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a black british storm is coming

July 2, 2019
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I promise I’m getting to Stormzy.

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Last night I headlined Glastonbury in a stab-proof vest custom made by the greatest, most iconic living artist on planet earth, the one and only BANKSY. I opened my set with words of encouragement from my hero and ultimate inspiration and the greatest rapper to ever grace planet Earth Jay-Z. I got to sing with the most incredible and legendary man I know – Chris Martin – a man who’s genius I am so in awe of that it makes me go to studio and try to emulate him. Raleigh Ritchie – one of our country’s greatest musical talents thank you my brother. Dave & Fredo – I love you my brothers, UK’s finest rappers, thank you from my heart for helping me light up the stage and making one of the most beautiful moments our culture has seen. Thank you to my lil brother @djtiiny theres no way in hell I could do this without you you have my back always and I’m so proud of you – you are my brother in arms we go to war together I appreciate you. To Bronski, Amber, Misty, Trev, Kojo, Tim, James, Sam & my whole tour/creative/production team I appreciate you all and I’m forever grateful. To my band and to my amazing choir who have worked tireless and given this their everything all whilst sounding flawless, effortless and amazing I appreciate you all very much I can’t do this without you. Massive thank yous to: the W.A.R dance crew you lot are now my brothers thank you for bringing a God-sent energy that I truly needed. To Princess K – you are a superstar, the crowd went absolutely crazy for you and I’m so excited to watch you take the world by storm. To Ballet Black, the grace, beauty and feeling you blessed the world with yesterday was felt in the hearts of millions. To Mac, Trizzy, Bobby, C1, Flipz my BikeStormz family I’m so happy the world got to see you lots talent and skills – you just showed the world about bikelife – be very fucking proud. To Big TJ & James for getting me ready and prepared for the energy this set would need. To the whole of my #MERKY team – my family who hold me down and have my back till the end. THANK YOU GUYS, THANK YOU GOD. I am proud of myself and I feel blessed and fulfilled and purposeful. Your Glastonbury 2019 headliner, over and out. 🎤❤️

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There is a misconception about Black Brits and their relationship to their heritage. (Case in point: the volcanic eruption of debate after that She’s Gotta Have It episode.) The British are stereotyped as polite, reserved, sometimes even detached in comparison to their loud, emotional, at times annoying American counterparts. American racism is served like a volleyball to the face, while the British version is kindly delivered with a piping hot cup of tea to help with digestion. 

When I lived in London, Trump was running for president. In retrospect, studying there for a year in a non-diverse program full of theater-mad students was overwhelming. The program was funny, with American students and British teachers. Talk of real life events was rare, and politics amongst students only came up in Hamilton songs. We saw plays every week, with only two each semester featuring a predominantly Black cast, or written by a Black playwright. My friends and I called them “the Black plays,” giggling about the absurdity on our way to those shows. The class discussions that followed were brief with minimal critique (most were too afraid to offend). My friends and I would complain about the lack of hands raised on our walks back home.

The disappointment I felt about the tip-toe culture of my school was a feeling familiar to my Black British peers. Though I’d imagined London as New York-with-accents during my one brief visit in 2013, living there proved different. Like New York, London is beautiful, special, full of culture. But unlike the thunderous New York, it is hushed. This blaring silence encouraged me to search deeper to find the London that is fucking loud. Of course, it exists. 

I encountered my loud London counterparts at a talk at the University of the Arts London. “Formation” had just come out and students came together to discuss British vs. American Blackness, and what we can learn from each other. The British people in the room revealed they were envious of American noise, which they’d not managed in the UK quite yet.

Which brings us to the stab-proof vest, made by Banksy for Stormzy.

When you’re the first Black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury (Skunk Anansie being the first Black artist, in ’99), not to mention the first grime artist as well, the world watches. With no hiding and no pleasantries, Stormzy gave the world a window into the reality of the Black British experience. It is lively, full of dance, sometimes church, always community — and it is deathly, armor is needed. He told the truth, loud and proud, which Black people in the UK deserved to have told.

Stormzy was joined onstage by the dance group Ballet Black, rappers Dave and Fredo, artist Raleigh Ritchie, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Each part of his performance was as important as the last. In addition to his fashion statement (reference to the British knife-crime crisis and racial inequality in the criminal justice system), Stormzy used friends to further his message of the Black British reality. When two dancers from Ballet Black took the stage, they were matched with onscreen messaging ensuring the crowd understood that ballet shoes have only recently become available in different skin colors. A reminder to enjoy the beautiful performance but to not forget the ugly history behind it. The first step to progress is acknowledgment.

Stormzy was unrelenting, making sure that his message translated to everyone bearing witness. He sampled a speech by member of Parliament David Lammy that discussed the grossly disproportionate number of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system.

He made sure the minorities of the UK saw themselves everywhere on his stage. He was inappropriately loud, and it was more than okay, a message that is not often told to British youth. Black Brits — live your truth the fuck out loud, the world will always be listening.