Kitty Walsh, BA History and World Philosophies
On November 1, Penguin Random House, via #Merky Books, released the long-awaited story of grime artist Stormzy’s elevation to fame in “Rise Up: the #Merky Story So Far”. From Brit Awards to Mobo awards, Ibiza festivals and sold-out shows, Stormzy is undeniably one of the most prominent musical voices of the UK in 2018. It’s funny to think that it was only four years since “Dreamers Disease” and three since Kanye West’s Brit Awards performance that inspired his viral “Shut Up” (now at 82 million views).
“An explanation for this monumental success has been a long time coming.”
The book is collaborative, co-written and edited by up-and-coming author Jude Yawson and composed of interviews of members of the #Merky team. From his beginnings in Croydon, Stormzy has consistently proved himself to be a champion of aspiring talent, assigning his close friend Tobe to be his manager, DJ TiiNY as his DJ, and his long-time friend Flipz to #Merky president despite a clear lack of industry experience. As Yawson puts it, “He could easily have secured an established writer with decades of experience, but he asked me, someone who has never worked on a book before.”
Stormzy speaks about being continually underestimated, particularly since he has entered the mainstream. Repeatedly he has been forced to prove himself and his music, that he can mean different things to different audiences. One of his biggest obstacles was the music industry’s expectations for black British musicians. The album “Gang Signs and Prayer”, for instance, is clearly a combination of grime, gospel, and R&B. But as his brand manager Akua observes, people generally “want to put you in a box and they don’t know what to do with you if you don’t fit in that box. There’s always a reason for those boxes but they only serve the people who put you in them.”
Stormzy leaves the impression that he feels a duty to change the scene and make way for the next generation of talented young people, perhaps explaining why this book, why now. He thanks his mum, his friends, his community and his faith for his success, narrating how he “ran off into the world like, s***, I’ve got to go get it, I’ve got to go get it for everyone”. He has set up a scholarship fund at Cambridge for black students, openly criticized the government’s handling of Grenfell and even called Theresa May a “paigon”. Whether or not you’re a fan of his music, there is truth in Ghetts’ line in “Bad Boys”, “it was all calm before Stormzy, now it’s lightning.”
Photo Credit: Creative Commons