Exclusive Interview: Stormzy – “It Used To Grind My Gears, But Now I Actually Love Rap”
Ben Fawcett gets some insight into the internet's favourite emerging MC Stormzy...
Shutting down these internets at exactly the right time, Stormzy brought the streets to the Tweets last week when his Not That Deep video kick-started what could be a career defining month for the South East London MC. With an appearance on DJ Semtex‘s 1Xtra show, a spin from Mistajam on Radio 1 and a road block launch party in Camden following shortly after, it’s fair to say that the wheels are in full motion for the versatile rookie. Buzz is nothing new to the #wickedskengman though, whose YouTube freestyles have seen him grow to become one of the most talked about underground artists in the UK and with the release of his new EP Dreams Disease, complete with a strong showing on the iTunes chart, Ben Fawcett set about learning a little more about the unique and soulful talent who is destined to surprise and enthrall as his profile continues to shoot upward.
In terms of people who inspire you musically and culturally, who would you say are your five biggest influences?
I would say [pauses] Skepta, of course. I just think that as UK artists he has set the blueprint to follow. He reached the pinnacle. I would also say Drake. As an artist he is just amazing, it’s undeniable. Another one of my influences is Frank Ocean.
Frank Ocean really? That is not who I expected you to say. Why Frank Ocean?
His song writing. If you pay very close attention to his music Frank is in a whole different level in terms of his song writing. With that I would also say Lauryn Hill, because her songs and her writing were just incredible.
Those are some really obscure choices. I bet your fans wouldn’t imagine you would say Frank Ocean and Lauryn Hill.
Yeah, I really pay attention to the song writing of artists like that.
Who else then? Who is your number five?
Well he’s a new one, Raleigh Ritchie. He’s another songwriter and when I’m listening to him he just amazes me at times.
So your inspirations seem to come from proper pure technical song writing? That’s not something often appreciated in rap and grime…
Yeah, it’s true. But if not song writing, it’s the presence and the aura of an artist. Someone like JME, it’s the delivery, the flow and the presence, because it may not all be just the actual technical song writing, but the presence and charisma. People like Fekky too, I can play Fekky all day and then listen to an artist like Frank Ocean because they’ve got that vibe, that positive energy that I like.
With influence from people like Frank Ocean and Lauryn Hill, it seems you have a love for rnb music. Has that always been the case or were you just into hip hop and grime growing up?
I was a grime head, an absolute Grime head, that was it. I’m talking, forget the rnb, forget the hip hop, I used to hate hip hop and hate rap. You know when everybody stopped doing grime and started rapping? I was thinking ‘we’re British, why are we rapping slow?’ It used to grind my gears, but now I actually love rap and I mean, I rap so…. But I came up on grime, real grime, Sony Ericsson on the back of the bus grime.
There haven’t been many people come in the door with the kind of presence and buzz that you have. You say you were a grime head who hated rap, but now you call yourself a rapper. Was it a case of watching from the side and carving your own unique sound or is what we hear just natural to you?
It was a natural approach honestly. I started off clashing at youth clubs with everyone grabbing the mic and then I did the switch to rap, I was a terrible rapper at first. My friend who I learned with, he could rap quite fast that I couldn’t match, so I had that slow tempo. I eventually learned how to rap though and then I got serious with the music, then not serious, then serious again, and when I got serious for the last time I thought, “Let me make this as natural as possible.” So I make the music I like. When you check my YouTube you see I got the covers for the girls and a rap freestyle, then a #wickedskengman freestyle, that shows the diversity of it, and the versatility and that’s simply because it all comes naturally. If I like it, I’m gonna do it.
Speaking of the #wickedskengman freestyle. That is a huge deal at the moment, you’re on your third one now and it is really kicking in doors for you. One of the key elements of that mini-series, besides the bars is the video, the whole crew atmosphere. Is that something you are consciously trying to re-introduce?
It’s weird because, if you watch the #wickedskengman freestyle part one, part two and part three, it actually evolves in terms of the people I’m with and in terms of their presence. The first one came about when I was in Turkey with my family and I wrote the first #wickedskengman freestyle and I got back to ends and I knew I didn’t wanna record it as just a song, because I thought that if it was just a song it would lose its essence. I felt like it needed performance so I told Jaiden Ramgeet, my cameraman, ‘we’re gonna get the mandem out’. He’s a proper creative person with ideas and structure and when I told him that he was a bit skeptical but we got the mandem down and there are little bits like, my bredrins come in one at a time and helped fuel the buzz, creating that feeling of ‘he’s going in’ so that evolved to part two and part three.
Being new to the scene and having caused the stir you have with your freestyles and covers, are there any artists out there you would love the opportunity to work with?
Little Simz, I think she is so sick! I was a special guest on a line-up she was performing and I watched her, she was so good. I waited around to watch her and she was out of this world. It was the best UK artist performance I’ve seen ever. Boy Better Know as well, the whole faction, because you don’t get much better than them. I would say Drake again too, Frank Ocean again too actually.
Anything out of left field? You have to have a guilty pleasure.
That’s very hard. I would say… Ice Kid because I know he’s cold. He’s one of those artists who once you hear him, you can’t deny he’s cold but not many people have heard him. He’s one of those UK talents that have been so hidden. When he goes in, he is sick. He’s got an agginess about him that I love.
With his new EP Dreamers Disease out now and videos for Storm Trooper and Not That Deep making noise online, Stormzy doesn’t look like he’s going to let this buzz fade any time soon and at only 21 years old, we can expect a lot more from this South London rapper with a real passion for songwriting.
Words by Ben Fawcett (@benkeablefaw)