Saturday 25th of June 2016 marked the anniversary of an important day in black music history. No not the 7th year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson (not that that isn’t important) but the 20th year anniversary of Jay-Z’s legendary debut album Reasonable Doubt. Now I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking? “isn’t this the same guy who wrote that Jay-Z has never been the hottest in the game?”. I certainly am and that article stated that there has never been a rapper as consistently successful as Jigga. Don’t get me wrong others have been around longer (e.g Snoop) but can they still drop platinum albums till this day? I didn’t think so. Every single album of Jay’s has gone at least platinum and his next most likely will. Think about it his first album came out when 2pac and Biggie were still walking this earth. Not only is that a win for him it’s a win for Hip Hop as a whole and shows that if done correctly a rapper can have a long successful career like Bob Dylan, or U2. Hip Hop is not just a young man’s sport. Which makes me wonder will we one day be able to say the same for a UK artist?
I believe so and here is why I feel it has not happened yet. First of all Grime is still relatively in its infancy compared to other genres. Most trace the genres origins to 2002 when Wiley developed his “eski beat” sound and Dizzee Rascal dropped “I Luv U”. That’s only 14 years ago. Around the time hip hop was that age it had arguably only just started producing a few major stars. Grime still has time. Secondly for awhile the genre went through some sort of an identity crisis. Starting around 2008 a handful of emcees who came to prominence through Grime started having major mainstream hits. Examples include “Wearing My Rolex” by Wiley “Number One” by Tinchy Stryder and Dizzee’s entire “Tongue N’ Cheek” album. However these hits weren’t Grime at all. They were just songs that featured grime artists rapping over Dance/Pop/House beats. It wasn’t just the veterans guilty of it too. Newbies at the time such as Tinie Tempah and Chipmunk soon followed suit. Grime had “sold out” and this identity crisis lasted a good half a decade or so. However the genre started to undergo a sort of renaissance around 2013-2014 with seasoned vets like Skepta returning to his roots and arguably becoming a bigger artist than he was before and rookies like Stormzy and the Section Boyz emerging on the scene and bringing in a new wave of popularity. Which brings me to my final point: Stormzy is the guy who I feel has the most potential to have such longevity. He is undoubtedly the “IT” guy in Grime right now and his popularity is gradually increasing. If he plays his cards smartly he could still be as relevant as he is now 20 years from now. What better way to do that than to study Jay-Z’s moves:
- Keep relevant by attaching yourself to who ever is the hottest at that point in time. If you look at any point at Jay-Z’s career he somehow associated himself with the biggest rapper at that time (e.g touring with 50 Cent when he blew up, collaborating with Eminem in his prime, having Biggie on his first album, collaborating with Drake as he was blowing up)
- Become bigger than the music. Become a brand. Jay-Z made sure to capitalise on everything he could during the peak of his popularity, from running a record label, to creating different businesses such as clothing lines and film companies, Jay-Z turned himself into a Brand but still managed to keep music as his primary focus for the majority of his career. Stormzy has already started to capitalise on his budding fame and should keep doing so while he is still hot.
- Grow as an artist without necessarily selling out. A lot of people argued Jay-Z sold out after his first album. He even said he “dumbed down my audience to double my dollars” but when you look at it he didn’t completely do that. He made his sound more mainstream but it was still Hip Hop at it’s core and his lyricism was still top notch. Stormzy could eventually try to make more catchy “radio friendly” songs to gain a bigger audience but still keep the music Grime.
- Age gracefully. Even though Jay likes to stunt and brag about his riches a lot in his music these days his sound has matured from his early days. Whether it be reflecting on his marriage, being a father, refusing to follow popular trends (autotune) and starting some (hip hop shifting from jerseys to button ups) or just looking back on his career Jay-Z has managed to grow as an artist and still stay relevant without sounding like his playing catch up with the youngers.
- Find yourself a Beyonce and wife her. Okay well this isn’t necessary but who could argue that Jay’s marriage to arguably the biggest superstar of the new millennium has not helped him become an even bigger name than he was before?
If Stormzy follows these moves (while creating his own moves in the process) he could certainly be one of the most popular UK artists 20 years from now. Time will tell if a Grime star can maintain such a level of success for so long.
Words by @NiftyNoel