The track, VOSSI BOP, is available via:
26th April, 2019
WHEN thinking about Stormzy...
a few things do race to mind. I will get to his new song soon but, before then, I wanted to look at Glastonbury and the pressure some artists are under; the changing Grime and Hip-Hop scene in the U.K. and those who push forward and continue to grow. I will also talk about black artists in this country and whether there is still imbalance; a hint at where Stormzy might head and what the next few months holds. It has been a busy old time for Stormzy the last few weeks. His single, VOSSI BOP – I hate when songs are in uppercase like that but, you know, I have to plug on! –, is out and, even if the lettering is a bit annoying and pretentious, there is that distinct sense of alarm. The man has this direct and emphatic song out that has resonated and connected with the people. Stormzy heads to Glastonbury on 26th June and will take to the Pyramid Stage. It is the first time he has headlined the festival and the first time a Grime artists has received this honour. There are some that say Stormzy will not be able to command that big stage and deliver a knockout performance. He has come out in the press and stated that, to anyone thinking he is going to let them down, they are crazy. He is definitely determined to give an epic set and one wonders what will be included. He has released the one album, Gang Signs & Prayer and, whilst that album was lauded and remains stellar, can that fill an entire set?! There will be some theatrics and big routines. I know he will provide fireworks and drama but, when you look at the limited amount of material in the pocket, will that be enough to captivate? I think it will and, more than anything, the material is a lot fresher than what will be performed by the other two headliners at Glastonbury, The Killers and The Cure. Those bands have been around a while and it is a bit old-hat with them. You will get the hits but we have all heard the songs and know what we are in for! Stormzy is a fresh, young and vibrant alternative who can get people standing to attention and hooked.
I remember seeing, when Stormzy was announced as Glastonbury headliner, a lot saying that those with only one album under their belt should not have such an opportunity. Those questions around a setlist and what will be included kept coming up. It is inevitable that artists like Stormzy will be subject to scrutiny but the booking came off of the reception for Gang Signs & Prayer. Glastonbury has often been accused of being limited and predictable when it comes to the sort of music they put in the headline slot. The Killers and band like that are the usual fare and, to book a Grime artist, that is a big move and evolution. I hope this continues for years to come: Glastonbury is not just a Rock festival and shows that with its eclectic line-up. It is anyone’s guess as to what Stormy does when he heads to Glastonbury but you know it will be pretty special. There will be other material included – and not just his album – and you are going to get something pretty big. His headline opportunity will provide inspiration to other artists like him; those coming through who feel Glastonbury is too narrow and reserved only for a certain type of artist. Stormzy is breaking barriers and showing what can happen. His debut album is a great achievement and many people have taken it to heart. Seeing all these songs on the big stage, performed with sensational energy and command will be sensational. The confidence Stormzy has is incredible and it will be interested seeing this translated at Glastonbury. After the dust has settled and everything is done, I do feel Glastonbury will shake things up and be a bit more ambitious when it comes to bookings. I know that Stormzy will have a sensational time and give the enthralled gig-goers a set they will not forget. Let’s move on and address another subject – I wanted to look at Grime and Hip-Hop in the U.K. and how it is changing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shirlaine Forrest/Wireimage
Years ago, we did not really have a strong Grime scene. I am thinking back to the time Dizzee Rascal exploded not long at the turn of the century and then, after his best albums, there was a bit of a downturn. I maintain the U.S. is stronger when it comes to Hip-Hop. Look at all the great artists working there at the moment and, in terms of history, they are definitely stronger and more varied. Grime is not really a concept that extends to America and seems to be distinctly British. This is a genre that tends to focus on London and articulates the struggle and voices of artists who grow up in a certain situation. By that, Grime is a distinctly working-class struggle; a documentation of the division on estates and the voice of the street. It is a rawer style of music and one that articulates greater truth and potency that a lot in the mainstream. What I love about Grime is how eclectic it is. We assume that it will sound the same or is quite narrow but, from Stormzy and Skepta through to Giggs, there is a lot to be discovered. I love artists like Stormzy because they are hugely electric and provocative. When you listen to songs on Gang Signs & Prayer, one feels like they are being transported to his manor and watching what is happening. You are involved in the music and, even though the words might not be true to your life, you still immerse yourself in the music and get behind it. Grime is a growing genre and one that is picking up new champions. There are few genres, as I will explain later, when black artists are being recognised and can shine. It is a problem with the industry but, as time goes on, the power and leadership of Stormzy and his peers will make changes. The fact he has a Glastonbury headline slot is a piece of history and one wonders just how far he can go!
Whilst Pop will always dominate and it is unlikely Grime and Hip-Hop can overthrow it, I am seeing names and examples that can start to redress the imbalance. This country is producing a great new wave of Hip-Hop and Grime. Look at Little Simz and how she is faring right now. Her current album, GREY AREA, is tremendous and is one of the best albums of 2019 so far. It is a mesmeric and personal work that delivers knockout blows all over the shop. It is clear that, here, we have genres that are more powerful and inspiring than the majority of what is being foisted into the charts. It seems weird that commercial artists still have the most say and they are the ones with the most pull. The music they make, largely, is not that original and it does not have the same sense of importance and punch. You do not get cliché love songs and the same boring thing: instead, Grime and Hip-Hop has a lot more depth and reality. Even though, as I said, you do not need to be familiar with what is being said and projected, the music draws you in and there is plenty to love. I am not from the same neighbourhood as Stormzy but, when I listen to his songs, I can still connect. Stormzy does not push people away and, instead, the songs have a great flair, sense of cinema and power. You do not need to be an expert of Grime to understand why Stormzy is turning heads. It is a great genre and I feel like Grime is a lot more influential in these tough times. The country is divided and there is a lot of anger circulating right now. Rather than ignore the division and sense of confusion, Grime is providing some clear truth and cutting to the core. Artists are able to document the state of the nation and the reality out there without subterfuge and distillation. All of this means that, when Stormzy hits the Glastonbury stage, he will be given a political speech a lot more immense and truthful than anything any politician has delivered this year!
Whilst Grime and Hip-Hop are on the grow in the U.K., it seems like the fate of black artists is not so solid. We know there is racial imbalance in music – that is no real secret at all! For decades, black artists have not been afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. It is something that bothers me but, when you consider some of the best albums this year, do we need to take action and look for change?! I have mentioned Little Simz and, alongside Stormzy, we have two of the country’s best artists. Dave, a great Rap/Hip-Hop artist, released PSYCHODRAMA recently and that album, too, is one of the best this year. It may seem a bit simplistic but black artists are digging deeper when it comes to subject matter. I find artists such as Little Simz and Dave do not go for the obvious and, instead, one gets a lot more range and quality. Simz talked about her life and struggles in an evocative and spellbinding way. Dave documented imprisonment, slavery; violence and personal growth on his new album and I feel like some of our best sounds and songs are coming from black artists. Considering the quality of the music being put out, why is the industry struggle to create balance and conversation? If you look at the genres and charts, you see mostly white faces and the same old sounds. Grime and Hip-Hop are genres where black artists can thrive but the mainstream is still restrictive and homogenised. If we talk about Stormzy and festival bookings, he is creating history and I hope, in years to come, more black artists will be booked to headline. Genres such as Grime have been around for years but it is only recently where this is translating into exposure and festival glory. So many of the mainstream festivals do not book black artists and there is this whole world of music being overlooked and pushed away. Talking about race is a bit of a sticky subject and can lead to misunderstanding.
PHOTO CREDIT: Elle
What I mean to say is that, clearly, there is inequality in music and this is not new. We have seen this time and time again: great black artists reigning and striking and, when it comes to awards and recognition, they are in the back of the queue. Stormzy is one of these role models that has fought for equality and knows how ridiculous things are. His peers like Dave and Little Simz are representing the best music out there so I hope that there is conversation and betterment very soon. If one looks around right now, music is very predictable in terms of race and sound. I get bored of the processed and commercial sounds and want this shake-up to happen. Stormzy just scored a number-one with the song I am about to review and that, in itself, is a big artist. The fact that Stormzy has overtaken Taylor Swift and created this sense of shock is great! Does this mean that the charts will change and we will see more artists like Stormzy race to the top?! I do hope that we see this happen because I am tired of Pop ruling the roost. Things are very boring right now and I do think that genres like Grime and Hip-Hop have an important role to play. I am pleased Stormzy is at the top of the charts and continues to be up there for a long time! I do feel we have a problem with race and equality in music and the longer we ignore it then the worse it will become. I shall move onto another subject because, as you’d expect there is a lot to unpick when it comes to Stormzy’s new song, VOSSI BOP. It is a chart-topper and another big step from the big man. I do really want to hear discussions happen where we look at festival line-ups and certain genres; how black artists are having little say and the fact that we need to be much more inclusive. It will not be a quick solution but, given time and commitment, we can make some changes.
There is this sort of warped, haunting and howling electronic that brings VOSSI BOP up. In the video for the shot, Stormzy is on a bridge in London and things are eerily quiet. There is no traffic around and it provides an unusual (if cool) backdrop for the song. Rather than dabbing (a bit of a dance fad), he is doing this vossi bop variation. He is linking up with a girl in the coffee shop, and within a few lines, we know where the song is headed. Rather than beat around the bush, the hero is taking the girl back to his place and getting freaky in the sheets. A lot of Grime and Hip-Hop reflects the beat of the street and struggle but there is another avenue that is more about confidence and sex. The same can be said for any genres but there is that diversity in Stormzy’s work. He can mix things up and throw in songs like this that are more about pleasure than they are pain. The composition is quite simple and, in the first verse, there is not a lot of accompaniment. Stormzy’s vocal has a sense of cool to it and, rather than shout and get aggressive, this song has a swagger and vibe to it that is accessible. You are never pushed away and, instead, you walk alongside Stormzy as he talks about his conquest and path. As the track goes on, he discusses his route and profit. He uses the metaphor of seeds and trees sprouting, one feels, to reflect his musical progression. There is still that prurient chase and desire but, in a larger sense, the hero is talking about his success and how some people didn’t see it coming. He talks about his girl and that satisfaction; the fact he is rising and takes shots at politicians like Boris Johnson – someone who does not represent him. The video is pretty cool and, as the scene moves to a different part of London, there are dancers around Stormzy. Rather than there being this big hustle and pack around him, the scene is more akin to a ballet.
That might sound strange but the dancing and movement is more graceful and less aggressive. Maybe this is what VOSSI BOP is all about: putting in peace and calm rather than getting caught up in all the crap and lies. Stormzy addresses his peers and women; he talks about not chancing his luck and also addresses class. Some say he is a bit exclusive and being a bit middle-class; that he is not who he used to be and, maybe, betraying his roots. Stormzy fights back and knows that he is the same man he has always been. I love how the video flips between scenes and there is this sense of fluid moving. Other Stormzy songs have boasted quite a big and punchy kick in the composition but that is not the case here. There is much more subtleness to the song and you get more focus on the voice. Those who feel Grime is a bit too aggressive and attacking should listen to this song and realise there is broadness in the genre. Stormzy is talking about his life and how the fact his mum realises he looks tired. Stormzy has been flying around the world and gigging and it might be taking its toll. There are those who doubt Stormzy and his edge; maybe he has lost his cool or he is a different person. The man is not backed into the corner and is out there living it big. He is rubbing shoulders with girls and out there having fun. The words tumble at the rate of knots and you have this flood of images that go into the mind. The rhymes are solid and tight and you get caught in this sense of funk and catchiness. Rather than get buried by the composition and sound, the words and vocals rule and you can hear every beat of the story. Stormzy wants his competitors and haters to back off and give him some space. He has been getting tired and there are fake brothers out there.
The video continues to spark and intrigue as, with each new scene, the camera pans across. We see the fakers and those hassling Stormzy. He gives looks to camera and commands; he creates this very clear view of his world and the people he has to face. Stormzy (a.k.a. Stiff Chocolate) has nothing left to prove and is dropping bangers all over the place. He wants people to pay him homage and, as the song nears the end, you feel the man is talking about all his achievements and the fact he does not get the credit he deserves. I do love the fact that there is this balance of attack and retreat. On the one hand, Stormzy tackles those who doubt him and come his way. He is also looking for some love and acceptance. There is a nice balance of images, moods and emotions that run through. It makes VOSSI BOP a very vivid, nuanced and layered song that will bring you back time and time again. I love how the song jumps and pops. It has a definite strut to its step and I love the track. It is quite different to a lot of other Stormzy songs and might signal a new direction. Make sure you watch the video of VOSSI BOP as there are so many great scenes that make you smile and spike the mind. VOSSI BOP, so far, is my favourite Stormzy song and it made an instant impression on me when I first listened to it a few days ago. It is interesting to see how this song translates to the Glastonbury stage if Stormzy chooses to include it. It is a cracking tune and one that thoroughly deserves it place at the top of the charts!
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex de Mora
The next few months are pretty packed for Stormzy. He has his Glastonbury duties in June but keep an eye out on his social media channels because the man is going to be pretty active. I do like Stormzy because he is one of these artists who goes beyond the music. We all read about the news that there is now a black scholarship for U.K. students and Stormzy has initiated this. It is a bold move and one that is needed. If we want to talk about race then we can look at elite institutions like the University of Cambridge and how their enrolments look – and how there are relatively few black students. Stormzy is almost like a politician in the sense he wants to change things and get rid of ills. Rather than our politicians, there are no lies from Stormzy and, instead, he is all about making improvements and helping those who do not have a big voice. I know there are other artists like Stormzy who are just as influential and I hope the industry recognises them. Stormzy has that Glastonbury headline slot and there are other artists out there who warrant the same sort of acclaim and celebration. So what might we expect from Stormzy going forward? There are many who are keen to see a follow-up to his debut album and, very soon, there will be news and announcements. I am excited to see how he follows Gang Signs & Prayer and what direction his music will go in. Rather than copying his debut, I feel the next album will be a bit more varied and take in some new lyrical themes. There is no telling but I am just eager to see how Stormzy follows his 2017 release. Stormzy is going to be busy touring and recording but it makes me wonder, when looking at what he does outside of music, whether there should be some sort of collective.
PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan Heinrichs
I have not raised this before but, with politics in such a bad state, it seems musicians have much more influence and respect. They are able to change minds and galvanise the people; break down walls and bring about change. Maybe there should be this sort of body that consists of artists and they form their own sort of political party. They could tackle problems in broken estates and neighbourhoods with music and use their voice to unite people and create change. I know there are organisations that do the same sort of thing but musicians have so much sway and influence. Rather than rely on our leaders to get things done and improve the nation, artists are in a much better position. Someone like Stormzy seems like a natural leader. He is already making a difference when it comes to black students and Cambridge enrolment; talking about identity and race in his music and, alongside his peers, so much good is happening. Maybe I am getting a bit carried away but I think it would be feasible to start something like that! In any case, Stormzy is ruling right now and looking sharp. VOSSI BOP is at number-one and, very soon, he steps onto the Glastonbury stage. I am interesting seeing what his set is like and what he delivers to the punters. Those who doubt his credentials and headline promise should see one of his gigs and realise what panache and command he delivers from the stage. Let us wind things down and look ahead for Stormzy. I think there will be a new album from his very soon. I am looking forward to that but, after Glastonbury, there will be new demand to see Stormzy play. In a short couple of years, he has grown a lot and moved to the top of the Grime tree. Although he sees himself as a child of Grime and someone learning from the likes of Skepta and Wiley, that does him a disservice. I think Stormzy is among the most important and bold voices in British music and leading this new wave. I love what he is doing and think that the music world should embrace Grime and Hip-Hop more. I know Pop holds its place but I do feel there is something empty and predictable about the scene. We do need to change things up and integrate genres like Grime into the mainstream. It holds some sway but not nearly the same clout as Pop. Anyway, let’s end things there and it leaves me to urge people to check out VOSSI BOP and this great new song from Stormzy. This might signal a new album or it might just be a single release that is filling a gap. Whatever comes next will be thrilling and, next month, Stormzy will take to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and tear loose. It will be a sensational headline set and I cannot wait to see what he delivers. Those who doubt his ability and think he will be a disappointment are mad! As he has proved throughout his career, Stormzy is capable of…
PRETTY much anything.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex de Mora