Stormzy might have only released one album to date, but he's managed to make an impact on UK society that exceeds even the most prolific of UK musicians. Having recently been crowned by Time Magazine as one of their Next Generation Leaders, it's an accolade that highlights that Stormzy isn't just content with dropping hits, but wants to impact the UK collective consciousness in a way that leaves a lasting impression.
Having released his first album, Gang Signs & Prayer back in 2017, which would go on to win the British Album Of The Year at the Brit Awards in 2017, Stormzy has been presented with a platform that is both enviable and fraught with pressure, as his fans wait for his second album. Speaking to GQ about the upcoming album, Stormzy is full of confidence. “Every single line, every melody, lyric and sample has a purpose. This is phase two. You know when people say that some rappers have filler songs or filler lyrics? There won’t be any of that. When I sit in the car with the mandem and listen back to it, all of it has a purpose."
Stormzy is a product of those who have come before him, which he acknowledges in conversation with Time. “This is why I’m always so thankful for being in the position I am. I feel like all those artists or public figures or celebrities who went through that, had to go through that … they didn’t have the luxury of being free with their music, and they had to bite that bullet for me. So I love and respect all those people, for all their decisions.”
Talking about headlining Glastonbury, a moment that may yet prove to be the catalyst to elevating Stormzy to one of the premier musicians in the world, he says, “I wanted it to be the pinnacle of my career, my defining moment." It certainly was that, with Stormzy's performance mirroring that of #Beychella, Beyoncé’s headlining set at Coachella in 2018. At Coachella, Beyoncé brought with her marching bands from historically Black universities and colleges. At Glastonbury, clothed in a Union Jack-emblazoned stab-proof vest designed by Banksy, Stormzy brought with him an all-Black team - gospel singers and ballet dancers, politicians and authors. In the process, he became the first Black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury.
As part of the performance, Stormzy name-dropped 65 artists from the UK scene that have helped him in his career. Speaking about his decision to mention them to GQ, Stormzy explains, “I was stood arm-in-arm with so many people up there. I’ve always had a sense of duty in my career. As much as I might be the artist up there, I’ve risen from a community. I’ve been championed by the public and by my people. Every time I’m on the stage like that it’s because of so many different people. Often in British culture, there has only been one or two or three Black people in the spotlight at one time. But, nah, that’s over now. There are so many of us that the world should hear. So when I did that, I was just thinking that I need to let people know that it’s not just myself. It’s not just Stormzy. There are bare of us.”
Off-stage is arguably where Stormzy has made his biggest impact, though. He's launched a range of initiatives in order to help inspire the Black British population. In conversation with Time, he explains his philosophy behind these initiatives, saying, “There’s a whole side of Blackness and Black Britishness that doesn’t often fall under the kind of umbrella term that everyone uses of ‘Black culture. It’s like Black culture almost becomes music, acting, sports and just kind of celebrity and whatever. I was like, Yo, there’s theater, there’s literature, books, there’s ballet.” Stormzy is actively fighting to change the make-up of the UK's creative industries, and is opening up pathways that may not have existed for those before him, but will lead to success for those who come afterwards.
One such example of his work is #Merky Books, his platform for aspiring Black British writers. Earlier this year, Stormzy announced the New Writers' prize to find the "best writer of a new generation". Speaking about the award, Stormzy said, “I know too many talented writers that don’t always have an outlet or a means to get their work seen, and hopefully #Merky Books can now be a reference point for them to say ‘I can be an author’, and for that to be a realistic and achievable goal."
The Stormzy Scholarship is another way that the rapper is attempting to introduce diversity to Britain's most elite universities, and is funded directly from his own pocket. It is open to both Black and mixed-heritage students, with it already making a difference to the amount of admissions to these universities. According to the director of Cambridge's admissions office, Jon Beard, the number of Black students admitted in 2019 was a third higher than before the scholarship launched. Stormzy is making a real-world impact, in a way that is changing UK society at a fundamental level.
As Stormzy gears up to release his second album Heavy Is The Head, one thing stands out above all else - his already monumental impact on UK society. When Stormzy talks, people listen, but when Stormzy talks, he acts. Rather than worry solely about his own success, he's bringing his friends and peers along for the ride, and that's why he's the UK's most important musician.
Check out his brand new song Own It featuring Burna Boy and Ed Sheeran.