Stormzy's Brits triumph sees grime star take on the world

Theresa May responded to his criticism, his fans include Jeremy Corbyn and the C of E – and he still inspires a young black audience

When Stormzy and producer Fraser T Smith started work on the grime star’s debut album, the pair would fantasise about the possibility of it winning Brit awards. Last night at the O2 in London, they got their moment. Not only did the 24-year-old south Londoner win best British male, but 2017’s Gang Signs & Prayer scooped album of the year, beating commercial behemoth Ed Sheeran in both categories.

But it was his performance on the night – specifically a freestyle rap that called out Theresa May over her handling of Grenfell, the persecution of young black British men and the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail – that got people talking.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbynwhom Stormzy has supported – congratulated the rapper on his victory, adding the hashtag #Grenfell, while Tottenham MP David Lammy praised Stormzy for “speaking truth to power”. By Thursday, BBC Radio 4’s The World at One was examining “the politics of grime” and Classic FM was analysing Stormzy’s performance, likening him to “a modern-day Shostakovich, using his music and his platform to upset the authorities”.

His fans include the Church of England, which praised Stormzy’s determination to make his faith central to his art. Accepting the British male award, he thanked God, and reiterated his gratitude when he returned for British album: “Every time I give the glory to God, I know it seems like such a strange thing, but if you know God you know that this is all him.” A C of E spokesperson told the Guardian: “It turns out the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes,” and called Blinded by Your Grace “a powerful message about the mercy of God’s love”.

By Thursday morning, the government had addressed Stormzy’s performance, reiterating its £58.29m commitment to the recovery and admitting that the initial response was too slow.

Stormzy’s Spotify statistics have soared 116% on the previous week, while Amazon Music reported a 186% streaming increase from the previous day. The Official Charts Company’s morning sales flash saw Gang Signs & Prayer earn a strong overnight lift, climbing 13 places to No 21. More than 10,000 tweets per minute referenced Stormzy during his performance, making him the top trending topic in the UK late last night. Grenfell was the third biggest topic – the first time the term has trended since the government announced its taskforce on 5 July.

Stormzy, Smith, British set designer Es Devlin and an engineer were up until 4am on Sunday perfecting the performance, which segued from gospel-influenced single Blinded by Your Grace to Stormzy’s calling card, Big for Your Boots. “Stormzy was clear from the outset that the performance would have this specific political purpose,” said Devlin. “The rap breaks the hymn like a bomb lobbed through a church window and the rain brings unrehearsable realness and urgency: each word and gesture is magnified and radiated through it.”

The response to his performance is testament to Stormzy’s profile: not just a groundbreaking musician, but an agitator and inspirational figure. Sarah Jones is Labour MP for Croydon Central, Stormzy’s childhood constituency. “The kids I’ve met from tough backgrounds, who move in and out of school, who carry knives or get involved in selling drugs, their talent and dreams are wasted and we need to give them choices in life,” she said.

“The best way to show them that they can achieve is for them to see people like Stormzy who come from the same part of town, who have the same lived experience, and made it.”

Yomi Adegoke, author of the forthcoming book Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, said the impact of Stormzy’s success “means so much for young black working-class individuals”. She positions him alongside actors Michaela Coel, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright and John Boyega, saying: “Such a small and regularly demonised demographic are absolutely dominating British culture, against all conceivable odds – and being totally authentic while doing it.”

Beats 1 presenter Julie Adenuga described him as “the sort of artist this country needs right now”.

Smith and Stormzy are at work on a second album. “His singing voice is better now, his understanding of the process of making a record so much clearer,” said Smith. “Before we met, he was jumping on beats, which is what hip-hop artists do, but now I’m really pushing him to be the orchestrator in the studio, to start with nothing and orchestrate as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean would – how the real greats do it.”

He calls Stormzy’s “world-conquering ambition” rare. Appropriately, he can’t see him basking in the spotlight. “Knowing him, we’ll probably be in at Monday at 12 o’clock ready to get going again.”


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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