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Stormzy Is Not So Different From Us

With his new album ‘Heavy Is the Head’ out today, the grime superstar opens up about his struggles with fame, his Glastonbury moment, and breaking the mould.

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Stormzy is like a prophet. He’s on earth with a clear purpose; he moves with sublime direction. In person, his presence feels bigger than his height—he’s very tall—and even though I had waited three hours to speak with him, when we started talking, any impatience or irritation that I may have felt melted away, like what I imagine would happen in the presence of royalty. He attributes all his success to God and is unconcerned what anyone thinks about it. A self-professed mummy’s boy, Stormzy accredits the ferocity with which he spits to something much deeper than confidence—it’s a skill that was bestowed on him by God and nurtured from a young age by his mother.

Mr. Mainstream and proud, he scoffs at anyone who calls him a sell-out, emphasising that his music must and will be listened to by the world, and that it’s not for the dark corners of the Internet. He is passionate about his art and the running thread throughout Heavy Is the Head, his highly anticipated second album, is that yes, he is championing and carrying the torch for Black British culture, yes he is the best MC in the world, yes he’s Big Michael, Stormzy, and Stiff-Chocolate. But at it’s core, Heavy Is the Head finds Stormzy wanting to tell us something—that at the end of the day, he’s not so different from us. 

Heavy Is the Head is your second album and the artwork uses the imagery of a crown. My first thought was that the album would be about glory, incredible achievements, and accolades, but what I essentially took from the album, is that you are human and that there’s a darkness that comes with this. I also hear a lot of ‘fuck yous’ to people that don’t rate you.
As much as I love all of the responsibility, and I’m ready to bite the bullet and be all of these things in Black and British culture, and wherever I need to be, I’m ready to be that person, but sometimes it’s terrifying, sometimes it’s fucking scary, sometimes I don’t want to do it, and I feel like, wow, I bit off more than I could chew, and sometimes I think Na I can chew this, what? I do this thing. And you know what you’re saying about the ‘Fuck yous’, even that, sometimes I feel like, I should be super humble, and then sometimes I feel like, what the fuck, I fucking worked hard. There’s a Jay-Z lyric where he says, “Sometimes you need your ego / gotta remind these fools”. I love that lyric [and] I was listening to it yesterday on his birthday. I was like, “Bruv!” It’s me embracing that sometimes I think I’m the best MC in the country, one of the best MCs in the world, and the most skilled, and I will fucking stand by that, and it’s also me thinking, “Shit, man, this shit’s too hard.”

And I’m sure you didn’t anticipate that you would resent the fame and success at times?
I didn’t anticipate that at all to be honest. For the first two years of my career, 2014, 2015, coming fresh off the, it’s like a whole new world, everything is coming in fast, it’s all great, and then slowly, you realise bearing the brunt of fame, and new heights, and everything that comes with becoming an artist, and an artist of this stature, it becomes heavier and heavier, until one day you notice, OK, fucking hell, I don’t know how much I can carry this. But between me and God I’ve got the strength to do this always. I’m strong enough 100%.

There’s ‘Big Michael’ and ‘Superheroes’, and in prep for today I rewatched ‘Shut Up’. Every time I watch it, it gives me energy. I feel like when you spit, you have such conviction and confidence about you. Where do you think this comes from?
I always think that I have a confidence that comes from God. I’m someone where my confidence is very sure, it’s past confidence, and it’s a very suredness, it’s almost like, for example: I wasn’t confident I would play Glastonbury one day, I knew I would play Glastonbury, and not even on some kind of dreaming, like one day… it was like, no, that’s something I’m going to do, like I know I’ll do that, don’t know how or when, but I know I’ll do that. That is definitely in my trajectory. I’ll 100% do that, it’s a very sure purpose from God and a conviction. Also my mum, now that I think back at it, my mum proper rates me, I was always really good at school, I was always good academically. I have a vivid memory of my mum being around my aunties or my uncles [and] my mum be like, “Juniors mad smart you know” and I always thought Rah.I felt special, I always knew I was mad smart. “That boy’s brain” she always used to say. “That boy’s flipping smart,” so I guess I just believed it. 

Do you think that people could cultivate that sort of confidence, or do you think you were just lucky that you had that?
Yeah 100%, I thank God for it, I never think I’m some know it all that like, yeah taught myself this because I understand it’s a very specific thing, and I know it’s between me and God. I’ve got this clip, one time I did a talk at Merky books, and people were like what’s your one tip for new writers, and I was like, “Confidence.” Please, I know it’s difficult for people, sometimes I feel to slap myself and think, “Bruv, who do you think you are?” This confidence of just knowing, bruv, I can do it. I know what I can do, the more I’ve grown, the more I’ve met people I understand, wow, that sureness I have is very specific, not everyone has that.

There’s a lyric in ‘Audacity’: “When Banksy put the vest on me / felt like God was testing me.” What was he testing you about?
For me it felt like, how can all of this be bestowed onto one person? It was so clearly god, it was like, you are about to do Glastonbury, the biggest stage of any musician’s career. As in, if you’re a musician, I can walk into any room with any musician and I’ve headlined Glastonbury. And to have that at the beginning of my career, where it’s like I’m going to have a legacy defining moment, my legacy is certified, like after this, you’re about to do the most iconic thing ever and then [Banksy] the greatest living artist on planet earth, literally I’m just walking [around] thinking Glastonbury, and the greatest, like the greatest, not just some sick guy with some, the greatest living artist on planet earth says, “Hey, hey, hey, wait there. Just put this vest on.”

Wait, did you meet Banksy?
I can’t, I can’t. But do you get what I mean, I was just on my way, chilling, chilling, like, and I was on God’s path and then, I got a tap saying, “Hey yo, would you like to wear this?” And it’s like, god, bruv, like you can’t make this up. When Banksy put the vest on me, [it] felt like God was testing me, coz I was like, bruv, what the fuck? Glastonbury is one thing, but Banksy? It was crazy. 

I know that your head piece cut out for most of your Glastonbury performance, was that part of God testing you?
100%, do you want to hear the maddest story yeah? So after that happened, I went to church that Sunday, Glasto was on Friday, chilled out the Saturday, Sunday went to church, and I said, “I need to go to church to tell my testimony.” It was testimony service, where I can grab the mic and say… but I was like I needed to tell the story because I was thinking no one knew that I had these crazy sound issues. It was the maddest so, it was like I was so ready for the show, I’ve never been more prepared for anything in my life, got on stage was smashing it, know where I’m standing, know where I’m moving, got everything. Then the sound cut out, I was in no man’s land. From there it was the absolute worst, I just wanted to cry because I just thought it was going wrong. I was just spitting, I was like this is going wrong cause I couldn’t hear myself and as a rapper, imagine just clanging, I thought, Bruv you are not on beat, you are not on beat, and then got through the show, came off stage and I was just crying and I broke down, I was bawling my eyes out, and then everyone had to calm me down, and then they finally got me the memory stick and I watched it back after like an hour. I thought This is incredible, I did it, but imagine, you know how we’re talking about God’s intervention, imagine, so I went to church on Sunday to tell the testimony coz I was saying, “I didn’t have no sound out there but God took over and I was just flipping mashing it up.” 

And then my mum came over, and my mum was just looking at me, she was like, you’re not going to believe this but imagine before I went on stage I phoned my mum to pray for me, and my mum’s praying for me, she’s praying for me, and then I’m like, “Aww mum, you’re going to watch it yeah? I’m about to go on stage, I’ll be on in about an hour.” She’s like, “Oh nah, I might watch the first bit but I got to go to church.” And I was like, “Why are you going to church? Watch it!” She was like, “I got to go to church innit, I’ll watch the first bit, but I’ll record it, and I’ll come back and watch it.” So then, I’ve told the testimony, my mums come over and been like, “You’re not going to believe what’s happened.” The reason why she was telling me that she can’t watch it and go to church is because her pastor had phoned her and said he had a vision he had a vision that people were writing bad reviews about Glastonbury, so it was like, he saw this vision of people saying worst Glastonbury, and then he saw this vision of someone coming with a stamp and just stamping it out as if saying, “No, disapprove.” So he phoned my mum and was like, we need to pray. Tonight we need to just pray. So then my mum just watched the first five minutes, and then drove to church and was praying, so I think literally, when my sound blew, she was just in church praying for me. I think it blew for a reason.

Obviously Glastonbury is enormous, and in the song ‘Big Michael’, you mention people calling you mainstream. Why do you think it’s such a dirty word now?
Coming from an underground background in grime and rap, there’s an anti-establishment attitude, because it’s something that’s not always accepted or embraced properly in the mainstream but for me, I’ve always been the artist, like my generation of artists that has always said from the beginning I want my songs on [the] radio, I want the world to hear my songs, if that makes me mainstream, then fucking call me Mr. Mainstream himself. I want the world, I don’t want my music to exist in the dark corners of the internet, no. I want my CDs in the shops, I want them playing, I want the world to hear my music, because I believe in my art so much that there’s no way I’m keeping this to 100 listeners, no. The world needs to hear this shit so, yeah. Mainstream has become this dirty word because I guess a lot of mainstream culture goes against art, which I understand in terms of like, sometimes the mainstream just embraces and appreciates numbers, and positions, more than actual art. I’ve always said I’m an artist.

Break the mould.
Break the mould, that’s my whole thing, as in, my whole thing is, I’m going to be mainstream with some fucking art. That’s how you change it, like even, it’s funny you say that because even on the album, there’s a song called, ‘Pop Boy’, which like is me saying, “Make me want to be a pop boy / mummy always taught me give them what you got boy / on a mission that I flop boy, but I’ll never stop poppin’ i’m the pop boy.” I am the pop boy, this pop, especially with grime like, “Oh you’re pop?” Yes I am fucking pop. I’ll also pick up the mic and spray better than anyone in the room, like I’ll be the fucking best rapper, I can be both. One of them doesn’t cancel out the other.

With ‘Rachel’s little brother,’ I love that there’s a shift in perspective. You start with ‘Big Michael,’ which is you doing all of these massive things, and you’ve got all the accolades but then you end it with, “I’m Rachel’s little brother”, and it’s humbling. You mention seeing a therapist, and subduing your emotions with nicotine, alcohol, and weed, and you say that they keep you in your feelings. You also say, it’s the little things in life that get destroyed, so can you talk to me about what that means? It’s a very powerful statement.
It can be my friend’s birthday and everyone goes to a restaurant, it’s his friends, family and so on, and then I get there and it’s like ok, not that my friends birthday is a little thing but it’s like, these are the normal things I used to do, and now it’s just, ok the waiter has brought my food first, and no one else is eating, and I just got here, do you get what I mean? It just causes these weird little… Or, going to pick up my nephew from school and it’s a scene, and it’s like wow, it’s these little things, picking up my nephew from school, going here, whatever it is, I always feel like fame and becoming this person just interrupts every single little detail of your life, like every detail is slightly interrupted by [being] who I am. 

Like as in, who I am is just, not a dark cloud, but it interferes with everything I do, so like, every decision, every interaction, every little, intricate thing, whatever it is, just haunted by this person I’ve become, do you get what I mean? Going food shopping with my mum is an absolute ball ache, before I used to love [it], to just go shopping with my mum and now it’s like, going shopping with my mum is people trying to film me and me saying, “Bruv don’t fucking film me when I’m with my mum! My mum doesn’t want to just be filmed, she’s there trying to pick which flipping toilet roll, which kitchen roll, to pick, and then you’re trying to…” It’s like, no don’t invade my mum’s privacy now, do you know what I mean? It’s just all these weird little things.

Listen to ‘Head Is the Head’ above and catch Stormzy on his Australian tour, dates below.

Wednesday, May 6 – HBF Stadium, Perth
Saturday, May 9 – Hordern Pavillion, Sydney (Sold Out)
Sunday, May 10 – Hordern Pavillion, Sydney
Wednesday, May 13 – AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Thursday, May 14 – Melbourne Arena, Melbourne
Saturday, May 16 – Riverstage, Brisbane

Tickets available here.


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