Backstage with Stormzy in Los Angeles
For a genre born of the digital age, grime can be pretty hard to keep up with.
It’s not that the music itself isn’t accessible online. It is. But if you’re not actually living in the U.K., then you’re missing out on the culture. No pirate radio stations, no Channel U, and no grime concerts.
So when I had the chance to go see a show by Stormzy, one of the leaders of a new generation of grime MCs, I got myself in there. I did a quick interview with him and wrote it up here:
”I don’t really care about infiltrating.” It’s a Wednesday night, and I’m backstage with U.K. grime star Stormzy a half hour before his first-ever show in Los Angeles…www.latimes.com
But, there’s a few things that didn’t make it into the article. So here’s the full text of the interview (lightly edited for clarity).
So I heard the New York show went well.
Yeah, it was a good show. It was a sick show.
I heard the response was good. Were you expecting that?
In Toronto, I knew it was gonna be sick because I know Toronto culture and London culture is quite similar, do you know what I mean? So I always knew Toronto was gonna be a good one. But anywhere else, New York, tonight… I don’t have a clue.
Have you seen the crowd out there?
For a bit, yeah. How is it now, it’s full?
Good. Good sign, right? I hope it’s a good one.
I’m hearing a lot of people talking about grime making it big in the States. Are you hoping to get grime happening over here?
I still feel like we’ve got a lot more time to grow, you know what I mean? We’re slowly making our presence known. But America’s a huge place, so we might be making little dents and little impacts here and there but we’ve got a long way to go. But it’ll just grow naturally. Just me, I don’t really care about infiltrating.
But that’s not a priority for you.
If it happens, it’ll happen naturally. I’m not gonna seek it like, I’m just gonna carry on doing what I’ve always been doing. And hopefully that grows and becomes something, over here as well, know what I mean? Naturally.
[laughs] Nah, all of that stuff don’t really faze me. That’s like things on the side, you know what I mean? That’s just little bonuses that happen along the way. That’s not the main goal for me.
Speaking of little bonuses, what was it like being part of that “Legends of the Scene” series that Reuben Dangoor did?
That was cool. The reason it was sick to me because the other people that he drew me amongst, they’re obviously highly respected. So for him to see me in a similar light, it was humbling. There’s Skepta, Dee Double E, Wiley, Dizzee [Rascal]… these are all legends. So for him to consider me as well, that was humbling.
Yeah, I think you were the second person he drew.
Yeah, exactly. So it was humbling. And they did a little exhibition at the Tate.
Have you two met?
Nah, we still ain’t met. He designed the set for my tour. His whole collection, we based my tour production set off of those. We have all these pictures up in the back. So that was my tour. But we haven’t met properly. We’ve spoken online and that, but that’s all. We really do need to link.
That’s all fun and games, man. You need that side of things, the entertainment to match the music as well. I’ve seen a few of them, I laugh as well, I retweeted ‘em and stuff.
So you just gave a lecture at Oxford. Let’s say you were to talk in the U.S., where would you want to talk? Is there a university you’d want to lecture at?
I’m not too sure, man. I’m not too familiar with the education out here. I don’t know. But I’m not going to do any more talks for the time being.
You think you’ve said enough?
I think I need to live a little first, so I have more wisdom.
So let me ask you about something you said at your talk. I think you said that U.K. artists aren’t as misogynistic as the artists in the U.S. Would you still say that?
You know what it was, at the talk, a girl was talking about misogyny in grime… which is the genre I do.
When she said it…I don’t know. That’s not really often linked to grime. People often link grime with other things, like street culture, and clashing, and MC battles and whatnot. But no one’s ever talked in misogyny in grime. That’s often linked to hip-hop, I know people talk about that is a problem in hip-hop. But not grime. So I was like, I dunno, I think maybe she got the wrong end of the stick.
And you said you might not be using the n-word anymore?
Yeah man, I’m gonna try to stop. I don’t think it’s something that needs promoting, if you get what I mean. So I’ll try my hardest not to. Yeah. It’s mad.
Do you get annoyed when people mix up hip-hop and grime?
I understand why people mix it up, but I think there’s clear differences that people need to be aware of. Like, it’s not hip-hop, it’s its own entity, you know what I mean? It has hip-hop influences and all that but it’s its own subgenre. It needs to be looked at with separate eyes and separate ears. I think everyone should have that understanding … we’ve all been trying to let the world know that. We have our influences from [the U.S.], yeah. But, it’s grime, it’s London.
What’s that feel like, being one of the ambassadors? For a lot of people, you’re going to be an introduction to grime, and setting that distinction from hip-hop.
The whole ambassador thing, I just feel like… I’m just playing my part, you know what I mean? Everyone’s out here, Skepta’s out touring the world, there’s bare peoples out here. I’m just doing my bit.
But I know some people here tonight, they may be seeing their first London artist, or their first grime artist. So I know I have a duty to make it as sick as possible. For my genre, my country, my peers. So that’s the part I play. So that the world knows that we’re to be taken seriously, you know what I mean? And everyone does that in their capacity, whether it’s back home, in the US, in Europe, everyone does that. They come out and rep.
Speaking of that difference, and representing your scene for people who don’t know grime, one last question: what was it like rapping in front of Ice Cube?
It was mad. For me, what I always need to remember is that as popular as I might be in London, when I come out here I’m still very, very small. I’m not famous like compared to the big stars over here in America. When Ice Cube and Kevin came into the room, I was in the U.K. but they didn’t know me. So they just thought I was just another… they didn’t know that I was a MC out here. And for me that was like I thought I was back to the basics, of having to show new people who I am. I never have to do that no more, back home, but now I’m in front of two mega stars. Who don’t have a clue who I am. So I have to rep. It was humbling.
It must have been fun though, right?
Yeah! It was good. I think done alright.
For more album and concert reviews, interviews, and music award coverage, check out the Los Angeles Times Music section.