In a decade or so, February 24th 2017 could possibly be looked back on as a landmark moment in grime history. To Grime fans it will be remembered as the day Stormzy officially announced his arrival by releasing his ‘debut’ album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’. Words alone simply cannot express the importance of this album. Since 2014, Stormzy has been on an unprecedented meteoric rise. A rise that has seen him win many hearts along the way. Friday showed just how diverse his supporters have become. From your usual Grime heads to some of the biggest Sports and Pop stars were lining up amongst kids far detached from a lifestyle similar to the likes of Stormzy to praise him, his music and the album. Big companies like Adidas and Netflix were also present to give their co-signs! The most outstanding thing about this is that Stormzy has achieved such a feat without the backing of a major label. This support is not manufactured. It’s not the doing of the powers that be. It’s the doing of the people. Stormzy is the people’s champion.
— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) February 24, 2017
Stormzy’s rise, coincided with what has been a sort of renaissance for the Grime scene. Between the years 2008-2013, the genre was in a state of flux. Grime frontrunners such as Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Lethal B had sacrificed their original sounds for newfound chart success. It was as if the genre had become extinct and left many asking “is Grime dead?”. By 2014 a revival had begun to take place. In terms of the old guard, Skepta was at the forefront of the movement. The 2014 MOBO Awards could be seen as a prophecy as it was the new guard, Stormzy, who would soon take the genre to the next level, after winning the award for best Grime act.
Here arrived a guy, the self proclaimed “Child of Grime”. A guy who reminded many of the genre’s early 2000’s heyday, whose biggest hit to date is a ‘freestyle in the park’ over a classic 2004 Grime instrumental.
Stormzy was social media savvy, and continuously utilised this throughout his campaigns. It was demonstrated each time he was able to rally the people behind him. A moment that best embodied this was his campaign for the coveted Xmas number 1 spot in the UK singles chart. After the buzz of performing ‘Shut Up’ during AJ’s ring walk, for his successful bout against Dylan White, Stormzy rallied his fans in purchasing the single so that it could reach number one. It fell short by 7 places, however that was irrelevant, the fact that an upstart Grime Mc had managed to crack open the top ten with an actual Grime single was more than enough. In hindsight, it displayed the power of Grime and what can happen when the people support and come together. This is what the people wanted and Stormzy was the one they had chosen.
Stormzy’s ascendance is parallel to Kendrick Lamar’s official arrival on the Hip Hop scene, 5 years ago. Hip Hop at the time was undergoing a change of the guard. Established rappers like Lil Wayne and Kanye West were losing their perches at the top to then new-school rappers like Drake and J. Cole. Yet despite how successful Drake and J. Cole were becoming, many fans felt that they had false starts. ‘Thank Me Later’ and ‘Cole World: The Sideline Story’ were commercially successful albums but were considered let downs by fans and critics in comparison to their two preceding ground breaking mixtapes. So when it was time for Kendrick to drop his major label debut album after wowing fans and critics with his indie debut ‘Section 80′, the pressure was on. This is similar to how the Grime and UK Rap scene were disappointed by the false starts of Krept & Konan, Chip, and Tinie Tempah. Chip was quick to go down the Pop and R&B route after many hailed him as Grime’s next torchbearer. Tinie’s debut was a complete departure from his earlier Grime roots. ‘The Long Way Home’ met mixed reviews, but it was apparent that Krept & Konan fell under pressure from their label to commercialise their sound.
When Kendrick dropped ‘Good Kid Maad City’, in the fall of 2012, the album was met with unanimous praise from all quadrants of the Hip Hop community. The album was co-signed by hip hop purists, hipsters, casual mainstream fans, Hip Hop legends like Nas and label boss, Dr Dre. Quite like how Stormzy has the support of Grime OG’s like Wiley and CRAZY TITCH! I REPEAT THAT: CRAZY TITCH called Stormzy the chosen one. Major pop music titans like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga co-signed Kendrick, similar to how Ed Sheeran and Adele are co-signing Stormzy, don’t you think? Not only that, but the music met the hype. ‘Good Kid Maad City’ received rave reviews from critics and was the first true album from rap’s new school to be universally accepted as a classic. It found the perfect balance between appealing to the mainstream but remaining true to it’s roots. Just like GSAP has done so far since it’s release. Even though I personally would not call Stormzy’s album a classic just yet, it is definitely an extremely good album with all the makings of a classic.
In terms of importance, Storzmy’s debut could prove to be the most significant Grime release since ‘Boy In The Corner’. We have seen this guy just take win after win. From winning a MOBO award in 2014, being asked by Kanye West to perform alongside him at the BRIT Awards, releasing a freestyle in the park that eventually became a UK top ten smash, appearing in ‘Brotherhood’, to now being on the verge of having the number one album in the country, Stormzy has officially cemented his place as the chosen one. The nature of his rise perfectly embodies the DIY, grassroots nature of Grime.
As clichéd as it may sound, the release of GSAP is truly bigger than Stormzy. This album is the gateway to a new greater dominance of the UK urban sounds in the mainstream and beyond. Waiting in the vault we have the likes of Dave, J Hus and co. who’s albums to follow will be considered genuine contenders for the number one album in the country. A feat thats now possible thanks to the likes of Wiley, Skepta, Giggs and the people’s champ, Stormzy, who have now all released extremely successful yet authentic albums. What was once a dream is now attainable and achievable for any one of us who truly wants it.
Others in the past picked themselves to be the chosen one. Stormzy was picked by the people. He is the people’s champion. May the people stay behind him all the way as God takes him to the next level… and the church said Amen.
Words by NiftyNoel