Having cleaned up at the Brits, rap star Stormzy has finally taken grime music to the masses.
Here he talks about his disillusionment with the government, his battle with depression and how he wants to inspire tomorrow’s generation to realise their true potential.
This year, there was a sense that the muchmaligned Brit Awards did get something right at last.
As rapper Stormzy collected two big awards, for Best British Male and most significantly, Best British Album, it marked a major shift in the history of the awards.
Beating world-conquering mega-star Ed Sheeran in both categories, Stormzy became the first British rapper ever to scoop the prestigious Best Album award as Brit organisers finally accepted hard-hitting grime music as a major force in UK music.
It was a far cry from last year when award bosses were heavily criticised for shunning the 24-year-old Londoner but following the global success of his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer, they had nowhere to go this time round.
Such has become the popularity and mass appeal of Stormzy – whose real name is Michael Owuo – it would have caused a riot if he’s walked home empty-handed again.
As it was, he took the accolades before ending the night with a live performance in which he used a freestyle rap to criticise the Prime Minister’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire. ‘Yo Theresa May, where›s the money for Grenfell?’ he asked.
The rapper called the government “criminals”, saying they “just forgot about Grenfell”. He continued: “You criminals, you got the cheek to call us savages, / you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, / we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.”
It was a typical shout out from the singer who has never been afraid to use his position to fight for what he believes in and the reason why he has become such an inspiration to so many youngsters, especially working class black kids.
Stormzy had previously performed with artists including Robbie Williams and The Who’s Roger Daltrey to raise money for the victims of the fire, which in June last year killed at least 70 people and injured dozens more.
Speaking after the awards he said: “I didn’t want to just come here as an artist like ‘It’s the Stormzy show’ and clean up at the Brits.
“I don’t want this to be about me, this is bigger than me and I can use my voice to say something about Grenfell and it’s about all the things I said in that lyric.”
It is not the first time, he has used his fame to get a message across and often sends a message out to his fans via billboard messages with one last year urging: “all my young black kings rise up man, this is our year.”
2017 was certainly Stormzy’s year and if there was any question he was getting too big for his boots, they were quashed at this year’s Brits as he stole the show and sent a defiant message to the government.
He said: “What I meant when I said rise up is that today’s kids should look at themselves, rise up and realise the true potential within themselves because the power is in the hands of the people.
“There is a huge talent out there, a huge gift and a huge purpose and if somebody from my background in South London can do it then so can they and that is the message I want to get across.“If I can inspire those kids and use my voice to make a difference then I will. There is an attitude in this country that you can’t do it, but you can do it and I strongly believe it is within everybody to do that because we all have that potential.”
It is an attitude born from his disillusionment with politicians and the lip-service they give a disgruntled nation, that has led him to become such a powerful voice for a younger generation. He said: “Kids today can’t rely on politicians or the system to look after their needs or decide whether they are going to be a success or not.
“They should forget what is happening in the world, forget about politicians, forget about Trump, Brexit and all that unrest and troubles and realise it is down to them to make things happen. “I hate to sound like a motivational speaker, but my message is to go for it, reach for the stars and the moon and you can achieve whatever you want – I strongly believe we all have that potential and no politician will do that for you.
“Don’t look to the system to help you do that because it won’t.
Look in yourself because it is in everybody to achieve whatever you want and if I can stand up and do my bit to let people know that, then I will.”
Stormzy was also praised last year for speaking out about his battle with depression and how his attitude towards mental health has changed over the years.
In an interview with Channel 4, he said his album was a reflection of how fragile we all are as humans and the importance of letting those going through depression know they are not alone.
He said: “I always saw myself as this strong person who just deals with life, I get on with it – and if something gets me low, I pick myself back up. That’s always been my philosophy. Even down to the point where when one of my closest friends was suffering from it, I used to dismiss him.
“It wasn’t in a harsh way, I just used to think ‘just be happy’ do you know what I mean? ‘Just pull it together’.
That was a world that was so alien to me. I just used to think, you get up and march on.” It was only when he suffered from depression himself that he realised just how low one can go and he hopes that by speaking about his own experiences with mental health it may help encourage others to do the same.
Stormzy added: “I feel like I always come across confidently and happy but I’ve had low points and if I hadn’t addressed that on the album I wouldn’t have been true.
“I used to think anybody successful doesn’t go through it but that’s not the case and it doesn’t mean you’re weak or can’t handle life, it just means you’re real.”.
words | Mark Bowness
pics | Rex Features