(Guest article by Tom Meehan)
After no grime artists were chosen for a Brit Award, South London rapper Stormzy, hit out at the Brits’ selection with his One Take Freestyle when he said “What? None of my Gs nominated for Brits? Are you taking the piss? Embarrassing;” especially given the success of many grime artists this year such as Skepta, Lady Leshurr and Krept and Konan. Grime is a music genre featuring predominantly black artists and some believe that the lack of inclusion of talented grime artists shows the Brit Awards’ unwillingness to be open to diversity and perhaps, inherent racism.
The lack of black or BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) at the Brit Awards led to the Twitter hashtag #britssowhite being bandied around after the #oscarssowhite hashtag was used to react to the “whitewash” at the Oscars. However, at his talk at Oxford University, Stormzy commented that he had spoken with Brits chairman Ged Doherty and has slightly altered his position. Doherty admitted to Stormzy that many of the voting panel were “middle aged white men” who seem to be unaware of UK Grime music. This has led Stormzy to believe that this may not be a racial issue as he had initially thought. Nonetheless, the grime MC believed there was still room from improvement.
There is seemingly constant pressure to increase the amount of black or BAME people in institutions, fields of study, occupations etc via a quota system or affirmative action. In the UK for example, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan’s has committed himself to such policies to get the Police looking more like the London they represent. And there have been calls to import the “Rooney Rule” to the English football league to encourage the recruitment of more black football managers. And yes, the Brit Awards promises to be more diverse at the 2017 Awards ceremony.
Hence, such a racial disparity does not necessarily mean blatant racism. Football and music, are ultimately about making money. There are more than double the amount of Asians in England than blacks, yet while there has been a multitude of black players to put on an England shirt, no Asian player has ever done so. Asians tend to be more well- represented among the cricket team. Besides, for England’s 2015 World Cup rugby team, 21 of the 31 man squad had been privately educated whereas you would be hard-pushed to find an England footballer who had received fee paying education. Already we see a great disparity among race and class in some of England’s favourite sports and it goes to show that people from different backgrounds adopt different paths.
Despite the Brit Awards efforts to be more inclusive and diverse, I have no doubt that Stormzy does not need external intervention to help on his part. The free market has already decided that Stormzy is an integral part of the UK music industry even if a few old white dudes may have been blissfully ignorant of it. While Stormzy was recording his One Take Freestyle, he had been in Japan on business with renowned Japanese DJ and record producer Nigo and has since released a song with Swedish singer Cherrie as well as crossing the pond to do a North American Tour. Not only that, but he has won back to back MOBO Awards for Best Grime Act in 2014 and 2015 respectively as well as tens of millions of hits on YouTube, his most iconic song being Shut Up.
Though, in a world where people can download music for free, less artists are making money from downloads, but sponsorship deals have made Stormzy into an Adidas athlete and the rapper can be frequently seen donning his posh Adidas tracksuits in his videos, which must be making a killing in JD Sports. To top it all off, he did all this as an unsigned artist and owes much of his success to YouTube music channels such as SBTV run by Jamal Edwards.
A Brit Award would certainly have been nice, but since he has burst on the scene Stormzy seems to have won a lot more than he’s lost. It was not affirmative action that got Stormzy into the position he’s in today, it was hard work, and if one area of the market doesn’t want to listen, then there are many, many more who will.