Grime’s having a pretty rosy 2017 so far. This long-ostracised movement is finally represented at the BRIT Awards and, far from panicking about what happened last time, ITV have granted Skepta a prime-time performance slot sandwiched between Little Mix, Robbie Williams and the rest. Then there’s 38-year-old overlord Wiley, whose Godfather album cemented a welcome comeback, charting at No.9 in the process. Last week, Drake continued his puppyish patronage of the scene by wheeling out Giggs and 18-year-old MC Dave onstage at The O2. And, on the subject of new talent, the industry is still feasting on XL’s New Gen compilation. Where then, does Stormzy’s debut album fit in?
Right in the middle. The answer was blatant from the moment the Croydon rapper had parts of London plastered with massive black #GSAP posters. We know now that stands for Gang Signs & Prayer, the title of a record hailed in Music Week by Dan Chalmers, president of the Warner-owned A.D.A. (who will distribute the album) as “genre-defining”.
We know also that Fraser T Smith executive produced the disc, and that it finds Stormzy demonstrating his singing voice. That’s to come. For now, we have lead single Big For Your Boots, which is a banger. In the video Stormzy looks primed for world domination, cruising over the river Thames in a limo, his upper half protruding from the open roof, arms aloft. It’s a brilliant video (look out for Ray Blk, Raye, Julie Adenuga, Sian Anderson and more of the scene’s most powerful) and lots of people seem to think so.
“Fucking hell you lot 800,000 views in 24 hours,” tweeted Stormzy on Friday. According to the Midweeks, those viewing figures stand half a chance of being mirrored in the charts. For the moment at least, the track is lodged in the Top 10 at No.8, having shifted 11,883 copies so far. Incidentally, 2015 single Shut Up (which peaked at No.8 after a campaign to reach Christmas No.1 and has sold 562,083 copies to date), re-renters the chart at No.143. Aside from Ed Sheeran, not many artists could say they believe they have a good chance of charting in the Top 10 with a new single.
But then, if you asked Stormzy, he’d probably fancy his chances. As he told Adenuga on Beats 1 in an extensive, predictably funny interview, “Everything I’ve achieved I always thought it looked far-fetched, so now something like a Grammy is not far-fetched. It’s there, why can’t I…”
Their chat was full of stark proclamations from the 23-year-old. He doesn’t sound big for his boots, just sure. “I belive the album’s gonna certify my position as an artist, as Stormzy the artist,” he said. “I’ve made an artistic body of work and you’ve watched me grow up and now I’m here.”
Part of that journey includes his work to increase diversity at the BRITs, and Stormzy joins Skepta and Kano among the nominations. Reflecting in conversation with Adenuga he said, “ I feel like every single nomination this year is deserved. I was on the flex of, Guys that was wrong, I’m gonna tell you off a bit. I’ll put my hands up and show a lot of respect to the BRITs. They adjusted it and I think everyone won.”
And, as a reflection of something really worth getting excited about in music at the moment, wouldn’t it be good if he did?
It now seems Stormzy’s album is important not just for grime, but for popular culture. Just like Skepta’s Konnichiwa last year, Gang Signs & Prayer has a chance to impact hugely. It arrives at a fertile time, a time when it feels like our grime scene is running in a pack, young and old shoulder to shoulder, coming for us all.