Tony Cummings reflects on London grime star STORMZY and his push to be a UK-dominating recording star
Since the release of 'Gang Signs & Prayer' topped the UK charts, grime man Stormzy has had to get used to becoming an icon of pop music and one that is fascinating both the Christian and non-Christian media. He was interviewed by Q magazine after receiving a Best Solo Artist award and was asked whether after being nominated for the Mercury Prize whether it was hard for him to take in his recent success. He responded, "There are times when I think, 'F****** hell!' But mostly I take it in my stride. I accept the memory, I celebrate, then I keep it moving. I find it difficult to sit around on my arse because I've got a number one album. That's not ow this game works. You bank that - and then you make the next one. For example, I've got one Q Award compared to artists who have four or five, so I can't start thinking I'm on top of the world. There's a legacy to be made that ain't going to make itself."
Q also asked him about speaking out in support of Jeremy Corbyn and his own battle with mental health problems. "Do you know what it is? I just like to be unapologetically myself. I always just say whatever I want to say. I know that sounds a bit rock-starry but I like to go with what's in my heart and what's in my truth, so I end up speaking on lots of different topics."
Christian men's magazine Sorted has recently featured Stormzy. The January/February issued wrote about his "powerful expression of faith so clearly influenced by his days in church." The rapper was quoted as saying, "Offering faith and humility is something we've all got to learn to do. I've seen it from within the walls and outside too, and that's a big part of my message. It's believing in being looked over, but also believing we can all achieve what we want despite the setbacks and prejudices that life throws at us. It's a spiritual way I am trying to communicate with people- music has always been spiritual to me and grime, as a medium, is the perfect tool. It's spoken word, it's my own sermon."
Sorted continued, "If 'Cold' subtly showcased Stormzy's cultural consciousness, there's no such understatement on 'Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2'. 'Although I'm not worthy/You fixed me' he raps, before later adding: 'This is God's plan, they can never stop this. . . You saved this kid and I'm not your first/It's not by blood and it's not by birth/But oh my God what a God I serve.'" Stormzy continued, "I'm lucky to be where I am now with my career. I hustled and struggled, then everything just happened at the right time. It was all God's timing, but my work, God, my family and being real are the most important things to me. Everything else comes second."
In his Sorted article Dan Bowman wrote that Stormzy representing a modern incarnation of Christian music "is not without its stumbling blocks for the more traditional churchgoer. There's plenty of profanity, for example, and Stormzy's background makes it impossible to dismiss the fact that as a young man in London he was involved in crimes ranging from drug-dealing to robbery. In Stormzy's case, the uplifting nature of 'Blinded By your Grace' (not to mention its clear titular connection to 'Amazing Grace') is indicative of the young man's redemption. Despite the arguably un-Christian elements of grime, and by extension rap music, his rise to prominence has been based on a deep faith regardless of his own shortcomings, battling prejudice, and impossibly complex music industry and the perils of depression too, a subject he has been extremely vocal about of late. 'You know, the reality is we all have things going on in the background, and they are challenges of life. It doesn't matter where you live, what you do, or how much money you have in the bank, life is full of challenges and through speech, music and communication I've always believed we can overcome the ills.'"
Stormzy is clearly driven. He said, "I don't want to be the best rapper in the UK. I want to be the best ARTIST in the UK. That takes my competitors from 20 people to 100 people, because now they're indie bands, female singers, soul singers, legends, rock icons that I'm competing with. In my head I'm like, why can't I compete with them? Why can't Stormzy from south London to that as well?"
As Bowman insightfully commented, "There will always be two duelling and composite parts to Stormzy's personality - and as 'Gang Signs & Prayer' proves beyond doubt, he's as likely to set aside his faith in the quest for sonic domination as he is to give up those gritty and heartfelt depictions of urban life. Wiley and the like may have passed the baton to this Croydon-based upstart to take the musical genre to places it's never gone before - from Jools Holland's stage to the Brit Awards and, quite possibly, if organiser Emily Eavis is to be believed, a future Glastonbury headline slot. And wherever he goes, it's not just grime that goes with him into the mainstream, but also the unflinching faith that Stormzy has already taken on his shoulders all the way to number one."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.