UK Grime artist Stormzy has just released an album which has shot straight to number 1 in the UK charts.
While grime isn’t really my cup of tea, I was very impressed to hear an interview that Stormzy recently did on Channel 4. In the interview, the South London emcee consistently pushed a gospel of personal responsibility and aspiration. At several stages, the interviewer tried to get him to talk about how the system is stacked against black men, and every time, Stormzy gave the exact kind of message that I give in my videos.
The System Can’t Save You
For decades, the black community in the UK as a while has been completely dominated by a paradigm that focuses on racism and injustice as the sole explanation for our relative underdevelopment. But Stormzy focuses on our personal ability to respond, aka responsibility. I know that many people hate to hear this because it puts the onus on us to do everything we can to shape our lives.
During the interview, the interviewer asked Stormzy about the system and tries to get him to talk about how it is failing different parts of society. He gave a very interesting answer and basically said that the system isn’t really set up to serve everybody. I think he probably meant that in the sense that not everyone can succeed in this system. But again, he says the key is not to look to the system for your redemption, but rather to look into yourself, to develop your skills and abilities and aim to be excellent in whatever you can do.
He doesn’t elaborate on this, but the logical conclusion of this approach is quite radical. We all have unique gifts and talents, it’s up to us to do the best that we can do. This is a very motivational speaker type thing say. Motivational speakers often give the impression that every one can achieve whatever they want to achieve, but this is not the case. We can only achieve what we are capable of achieving. Not everyone can be a number selling musician like Stormzy, or Premier League baller like Sergio Aguero, or even a Prime Minister like Theresa May. Again, people don’t like to hear this because they think everyone should have the same. But this is not possible and never can be possible unless you level everybody down to a bare minimum and prevent anyone from rising above the others.
Struggle With Depression
The other standout thing in this interview for me was where Stormzy talks about his struggles with depression. He explains that during the making of the album, a whole bunch of events combined to push him into a depressive state. I find it refreshing that more and more black men with a high profile are opening up and talking about their experiences with depression and other forms of mental illness. Another example was the recent BBC documentary Being Black, Going Crazy?, hosted by Three Shots of Tequila‘s Keith Dube who himself struggles with depression.
The Song in question is called Lay Me Bare. A couple things standout for me in relation to mental illness. In a couple of lines he talks about how he smoked weed to try and take away the pain of the depression. I’ve made another video talking the connection between mental illness and weed smoking. I think this is a critical area that black men in particular need to discuss openly. For me, black men need to stay away from weed because it most likely exacerbates rather than reduces the impact of depression and other mental illnesses.
Another Fatherless Youth
The thing that jumps out of the song Lay Me Bare is where Stormzy opens up about his broken relationship with his father:
“Like bro I can’t believe I saw my dad
Still up in the ends, still driving cabs
He said “Yo son, I need a car”
I kissed my teeth and turned my back
Like “Nigga, you ain’t seen my face for years
Nigga, you ain’t seen my face for time
And the first thing you’re asking me for, is that?
F*ck you! That’s where I draw the line”
Should’ve dashed through a rack like “Keep the change”
And f*ck letting go, I’ll keep the pain
23 years I’m still the same
When you hear this I hope you feel ashamed
Cah’ we were broke like what the f*ck
Mum did well to hold us up
But yet she still forgave your arse
But mumsy’s cool, I’m cold as f*ck
F*ck that! I’m still not over this
F*ck that! No, I’m still not over this”
I bang on and on about how the majority of black children are being raised by single mothers. In this song, Stormzy is basically telling us how not having his father around has damaged him severely, even though he is full of respect for his mother. For every Stormzy whose talent has allowed him to overcome the hindrance of fatherlessness, there are thousands of other black boys who were not so lucky.
In summary, I’m so pleased to see Stormzy publicly discussing these tough subjects. I’m overjoyed to hear a young black man refusing to blame the system for the problems black people face and this will encourage more and more black folks to do likewise