Live review: Stormzy, Glastonbury Festival, June 28
If there’s ever a Stormzy biopic, this would make a fitting final scene. As the first black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury (contrary to popular belief, Skin got there first with Skunk Anansie 20 years ago), Big Mike’s name was already etched in history before a note was played. What followed, though, was a set as powerful as anything the festival has witnessed in its 49-year history.
Then again, it’s hard to say which is the bigger indicator of the grime MC’s current lofty status - this headline slot or the endorsement of rap god Jay-Z, who starred in the opening video, telling Stormzy, “culture moves the whole world”. Jay-Z, of course, is no stranger to breaking down barriers, headlining this very festival in 2008.
Stormzy's headline announcement wasn't met with quite the same fervent opposition 11 years on but, aside from the embarrassingly outdated notion of Glastonbury being a "rock festival", more legitimate doubts were raised as to whether an artist with just one studio album to his name was capable of pulling off such a high-profile slot.
Those doubters now look very foolish indeed. Stormzy didn’t just break through the glass ceiling, he obliterated it. Appearing on the Pyramid Stage in a Union Jack-emblazoned stab proof vest, the MC set a searing pace with opener Know Me From that barely dropped in its pyro-fuelled one hour 20 minute run-length.
The visibly moved 25-year-old pauses at various points to declare the set the “greatest”, “most legendary” and “iconic” night of his life. As befitting the occasion, there are celebrity cameos: Chris Martin makes an endearingly understated appearance on Blinded By Your Grace, Pt I and Dave and Fredo join for a cover of Funky Friday, the first British rap song to be a UK No.1.
The crowd delighted in screaming along, "Fuck the government and fuck Boris" to the second British rap UK chart-topper, Vossi Bop. Race issues are also tackled throughout, including a beautiful interlude about black ballet. In an age where politics and music have rarely mixed, it's a thrilling reminder that art is at its most essential when challenging the establishment.
Stormzy pays tribute to his grime forefathers (including a moving tribute to Cadet) and those in the ascendancy ("so many legends paved the way for me but there's a bag of us coming through right now") - a reminder that the genre hasn't even touched on its potential.
So this generation has found its voice. Stormzy is not just the hero we need, he's the one we deserve, too.