Friday 17 January 2020

Grime does pay for voice of black youth

Stormzy doesn't hold back
Stormzy doesn't hold back
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

"My core is grime. But I make all kinds of music. Take Picasso. He could paint whatever way he liked. He could do a little ting with a felt tip if he wanted to - it's still going to be a bad-boy Picasso at the end." - Stormzy

In 2017, GQ magazine proclaimed him, "unsigned and uncensored as Generation Y's Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten rolled into one, pushing grime to be the dominant sound of the UK's fired-up, engaged youth".

Two years later he has been on the cover of Time magazine and Elle. He set up a scholarship fund for black students at Cambridge University. He went through then Prime Minister Theresa May for a short-cut at the 2018 Brit Awards over the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

And he turned Glastonbury on its head last summer with a performance that was as startling as the Union Jack-decorated stab vest designed by Banksy that he wore that night.

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"When Banksy put the vest on me / Felt like God was testing me," Stormzy sings on Audacity from his new album, Heavy Is the Head, 54 minutes of poetic rage and vulnerability. On Lessons he seems to be publicly apologising for allegedly cheating on his ex-girlfriend Maya Jama ("Thought I'd say it here than rather fling it in a text"). On Crown, he sings, "It's not anti-white - it's pro-black."

And then: "They're sayin' I'm the voice of young black youth / I say 'yeah, cool' and bun my zoot."

He is a sensitive soul. 100 Bags - from his 2017 debut album Gang Signs & Prayer, which took gritty Croydon rap to the top of the charts and won British Album Of The Year at the Brit Awards in 2018 - is a tribute to his mother, Abigail; basically because of his success and after all the times growing up when money was hard to come by, he can now buy his beloved ma one hundred bags.

On the same masterful album, Stormzy sang of salvation on Blinded by Your Grace, Pt 2:

"Lord, I've been broken

Although I'm not worthy

You fixed me, I'm blinded

By your grace

You came and saved me."

Stormzy opens Heavy is the Crown, his second album, with the track Big Michael: "One week it's 'Blinded By Your Grace' / Next week it's bang you in your face."

This rebel MC - whose real name is Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr - is not shy about speaking up on tracks like Vossi Bop ("F**k the government and f**k Boris") and Crown ("Bruddas wanna break me down, I can't bear it / But heavy is the head with the crown").

Stormzy doesn't hold back either on One Second when he sings, in reaction to NME putting him on the cover of an issue about mental health without his consent: "I am not the poster boy for mental health."

Whatever he is the poster boy for, Stormzy can but follow his own artistic path. As the south London genius said not that long ago: "Every single thing that I was told that I couldn't do without a label - get in the charts, get on to the Radio 1 playlist - I've done."

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