Why icons such as Skepta and Stormzy are more important than they first appear

Imoh Ekpo

By Imoh Ekpo

Imoh Ekpo

18 May 2017

Having been a grime fan for the best part of seven years, seeing the genre grow from airplay on small pirate radio stations, to garnering worldwide media attention, has been nothing short of astonishing. Nowadays, rappers prominent in pop culture such as Drake and Chris Brown are regular features on songs with grime artists.

Joseph Junior Adenuga and Michael Omari, better known respectively as Skepta and Stormzy are at the forefront of the grime scene, both forging hugely successful careers. With the latter recently releasing his debut album “Gang Signs and Prayer” (GSAP) which peaked at Number 1 on the U.K. Albums chart, while Skepta’s most recent album “Konnichiwa” released in the spring of 2016, peaked at number 2. Already impressive as it is, it becomes even more so when you consider that both are independent artists, and released those bodies of work without any major label backing.

Aside from being very accomplished individuals, another facet held in common by these two is location – both hailing from the inner-cities of London. Skepta, hailing from Tottenham, North London, while Stormzy’s hometown is Croydon, South London. Both areas have borne the brunt of austerity policies employed in recent times. Cuts to local council funding and benefit schemes such as tax credits have made living conditions increasingly difficult.

Local MP David Lammy is highly vocal about Tottenham possessing the highest unemployment rate in London.  Similarly, Croydon, after an analysis of last year’s crime statistics (available on www.police.uk), was named the worst place to live. A whopping 37,463 crimes were reported last year.

Both areas have a strong Black-African/Caribbean diaspora. Statistics show that this ethnic group is the 2nd most likely to be in “persistent poverty” (income of less than 60% of the median household income). A statistic not helped by the withdrawal and cuts to many income supplementing benefits.

Tensions between figures of authority and BAME groups are rife. The fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 caused outrage in Tottenham causing protests which ultimately sparked the beginning of the 2011 riots. Although 6 years ago, the wounds from this have not healed, there is still a huge distrust for law enforcement within the black community in the U.K.

Mark Duggan was fatally shot by police in Tottenham, North London.

Statistics show that Black people are over-represented in the criminal justice system. While making up just 2.7% of the U.K. population, Black-African/Caribbean account for 13.7% of the prison population. Statistics also show that black people are targeted more by the police, as we are 6 times more like to be stopped and searched by the police than a white person.

There is a clear link between crime and poverty. This is evident when you consider the unemployment rate for black people age 16-24 lie at a staggering 30% the highest of any ethnic group. Reduced household income is also a factor(poverty), statistics show 59% of black Caribbean, 44 % of black African children and 61 % of children in mixed-race households grow up in single parent families, while the overall proportion of children in the UK living with a lone parent is 22%. Aside from economics factors, statistics paint a picture of a clear lack of stability in the homes of black families.

The bleak outlook can make it very easy for a young black person, like myself to lose faith in the system. If you were once like me and starting to question if there was any point of you having any ambition, look towards the massive success of Joseph Junior Adenuga and Michael Omari. Not only invaluable to the music scene but invaluable to the areas they come from. They have shown that it is possible to achieve, despite the statistics suggesting it is extremely hard to do so.

Their inspirational against-all-odds story is not just one for aspiring rappers. But for anyone that has goals they want to accomplish that may seem out of reach. Scaling the charts without any major label backing 10 years ago would have been deemed impossible.  Now, courtesy of Skepta and Stormzy, being independent is now seen as the new blueprint for success. I feel the best thing one can inspire in another is hope. Hope that things will get better, hope that if you work hard enough you will get there one day and Stormzy and Skepta do just that. For me they are more than just rappers, they are beacons of hope.