“They ain’t never taking your crown” was the expressed thoughts as he took to the stage of a much anticipated event. He would face one of his biggest tests in front of thousands of people, millions glued to their televisions. In Brit slang, his fans knew he would kill it. Over the years, he’d already proved his worth. Here was the contender to end all doubt at the Pyramid.
Celebrities like Jay-z offered their take on the evening. Eight was the magic number. In round eight, almost 27 sweated minutes later, job done. The bad boy of boxing Mike Tyson has been vanquished. Lennox Lewis is declared undisputed champ of the world.
This is how I recall a tumultuous evening with Team Lennox 17 years ago taking on Iron Mike Tyson at the Pyramid Arena in Memphis, Tennessee. Good night that was. Today, a new pugilist dared anyone to take his crown in a love note to his girl. Seventeen years ago, he was eight. Years later Jay-z is on hand offering advice about his evening. This is about culture and what you wanna do.The Pyramid, Glastonbury was about to be taken literally by storm:zy.
The superlatives haven’t stopped since then and deservedly so. Croydon’s answer to the best of Compton griming his way with slick “vossi bop” lyrics on one of the biggest and no-argument important musical events on the circuit.
Stormzy opens with a Union Jack emblazoned knife stab vest courtesy of the elusive artist Banksy. He gives the stage to black ballet dancers drawing attention to discrimination embodied in footwear. Until recently black ballet performers couldn’t purchase skin colour shoes. He samples the words of Labour politician David Lammy MP speaking out at the injustices of the British criminal justice system. Duets with Cold Play’s Chris Martin. And on Vossi Bop flips the mike after his verse, “I could never die, I’m Chuck Norris” to the audience who oblige with:
F*** the government and f*** Boris.
All this and more in one set. Hard to think that over twenty years ago US rappers would openly mock UK rap, preferring French tones instead with slams like DJ Cut Killer’s Nique La Police featured in the 1995 French urban hit La Haine. In stark contrast now grime is having a major impact on culture. Going mainstream, much to the many attempts of politicians to demonise it and its sibling “drill”. Telling truths to power. We speak about our reality said Russell Simmons and Reverend Run in an auditorium packed with students when asked about language and seemingly harsh narratives. Stormzy’s name check of 63 other artists will be further elevate grime’s standings as new converts google his roll call.
When Lennox won his crown, he made a point to visit his manager’s homestead in Ghana via its London High Commissioner. Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr known as Stormzy has his ambassador in Ghanaian mother. In Big for your boots, close your eyes and you can almost hear that regular refrain from Ghanaian elders bringing their children to heel followed by “You’re still my son. Now let’s go to church”.
At 25 years-old, Stormy’s size 12s look to get a whole size bigger. The second youngest to headline Glasto, mentioned in the same breadth as Bowie. A fan of Labour’s leader Corbyn, his growing influence may signify more breakthroughs in delivering youth concerns within the messy politics of our moment. For now, the youth, and black politics have found a strong voice in their corner. And creative Britain has a home grown lad who’s fearlessness and selflessness has social media creating its own twitter and instagram storm.
Author Dr David Dunkley Gyimah was humbled to be name checked as one of the 61 influential Ghanaians in the UK on the Stormzy cover of Ghana Abroad. He is one of the leading writers in journalism on @medium (Medium Staff ) and #cinemajournalism. More on him here.