Days after dueting with Ed Sheeran at the BRITs last year, Stormzy dropped a debut that would become the first pure grime album to reach No.1. And at last night's ceremony it was crowned Album Of The Year, beating fierce ...
How did you break into the industry?
I started out helping my sister, Rita [Ora], look for a manager and a lawyer to represent her. Through this search we met Sarah Stennett [First Access Entertainment CEO]. I was 19 or 20 at the time, and was still at university.
Sarah offered to mentor me while I was still studying. As soon as I had graduated, I joined the First Access team full time to help manage Rita alongside Sarah.
What’s your proudest achievement so far?
We have achieved a lot of groundbreaking things in our journey so far – some of which have been ‘firsts’ for a UK female artist.
For example, Rita being the first to launch a collaboration with Adidas at the same time as topping the UK album and singles charts simultaneously [with Ora and Young, Single & Sexy]. I was also very proud of Rita’s performance at The Oscars 2015, which came shortly after her role in Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Being able to mix the worlds of music, fashion and film, in the same vein as iconic women such as Aaliyah and Whitney Houston did in the past, helps continue to set the tone for female artists to explore and express their creativity in a multifaceted way.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Being able to have a creative or innovative idea that sparks excitement and passion, and then to see it through until it’s brought to life, is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Sticking to the original plan and source of inspiration, and not letting yourself be swayed or derailed by the doubt or fear of others. Often there is a process in which things are done that can lead you to lose confidence in yourself and your vision.
For example, there have been those in the past who have argued that Rita shouldn’t be part of a fashion or beauty advertising campaign, or act in a film, or take part in a TV series, as it will detract from the focus on her as a credible music artist.
When we have proven time and time again that, as long as you strategise and time all activity and promotion effectively, each element of every project or campaign can help complement and amplify one other.
What advice would you give to those looking to break into the biz?
Passion and perseverance are key, as is taking pride in your work. Appreciate what you contribute and create with your team and protect this.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To create an environment where innovation and risk are supported and not limited by timidity or scrutinisation.
With a lot of the songs I have written I can remember, very clearly, where I was, and what I was doing. I can pinpoint it to an exact moment.
For Ruby, I was driving to my mum and dad’s house in York. I was listening to Paul McCartney’s Ram and something from that must have inspired me and I began singing the verse [to Ruby].
When I arrived at my parents’ house I started fiddling around on the piano, putting chords in where the melody was going, and I liked the flow of it. I didn’t have any words; I just had the melody and the chords. I’ve written all my favourite songs on that piano, it’s like a family heirloom. I’m quite fond of it.
At the time we didn’t talk about this because we thought, I don’t know, it was uncool, but my mum has a dog called Ruby.
As I’m playing this verse on the piano, the dog slowly walks in and I literally turned to it and went, ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby!’ That is not a lie - that is exactly how it happened - I can take myself right back to that moment.
Something in my head went, ‘That’s interesting.’ I knew it was catchy, but I didn’t know it was going to be a big smash. At that point the dog’s just standing there wagging his tail and I’m singing its name.
The next day we were in rehearsals at Old Chapel studios in Leeds. We had all the songs for the second album apart from what was to be the first single. I started playing [Ruby] to everyone and it felt a bit silly, me just singing the word ‘Ruby’ four times.
A really important part of the song was when Whitey, our guitarist, came up with the riff that became the intro and went all through the chorus as well. When he got the same sort of guitar tone as I Predict A Riot we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got something going on here.’
I think we just recorded it in the rehearsal room. I don’t even know whether the verse had words at this point, but I sent it to Martin [Toher] at B-Unique Records and he got back straight away.
If people get back to you straight away, you’re OK, everything’s good. If people don’t get back to you straight away, they’re never getting back to you - that’s how it works in the music industry.
I think he’d [previously] told me to go away and write something else for the lead single because we’d had two options, neither of which came out as singles in the end. Anyway, when he heard the Ruby demo, he was straight on the phone and said, ‘This is it.’
Ricky wrote all the verse lyrics. He sent me a couple of drafts and I would say, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ I pushed him quite hard and he came back with brilliant lyrics. You had this song about a dog, but you’re like, ‘We can’t make it about a dog!
There can be no references to dogs. We need to make it into a song about love, about feelings of love towards this person who’s ignoring you - this girl, Ruby - and Ricky did that really well.
When Ruby went to No.1, I remember phoning my mum. It was a weird one, I thought I was going to be absolutely fine but I could hardly speak - I was so overwhelmed with emotion.
I’d been in a band since I was 11 years old and here I was on the phone telling my mum, ‘We’re No.1!’ It still gets me, still gets me now.