethal (or “Biz” as he introduces himself) isn’t hard to find, standing well over six feet in crisp Air Jordans. He has the easy manner of a media pro, endlessly accommodating the photographer’s requests to haul a small freighter’s worth of weights, chains, and ropes around the gym; so much so, I start to worry he’s going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, before any valves pop, we head out to his Ferrari, and, as we ride, he explains how he’s spun a throwaway meme into a viral sensation, a clothing range, and a chart-bound single.
“So I came up with the RariWorkOut in my Ferrari on the way home from the gym. I was literally so pumped after a good session that I thought, ‘I’m not finished yet,’ and I got on Snapchat, pumping my arm, pretending that I was still in the gym, and it caught on… People were copying it. It was just jokes; there was a Skoda Workout, a Lada Workout, and it kept growing. It got to the point where British forces out in the Middle East were doing the RariWorkOut on Instagram, and I was like, ‘Woah, this is spiralling out of control.'”
Despite the RariWorkOut not, strictly speaking, being that effective (Biz admits that you’d need to do it for “about 10 hours” to have much impact), the rapper has turned the meme into a mini-industry with an entrepreneurial flair that would shame Sir Alan. So far he’s knocked out a RariWorkOut T-Shirt, is planning a RariWorkOut DVD, and has roped in fellow rappers JME and Tempa T – “The biggest gym enthusiast I’ve ever met” – to record an unashamedly grimey party track of the same name.
This popularity – with a bare minimum of mainstream support – can be attributed to Bizzle’s ability to give the fans what they want. On record and across social media he has created a unique cartoon persona, a hollering, guffawing tribute to mayhem. While other MCs spent the aftermath of grime’s first boom paying the bills by pretending to be pop stars, Lethal has rarely deviated from a template he perfected on his 2004 anthem Pow! (Forward); a winning combo of baseball-bat beats and lyrics that read like a Batman punch-up.
In person, he’s far more thoughtful, if no less enthusiastic. “I want people to wile out to it,” he says, “to jump up, to crowd surf, to have fun. And with social media the reaction’s immediate. If something works, I know straight away.”
Alongside the recent success of Meridian Dan’s ubiquitous German Whip, Bizzle’s resurgent popularity suggests that talk of a grime revival may be more than wishful thinking. Unsurprisingly, the MC relishes reclaiming grime from pop imitators.
“Back in 2001, we were just going into a dark room, we didn’t know where this was gonna take us, we were making music for the love of it, and we built a scene. Obviously, the majors looked and went, ‘OK, that’s cool,’ and they tried to exploit it and push us to the side. All these people like N-Dubz and DJ Ironik were coming out making all this funny music that was meant to be grime, and that shit was never gonna last. Now kids have got their own ways to find the music they want to hear, you can’t force-feed them any more. They know what’s popping; mainstream radio is almost irrelevant.”
As Bizzle finishes, we pull up, I push his Ferrari door open and – God help me! – prang it into a parked car. Inevitably, the other driver is a vein-popping man-mountain. I brace myself for the impending leg-lock, but it’s not to be: it turns out he’s a huge grime fan.
“Ummm. Can I get a photo for Instagram?” he sheepishly asks Biz, who affably obliges, taking back his throne, one hashtag at a time.