If you’re big grime music fan like I am, then the start of 2020 gave us a wonderful gift.
An epic grime clash.
It featured two of the arguably biggest grime artists in the whole culture – Stormzy and Wiley and it will go down in history. This grime “beef” had it all. The older statesman (Wiley) going against the new young blood (Stormzy). It brought out the best in Stormzy with the disgustingly disrespectful but endlessly entertaining diss track “Still Disappointed” and showcased that Wiley was still a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, it was good publicity for both artists. Great content for fans. And put the spotlight on grime culture again.
Then we had to go and ruin it.
Earlier yesterday, Stormzy, perhaps swelling with too much ego from defeating Wiley or from some ill-advised strategy from his management, decided to unnecessarily reignite his beef with Wiley on Twitter by challenging the latter to a face-to-face live clash on Rinse FM. Unsurprisingly, what followed was a war of words between Wiley and Stormzy across Twitter and Instagram, belittling each other and accusing each other of various types of “disrespects”.
So now what started out as two grime pioneers, from two different generations, engaging in a classic and genuinely entertaining grime clash, has now descended into a childish and embarrassing feud between two black men, one who is quite a bit older than the other.
And it makes the whole culture look foolish to outsiders.
Black people represent their culture when we are the only black faces in the room
Being black is difficult. I don’t deny this or pretend it’s not the case. Unlike other ethnic groups, our singular actions can have ramifications on the rest of our community, especially if we are in a position of power or if we are the only black person in the room. It’s just the reality of the black experience.
Considering the above, I am disappointed in both Stormzy and Wiley, but more so in the former. Wiley has always been antagonistic, loud and impulsive from the very early days of the grime scene. But I expected more from Stormzy, especially since he is in a far more prominent position than Wiley and wields greater power and influence.
We already have black boys killing each other on London’s streets. Now our biggest black British entertainers are feuding with other on social media. The narrative of black-on-black violence and anger towards each other not only continues but is reinforced by prominent figures in our community.
We need to do better not just for ourselves, but our community
It’s not fair that individual black people must carry the responsibility of their community on their shoulders, but the history of western civilisation has made it this way. There is so much already working against us in western society that we simply can’t be as irresponsible as other people from other ethnics.
Throughout much of my career, I’ve often been the only black person in the whole room full of middle-class, educated white people.
I am very conscious of this. Not in a negative way but I acknowledge that most of the people I am working with haven’t had this kind of proximity to a black person before since they aren’t so many black people outside of London.
Moreover, I am aware of the negative stereotypes of black men that exist in the British public consciousness. Therefore, I do my best not to play into these stereotypes, so they don’t hinder my progression but also the progression of other black men after me.
Whether we like it or not, black people are lumped together. If I behave badly at my workplace, where I am one of the only black people in the whole office, I know I will make it more difficult for another black boy to get employed because my own actions have been unfairly placed on him.
It’s not fair but it’s how our western society functions to hold black people back.
Black men and women in power represent all of us. It’s a responsibility automatically placed on them so they must be aware of how their behaviour affects the wider culture and their community.
The Wiley and Stormzy feud may appear to be nothing but an entertaining vocal scrap between two black musicians but, on a deeper level, we must think about how this is making our culture and community look to the outside world.
Are black British boys destined to fight with each other all the time? Is this really what we want our culture and black masculinity to be about? Endless and meaningless wars with each other?
I knew the exact moment when I had outgrown baby girls.
Some time ago, I used to speak to one girl I had met at an event and we quickly connected as friends. She would call me often and we would talk, mostly about her life to be honest.
But one day, during one of our late-night phone conversations, it suddenly dawned on me that the only subject this girl was ever interested in discussing was boys. Every conservation would be about how some new boy in her life was either:
a) playing with her feelings
b) not acting the way she wanted him to act
c) a combination of the above points
Once I realised this, I reduced the amount of time I spoke to her and, after a while, I simply told her I was too busy to have these discussions only about her boy troubles.
Once I had verbalised this, we stopped speaking.
To me, it was no love lost and I didn’t regret it either.
But I was dealing with a baby girl when I can only be investing that much time into grown-ass women from this point forward.
Your time is precious and limited
Whether you’re a man or a woman, your time is precious, and it becomes ever more precious the older you get. You get to a point in your life where you simply can’t afford to waste time with certain types of people any longer.
This particular blog post can easily be applied to women, in terms of not wasting their time with baby boys but, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to examine the ways a man can tell that he’s dealing with a baby girl instead of a grown-ass woman. Also, this post is examining the platonic friendships a man has with a woman rather than a romantic or sexual one.
As a man, of course it’s fine to have women who are simply your friends and nothing more. However, I do think that as a man it’s more beneficial for you to develop friendships with women who have an adult mentality (i.e. grown-ass women) as opposed to a childish one (i.e. baby girls).
1) She only ever talks about man troubles in her life
If a woman only talks about the trivial problems she’s having with men, then she’s a baby girl and she’s wasting your time.
Look, there’s nothing wrong if you have a female friend and you occasionally give her advice about how to deal with men – who else better to ask than a man about why a man behaves the way he does.
But here’s the caveat.
If that’s what she talks about 90% of the time then, as a man, you’re devaluing yourself and she probably doesn’t even respect you. Never get into a position with a woman whereby all you are is a sounding board for her struggles with men. What exactly are you gaining from that kind of relationship? Surely you have better things to do with your time as a man than listen to your female friend rant about the evils of men for hours on end.
For the love of God, please tell me you do…
A grown-ass woman has more to talk about than just men all the time. She has opinions and ideas about a wide range of subjects. Most of the time you speak to her, it’s either you learn something new or you even question your own beliefs because of her intelligent viewpoints.
2) She questions why you’re busy and gets annoyed when you are
If your female friend calls you or asks you to meet her and you tell her you’re busy doing something, assess her response. If she gets annoyed at you then yes, you’re dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well.
A baby girl doesn’t have any objective in her life besides getting herself into drama and seeking attention - both aren’t mutually exclusive either.
Which brings me to my next point…
3) Her life is constant chaos
I remember when I was in my very early twenties and I had a summer fling with a young girl around my age. Let me tell you, her life was constantly chaotic. Till this day, I have never met a girl with a life so bonkers it would make Lady Gaga look plain. This baby girl would always be broke, always be a mess, always lose her phone every week and always find herself drowning in drama with her family and boys.
At the time, she was a lot of fun but now, as a 30-year old man, I look back and I know I couldn’t waste my time with that kind of girl now.
Don’t get me wrong. I love girls who like to party sometimes and drink – I do those things myself and have a few female friends I go partying with.
But a grown-ass woman knows how to party and drink in moderation and she has some semblance of structure and order in her life.
"A grown-ass woman will understand that you’re busy working on your hustle. How can she understand? Well, because she’s working hard on her own grind as well."
A baby girl is just a walking tornado and while it can be fun initially to be swept up in her whirlwind of madness, as you get older as a man, trust me, her chaotic lifestyle will begin to stress you and drain you of your energy and patience.
4) She blames all her issues on men or other people
If I am speaking to a woman about her life and during our conversation, she blames all her mistakes on other people (usually men) then I know I am dealing with a baby girl.
A grown-ass woman has the self-awareness and humility to admit that she has made mistakes of her own making. Not only that, a grown-ass woman OWNS her shortcomings and takes responsibility for every silly and destructive decision she’s made that were genuinely down to her poor judgement at the time.
On the other hand, a baby girl will point fingers and rarely acknowledge the role she’s played in the nonsense situation she may find herself in. And if you try and tell her otherwise, she’ll be offended and most likely stop speaking to you.
5) She can admit when she’s wrong and apologise
One of the major hallmarks of a grown-ass woman is her ability to admit that she was in the wrong (if she genuinely was of course) and, to top it all off, apologise!
You’re dealing with a baby girl if she refuses to apologise when it’s her fault for whatever reason. And even if she does acknowledge she was wrong, it’s often in a dismissive manner and she won’t utter an actual apology. Girls have just as much pride as men, but a grown-ass woman can put her pride aside.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of these points can be applied the other way – how to distinguish a grown-ass man from a baby boy. But to the guys, as you get older and establish more platonic relationships with women, ensure that you’re only dealing with grown-ass women in your life.
Baby girls are only fun when you’re still a baby boy yourself.
Trust me. I know.
In late January this year, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a well-respected black female lawyer and woman’s right activist got into a verbal spat with white British actor Laurence Fox, on BBC Question Time last week.
You can read more about their heated exchange here but essentially Mr Fox accused Dr Mos-Shogbamimu of racism because she had referred to him as a white-privileged male due to his comfortable upbringing and the fact he is a white male. Dr Mos-Shogbamimu responded by continuing to argue that Mr Fox life is much easier than hers because he has white skin and he is a man.
Now, I completely agree with Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu.
White privilege is very much weaved into the collective consciousness of western society, enabling white people, in some, not all cases, to get away with actions that a black person would be severely reprimanded for had they committed the same act. It is true that a white person, middle or working class, cannot begin to fathom what it means to live the black experience, where we must watch the way we talk, speak or act in fear of being judged or labelled due to the persistent negative stereotypes about black people.
But here’s the caveat.
Ultimately, white privilege doesn’t matter. And I am a black man writing this.
The black community are the only race who complains about white privilege
The black community is the only group of people who shout about white privilege as if we are the only race it affects. Asian people are also affected by white privilege. In fact, people who have white skin but are European, for example from Poland, are also, sometimes, treated as an “other” by white British people.
As unfair as it is, white privilege will exist for a long time simply because the history of western civilisation has made it this way. Yes, it is somewhat unjust that white people, especially white men from middle to upper class backgrounds, get to enjoy this advantage, even if some of them don’t want to acknowledge it. But that is just the reality in which we live in and the cards that black people, as a collective, have been unfortunately dealt.
It simply is what it is.
Having said that, it’s great that people like Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu have brought attention to white privilege so black people understand they are often at a disadvantage from birth and white British people at least recognise the advantage they have because of how they look. However, this paradigm is not going to change anytime soon so to continuously complain or shout about it will ultimately not lead to any progress.
There are lot more issues within the black community that we need to be addressing if we want to see real change for black British people.
We have too many internal problems within the black community
The only way black British people will circumvent white privilege is for us to be collectively better as a people. And yet, when I look around, we often failing at this incredibly.
For the most part, and this is just my own anecdotal observations, black British people don’t invest their money back into their own community to generate wealth for everyone the same way Jews or Asians do. We do not support or champion each other, especially our young men, who would rather compete with each other and boast of fancy cars and of girls they’ve slept with.
It’s all well and good preaching the evils of white privilege but the black community honestly needs to be looking inwardly at our own problems. To me, when the black community puts too much focus on white privilege, it's like a sprinter complaining about a competing sprinter that has been giving a head start in the race, yet the sprinter that is complaining isn't even in a good condition to run the race anyway.
Young black boys are dying on the streets on an almost weekly basis. More than half of young people in jail are from a black and minority ethnic background. Our cultural artefacts, from black music to black films, perpetuate and reinforce all the negative stereotypes associated with the black experience.
Simply put, there are too many internal issues within the black community, particularly among our young men, that we really shouldn’t be wasting our energy shouting about white privilege.
" To me, when the black community puts too much focus on white privilege, it's like a sprinter complaining about a competing sprinter that has been giving a head start in the race, yet the sprinter that is complaining isn't even in a good condition to run the race anyway. "
Instead, we should be addressing the issue of our “black culture” and what values we are passing down to the next generation of young black British people. The only way we, as a community, will get ahead is not by condemning white privilege but by cultivating and encouraging the right attitudes and values among our people, despite what other people may think of us.
Since the end of slavery, our right to do better and be better as people is a privilege that has always belonged to black people.
And white privilege cannot take away our freedom to improve.
So let’s be better, instead of bitter.
“Fam you said you’d be here at 7.30pm but it’s 9pm now?”
“Allow me, bro. I am moving on black people time.”
If I paid myself £20 every time I had this conversation with my friends, then I would probably have enough money to afford a mortgage in Chelsea.
In the black community, especially among black men, the belief that we are always late is almost treated as a universal truth. Black people always being late for work, for parties even for their own wedding is just expected because of ‘black people time’ (BPT)
Even I used to laugh about this and treat it as a joke.
Until one day something happened.
Then I realised BPT is a dangerous stereotype that is designed to stop the progress of the black community.
The insidious agenda behind the idea of ‘black people time’
It was around my mid-20s and still in the very early days of my marketing career.
Innocent-eyed and with an ‘I-ain’t-that-bothered’ attitude to work at the time, I remember consistently arriving in the office ten minutes late.
To my surprise, my colleagues, who were mostly white and middle-class, didn’t reprimand for my tardiness. Quite the opposite. They would make jokes like “Leke is late again” or “Leke, forgot to set that alarm clock again.” And me, like the mug I was at the time, would laugh with them, thinking that my co-workers didn’t mind that I was late.
In hindsight, what I realised was that they subconsciously expected me to be late based on my skin colour and instead of me to prove them wrong, I proved them right. In my naivety and foolishness, I thought I was bonding with the team when really all I was doing was confirming their preconceptions of black men as unreliable and tardy. This would have negative repercussions for me as I was overlooked for promotion on several occasions.
What we, the black community, need to understand is that some of these jokes about black people, which might appear harmless or dismissed as ‘bants’, are actually designed to paint black people in a negative light and can actually foster bias in non-black people to not give us a position because of the perceptions of us as “lazy” and “unreliable” which are reinforced by these so-called BPT jokes.
The racist origin of the term
Recently, I’ve been very curious about where the notion of BPT originated from? How did this come to characterise and popularise black people so much? Who started this propaganda?
After doing some reading around the subject I discovered that the phrase had been used as early as 1912 where it was called “coloured people time.” It was a derogatory term deriding black people as lazy.
Yet here we are in 2020, popularising the phrase and using it within the black community lightheartedly.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t taking it seriously.
The problem is we are taking it seriously and living by it.
Why we must not internalise black stereotypes
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have gone to black-organised events where the event has started late or, sometimes, not even started at all. Honestly, I went to Afronation last year and I was astounded, yes astounded, by how flawless the whole event was. Things happened on time!
Within the black British community, there is always this expectation that events will not go as planned and will be disorganised. As much as it pains me to admit it, for the most part, it’s true. When events don’t start on time or are disorganised, we throw our hands in the air and proclaim “black people time” and “so typical of black people” and then proceed to keep it moving as if this is just the reality of black people.
This is a significant problem that goes beyond the issue of BPT. For some reason, many of us in the black community have seen the negative characteristics that have been purposefully placed on us and then, rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them. I am guilty of it myself.
Sometimes, it’s difficult not to internalise these negative portrayals of black people. Jokes such as BPT are reinforced by our cultural artefacts via movies, comedians and music. All these subliminal messages eventually seep into our subconscious until we begin to accept it as reality without even realising.
By accepting that ‘black people operate on their own time”, we are now holding ourselves back to progress as a people because we are allowing ourselves to think that being late or disorganised is fine – it’s just a black thing.
"...rather than reject these proclamations against our character that are not rooted in anything scientific, we have internalised them."
But by doing this, we are now collectively seen as untrustworthy and lazy, halting our progress as a people. Some of us, who do not adhere to the foolishness of BPT, now have to work even harder to fight against this negative stereotype placed on us which has also been reinforced by many of us.
So the next time you find yourself running late because of BPT really ask yourself: why you think it’s ok to be late to meetings, gatherings, parties etc? How do you think that makes you look? There is already so much working against black people's progression, does it make sense for my own development to never be on time for anything?
It’s not too late. You still have time to change (pun intended).
The biggest killer of young black men in London isn’t knife crime. It’s the absence of a positive existence.
A few days ago I read a statistic that saddened me but didn’t really surprise me.
According to Scotland Yard, almost three quarters of under 25-year olds killed in London homicides last year were from the Afro-Caribbean community.
Sir Stephen, Deputy Commissioner for Scotland yard had this to say:
“Of 149 homicide victims in 2019, 54 of them were under 25. Of those 54, 39 were from the Afro-Caribbean community, which is 72 per cent.”
Now some of us in the black community will read that statistic and instead of us to be concerned about this, we’ll either ignore it entirely or absurdly believe that Scotland Yard has fabricated the data because the establishment has an ‘agenda against black people’ which is an absolutely idiotic notion by the way.
The fact is young black men are disproportionately killing one another on the streets of London. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. On an almost weekly basis now there is another tragic news story of another young black boy, often well under the age of 30, who has died from violence. Later, we find out that the perpetrators shared the same skin colour as their victim.
Yet knife crime isn’t the biggest killer of young black men in London.
Do you know what is?
The lack of a positive existence.
Everyone in our lives (and those absent from our lives), everything we see and everything we experience moulds us, like clay, into the person we are going to become, whether we realise it or not.
For many, not all, black boys growing up in London, they are living in and shaped by a negative environment both internally and externally. The statistics only reinforce this.
Let’s look at the negative internal factors first. It’s been widely reported and proven that many black households are single-parent ones. In fact black households have the highest proportion of lone parents at 13%. Single black mothers often raise their sons without a father present in the home and if he is somewhat in the picture, the father himself is rarely effective as he himself is a lost and irresponsible man, disheartened and angry about the lack of opportunities in the UK. It’s a generational curse that sadly hasn’t been broken – lost black men giving birth to sons who are statistically likely to grow up to be just as lost as their fathers.
My life would have been very different, and not in a good way, if my father had not been in my life. He was and still is a hardworking and responsible man till this day. As any African young man can relate, my father sometimes beat me, shouted at me and punished me severely to the point where I disliked him occasionally.
However, my father’s harsh discipline was necessary. By being strict, especially when I was displaying signs of bad behaviour that many boys begin to exhibit during our formative years, my father taught me to respect authority and the importance of hard work. Many of the black boys who kill other boys, black or otherwise, lack both the mentality of working hard and the importance of respecting authority simply because they’ve had no father figure to show them the way.
Boys will always seek out a father figure. If their father isn’t around who do you think they are going to turn to? Often, it’s going to be the older men in their council flat or at school who are living a negative experience to make money. Being young and impressionable, these young boys will model their masculinity on the behaviour of older, criminalised black men. Again, it’s generational cycle.
Now this isn’t to say that mothers cannot raise black boys by themselves. I have seen, even within my own family, black mothers step up and raise their sons very well. But, on the flip side, I have also witnessed, within my family, black mothers failing to raise their sons well and not because they were bad mothers, but because they simply lacked the faculties to teach a boy how to behave like a responsible man.
If we move on to the external factors, of which they are many and complex, therefore beyond the scope of this blog, we can also see the negative aspects of our wider society which often propels young black men into a life of crime, violence and drugs.
Firstly, our wider black culture encourages black boys to be violent, to misbehave and to disrespect authority. Music is the biggest conduit for spreading this negative message. As much as I listen to drill music and even like it, it does sadden me that drill music has become the most popular outlet for young black boys to express their ideas and lives.
Popular drill artists like Headie One talk exclusively and excessively about drugs, girls and their perceived enemies on the streets. Drill music does not communicate a hopeful message or even discourage the ‘trapping’ lifestyle; it merely glamorises it.
All of this is compounded further because the negative perception of young black men, already reinforced by black culture, is further reinforced by much of the mainstream culture in the UK. Newspapers like The Sun or Daily Mail, two of the most popular newspapers in Britain, negatively portray young black men as either bad and if they are not bad, then they are silly or irresponsible.
And these tabloid newspapers can boldly make these claims and even back them up because young black men, shaped by the negative experiences of their internal lives and encouraged externally to criminalise their lives through messages communicated through our black cultural artefacts such as music and films, give these newspapers a lot of ammunition. As much as I loved Rapman’s Blue Story, did it really do anything to change the perception of young black men in London or did it just reinforce the negative perception of us?
There is hope and change is slowly happening
Although this article sounds like it’s all doom and gloom for young black men in London, I must remember that violence and drug dealing is not the common existence for many black men in the capital.
I know many black men within my own social circle who are doing amazingly well both professionally and in their personal lives. I’ve seen black men earn six-figure salaries in good jobs, get married and raise wonderful families.
But the problem is that these positive representations of black men are outnumbered by the negative representations both externally and internally. Strong and responsible black men are simply not visible enough in our culture but, as I said, things are starting to change. Organisations like Dope Black Dads is doing a great job of changing the narrative around black fathers and has garnered great media coverage so far.
While there is still much work to be done, I must take solace in the fact that black men are doing much better now in the UK than they were 40 years ago, even if it feels like we haven’t sometimes.
But change takes time and I remain positive. What other choice do I have? There’s enough negativity in the black community already.
London has a population of 8.9 million people. A variety of people and cultures. So much to do and so much to see.
And yet it can be one of the loneliest places to be especially as a young person.
It must have been in late 2011 when I first developed a serious case of loneliness. I was a fresh graduate and had returned to London after studying and living in Brighton for four years. When I returned to the city, a lot had changed.
The city felt unrecognisable with the influx of white middle class people (i.e. gentrification). Many of my friends had changed or stayed the same so we no longer had the connection we once shared. My girlfriend at the time was still living in Brighton. Since I don’t like long distance relationships, I broke up with her which only heightened my loneliness.
Soon, I oddly fount myself alone in a city that I had grown up in. It was a depressing period and I found myself doing a lot of silly things, partly because I was a young man but also because I was just so annoyed spending time with myself.
What loneliness means
Loneliness is described as “sadness because one has no friends or company.” It’s a condition that has become an epidemic among young people across the UK.
Despite the immense popularity of social media and all the virtual friends who follow us on these digital networks, many of us still experience acute loneliness because we don’t share any real connections with many of these people who we follow on social media.
Most of the time we follow them because they either went to our school or live in our neighbourhood, but they aren’t our friends. You could pass them on the street, and you would completely ignore them because, in real life, there is no friendship between you and them.
Why we become lonely
A lot of young people, especially those under the age of 25, have this problem I’ve described above. They are so invested in social media that they haven’t really cultivated any real relationships in the physical world. After a while, when they go outside, they realise they don’t really have any genuine friendship groups within their proximity.
Other times, loneliness can occur when you move to a new environment. Last year, I made friends with many people from all over the world who came to London. All of them have described how easy it is to become lonely in the capital. Most people in London are very guarded and stick to their own people.
London is a vast maze with pockets of different communities that are closed off to new people. It’s a city for individuals not collectives so it can be difficult to forge relationships when people living in London are so individualistic.
You can also experience loneliness when you return to a place you’re familiar with after so many years of living elsewhere. But you’ve lost touch with what’s happening as everyone has moved on without you or you’ve moved on while everyone has stayed the same. Suddenly, you no longer feel like you belong to the community you grew up in.
Being by yourself is important for your self-growth
An important lesson I learnt last year is that being alone is necessary for a period of your life.
Western society is addicted to romantic relationships. Our most popular TV shows are centred around relationships – looking at you Love Island. Our society’s fixation with relationships means that so many people are desperate to hook up with someone because the very idea of being alone or single is weird – as if it’s inhuman.
Having this mentality often means that to avoid being alone, we end up getting into relationships that aren’t good for us – both romantic and platonic. We don’t realise this until the damage has been done. Even though I did love my ex partner to some extent, in hindsight, I got with her during my period of acute loneliness. I was in no position to really be in a relationship, but I entered one anyway and now I am dealing with the consequences of that.
Harry Potter actor Emma Watson recently got some flack because she said she was “self-partnered” but what she was saying resonated with me completely. She understood that, for a segment of your life, it is better to be alone so you can focus entirely on you. It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you.
Once you know yourself and improve yourself, you will choose better friends and better romantic partners
If more younger people embraced being single and alone, then I think a lot of us would end up in healthier and long-lasting relationships.
Instead of looking at single life with dread, we should see it as an opportunity to improve every aspect of our lives. We can learn a new language. Save for that mortgage. Get that driver’s license. This is a time where you don’t have to think about anyone else but yourself. Use that to your advantage.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have friends we talk to. It’s crucial to build genuine relationships with other humans. However, if you spend time doing activities by yourself then you will better understand who you are. Consequently, you will choose friends and romantic partners that are a better fit for you, and you will attract more quality people because you’ve taken time to work on yourself.
"It is not anyone’s responsibility to make you into a better person. That’s on you."
A big city like London can make you feel lonely but only if you let it.
Explore the city by yourself, go to the cinema by yourself or even take yourself to Winter Wonderland. It’s scary and weird at first but, if you embrace it, you might just find that doing things alone is not so bad. You might even begin to love yourself.
Right now, my two favourite black British rappers are Stormzy and Dave.
These two are head and shoulders above anyone else in the grime/British rap scene right now.
And this isn’t an opinion only shared by me.
Dave won rave reviews for his debut album ‘Psychodrama’ and the Streatham-raised rapper bagged the Mercury Prize this year as recognition.
Stormzy’s second album, ‘Heavy Is The Head’ has been flooded with positive reviews across the UK music industry, cementing him as the current king of grime for the foreseeable future.
So what makes Stormzy and Dave two of the best black British rappers right now?
Both of them have an effortless and distinct flow (a major critique of black British grime is all that all our inner-city accents sound the same), intelligent bars and witty wordplay. But these attributes are only part of their greatness.
Stormzy and Dave killing it right now in the culture and mainstream because they both share a significant characteristic:
To be a black man is to never show weakness. Never
If there is one belief that is consistent across African and Caribbean men, it is this: never show weakness and never admit defeat. Growing up, I witnessed this behaviour a lot from many black men around me, both young and older.
At school, black boys were usually (not always) the boys getting into fights for any disrespect, real or perceived. We would never apologise to teachers if we were rude. Many of us wouldn’t even confide in each other if things go south in our lives; we always had to put up the front that we are “killing it” when, behind closed doors, we are struggling to cope with reality.
It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs.
This notion that the black man is always strong is perpetuated not only by our black culture but the mainstream culture as well.
From music to films, black men are portrayed as either very strong, very violent, very confident or very funny. Rarely, do we get a nuanced portrayal of the black British male struggling with the everyday problems of life (unrelated to gang life). Although we are starting to have these discussions around black male depression in the mainstream discourse.
Vulnerability allows black men to confront their demons
But why do black men need to be vulnerable? Why should we risk exposing ourselves in such a way that could potentially compromise us or be used against us?
Because being vulnerable allows us to confront our personal demons.
Let’s go back to Stormzy and Dave.
Stormzy’s latest album features a lot of tracks which reveal Stormzy’s state of mind following his huge success as a rapper and cultural icon in the British public. Most noticeably he talks about his struggles with mental health in the track “One second.” In the track “Lessons”, Stormzy bears his soul as he admits his wrongdoing by being unfaithful to Maya Jama, a woman who showed him the realest love according to his own admission.
In “Psychodrama”, Dave talks about his troubled upbringing and his own battles with mental health in tracks like “Purple Heart.” For Dave, it’s the relationship with his incarcerated brother, jailed for a brutal murder, which gives us an insight into Dave’s psyche, as he stays loyal to his older brother despite the horrendous crime he committed.
Both Stormy and Dave are opening their souls to the public. And while they are lining themselves up to be shot by the guns of judgement and scrutiny, they are also letting out their demons and confronting them.
"It’s like black men have been conditioned to put a lid on their psychological problems. It’s no wonder so many boys ‘in the ends’ are angry all the time – many of us are walking time bombs."
Obviously, I am not saying black men need to be sharing their inner struggles to the public. But it’s important for us to confide in our families and friends about the troubles we are facing in life, instead of just saying “Yeah, I am out here, fam” or “It is what it is, fam.”
When I went through the terrible breakup with my ex and witnessed the breakdown of my family, it was a difficult period that could have destroyed me. It nearly did. What saved me was that I was able to express all my negative thoughts, fears and worries to people who were close to me. I also solo travelled to be alone with myself so I could really confront my thoughts, process this terrible loss and ultimately move forward with my life.
Being vulnerable saved my life.
The world is tough, and black men need to be tough. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t admit our faults
As a black man, I know how it is. For us, the world is tough and unforgiving. Most of us in this country were not born to wealthy parents or even complete family homes. We must work twice as hard as anyone else. Black men need to be tough because the world is not always going to be kind or even fair to us.
However, that shouldn’t stop us from being honest with ourselves. Too many of us, young and old, often wear this fake mask that we are doing fine, driving our nice cars, wearing our designer clothes and popping bottles in the club. Yet behind all the bravado and showing off, we aren’t doing very well mentally. Many of us are even lonely.
More black British men need to follow Stormzy’s and Dave’s example and learn to be more vulnerable albeit with the right people. Society likes to characterise us young black men as overly sexual, overly aggressive and overly confident but, like every other human, we bleed; we feel and we fall.
True strength is being able to admit that we aren’t strong all the time.
“I am really done with kids,” I told one of my close female friends during one of our many conversations over Instagram.
“Nah, you’re just saying that,” she replied. “You’re going to meet a really special girl and you’re going to change your mind.”
I didn’t completely disagree with her. One day I will meet a woman who I will fall madly in love with but even when that does happen, I know that I will never give her children.
Even if it meant losing her.
The relationship that tore apart my understanding of relationships
I am not ashamed to say that the breakdown of my relationship with my ex (the mother to my beautiful daughter) shook me to the very core of my essence.
This wasn’t just a breakup where I was sad for a few weeks and then I was already moving on to the next girl. No, this break up was like an earthquake, destroying the very foundations on which my idea of love and relationship were built on.
As some things should remain private, I won’t go into the specific details of why my relationship crumbled before my eyes but there is no denying that the catalyst for the implosion of it was this:
The birth of my daughter.
Don’t misunderstand me. The birth of my daughter is an undeniable blessing which I thank God for every morning.
But it did not bring myself and my ex girlfriend together.
In fact, it tore us apart but also exposed the types of people we are.
My daughter being born taught me several things about myself and about relationships that have made me decide that I will have no more children from this point on in my life.
When a baby is born, your relationship takes a back seat
Before the birth of my daughter, my relationship was fun, blissful and always exciting. There was never a dull moment. It truly felt like us two against the world and we were going to take it on together, laughing and dancing our way through the madness.
But that soon changed.
When my daughter was unexpectedly conceived (it was not a planned pregnancy; it was quite random in fact), the focus of the relationship shifted from us to the baby. This caused a lot of problems for me.
It wasn’t that I was annoyed that my ex was giving our daughter so much attention – she’s a mother now, that’s what she had to do – it was that our relationship stopped being about us and became about raising a child. The fun, the joy and the adventure of our relationship disappeared almost overnight. Our relationship was about raising a child, not conquering the world together and I did not want this type of life.
I want a life of adventure
It’s not until I turned 26 that I realised I really love travelling. I don’t mean going on lads’ holidays like Ibiza but enjoying travelling to different countries, learning about different cultures and soaking in the character of a new location.
Travelling around the world would not be possible as a family man. I couldn’t just take a random trip to Indonesia if I have to look after a child 50% of the time while the other 50% I am at working to make money to look after the family. With a life like that, there is simply no time for adventure. Some men like that. I am not one of them.
I am ambitious and needed someone equally as ambitious
I don’t want to describe my ex as someone who is lazy. She is a fantastic mother and a beautiful human being. However, my ambitions in life were much, much greater than hers.
I wanted to write books, start a company and travel the world every year. She, on the other hand, was content to be a mother. Our daughter gave her all the fulfilment she needed in life but for me, having a child simply wasn’t enough for me to feel like I was living life to its full potential.
When I do meet another woman, I’ve already realised now that she needs to be an incredibly ambitious woman, who sees her life as more than just raising children. She wants to see every corner of the world and build on her passions and I want to be right there with her, building my castle with her and being her rock.
Kids are expensive and will limit your experiences
Even though I only have one daughter, she is not kind to my pockets, and she isn’t even a teenage girl yet! Diapers, nursery fees, clothes, toys etc - it all accumulates. By the end of the month, you don’t have any money for yourself.
Over the next 18 years and beyond, my daughter will probably cost me around £50,000 in child support alone. Some people speak about having five children as if they have the same wealth and resources as David and Victoria Beckham. I’ve seen how my own parents still need to work tirelessly, even at 60, because they still need to take care of my younger sister.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be supporting any children when I am 60. Rather, I want to be on a beach in the Caribbean, sipping on Sangrias with my wife.
Companionship is the reason I want to marry; not because of children
It’s odd this one. I have a feeling that had I been with my ex for much longer (maybe another four years together just as a couple) then perhaps I would have better adjusted to family life. But then, maybe not.
What I have realised is that I want a companion. Every king needs a queen after all. However, I do not want a relationship based around children but around us, our individual pursuits and our adventures. For me, children only brought additional stress and further expectations to my relationship. It no longer felt like a companionship between two people, but a job in which our ongoing objective was raising a child.
I don’t want another baby mother
After the experience with my ex, I must admit that I am terrified history could repeat itself. Analysing myself as a man, I realise that I am not a traditional Nigerian man who wants to have a family he can lead. That is not how God has designed me.
Rather, I need a woman who shares the same spirit of adventure and ambition as I do. That woman will not want any children either as she knows it will hinder her from being fully fulfilled. Any woman who wants children, I will simply avoid or have fun with until she’s ready to find a man who can give her the child or children she desires.
A man with many baby mothers is a man that lives in the shadow of stress. And it’s a long shadow.
Not every man is created equal. Not every man wants the same things in life. For so long I thought I needed to have children to give my life meaning (blame Nigerian culture for that) but I have realised that, for me anyway, there is so much more to life than growing a family. I still believe in love and I still believe in marriage but in the form of companionship.
Whatever the future holds for me, I can’t envision kids being part of it. Never say never of course but I truly understand, with painful, first-hand experience, what it means to have children now.
It’s a sacrifice I can’t see myself making again.
“My son, I cannot see you staying with just one woman for the rest of your life. You are too restless.”
This is what my Dad said to me not too long ago during one of our many discussions (I say discussions but it’s more akin to a lecture. Nigerian fathers aren’t fond of the idea of discussions haha).
Since myself and my father have a more amicable relationship now that I am a full-grown adult, I dismissed his remark with a laugh (15 years ago such an action would have resulted in a lightening fast slap to my right cheek).
But what he said surprisingly stayed on my mind like an unwanted guest and began to trouble me. Maybe my Dad is right. Maybe I won’t stay with one woman for the rest of my life.
Is that such a terrible thing, though?
Romance is fun. Marriage is a job.
In my 30 years of walking this Earth, I’ve had two long-term and serious relationships (I am not counting the seasonal flings). My first serious relationship was 3.5 years during university with a girl from Brighton. Not too long after that one collapsed, my second relationship was with an Italian girl, which lasted for four years and resulted in the birth of my beautiful daughter. This relationship eventually collapsed as well.
As you can see, I am very good at making my relationships collapse haha.
But having turned 30 now, I’ve looked back at these two very important relationships in retrospect and realised I might not actually be built for long-term monogamy.
I am someone who only commits to something completely if one or two of the below conditions are met:
I love reading and writing because I enjoy it. There are times (very few thankfully) where I don’t enjoy my 9 to 5 but I need it to survive so I stay committed to it.
But a relationship or marriage? I don’t need to be in either to survive and if I don’t enjoy being in a relationship or being married anymore, what is the point of being in one?
From what I’ve observed from my own relationships, what I've heard from other people’s experiences and what i've read online in numerous articles, relationships are fun and your spouse is perfect for the first 2-3 years on average.
After that, maintaining the relationship becomes a job. The love chemicals have left your brain and now you see your spouse as the irritating human they are. Now it’s an effort to keep loving them. This is nothing new.
For some people, maintaining a marriage for the rest of their lives is exactly what they want even if it will be hard. These are people who don’t really care about novelty of a relationship but put value on security and longevity, even if they are unhappy with their partner.
Trust me, I admire these people.
But people like myself who crave adventure, spontaneity and enjoyment will eventually become bored in a long-term marriage or relationship. Even if we’re somewhat happy that we have a stable partner by our side, we will also grow to resent the overfamiliarity of their presence. Once the passion goes, the fun goes with it.
An argument for short term, monogamous relationships
Falling in love with my two girlfriends was an amazing experience. I look back at the memories I shared with them fondly.
But in the end, both ended. Does that mean my relationship with them was pointless?
No, it just meant it came to an end. When you watch a great movie or an entertaining football game, you don’t think it was pointless because it came to an end. You’re happy you got to experience such a great film or game.
I think, for some of us, not everyone, this is how relationships work for us.
We meet someone. Fall in love. Let that love run its course. Then, if we are no longer enjoying it, we are honest with our partner and leave the relationship as amicably as we can. And we must expect the same treatment to us.
If children are involved, it goes without saying that it’s crucial to remain on friendly terms as I am with my child’s mother. But even without kids, as hard as it will be initially, remaining at least civil with your ex will give you peace of mind and a better sense of closure from the relationship.
Sometimes, as humans, we want things to last forever even when doing so is detrimental to us. I’ve seen women and men stay in relationships and marriages that should have ended years ago but they had to stay together for the kids, for appearances, for finances etc. But where is the joy in that?
I am not against marriage and there are many people who can and have made it work for over 40 years. But don’t be ashamed if you're one of those people who get to their 60s and you’ve never been in a relationship that has lasted more than 4 years. Because you can look back at your life and think of all the wonderful memories you had with people you genuinely loved at the time.
And you know the thing about fond memories? They don’t collapse.
Boyz n The Hood is one of the greatest coming-of-age movies about young black men.
It may take place in LA and focus on a group of black men growing up in one of the most notorious gang periods in America’s history, but it resonated with me when I watched it as a 12 year old with my younger brother (our parents thought we were asleep but myself and my brother always stayed up late watching cable TV. Back when life was simple).
Boyz N the Hood was the the only film that has made me cry. I remember going to bed after watching it, tears in my eyes. I lost my innocent view of the world that night.
Ever since then I have longed for the British version of Boyz n The Hood.
Until I watched Blue Story, I have been disappointed.
Kidulthood and Adulthood were too loud and unfocused.
The Intent and The Intent 2 glamorised the hood life in London rather than exploring it in any meaningful way.
Bullet Boy was mature in its storytelling. But while it’s a much better in quality than the films mentioned earlier, it was ultimately forgettable.
Top Boy suffers the same problem the Kidulthood films have – which is that it’s all very superficial. It’s like a love letter to the roadman life rather than a mature analysis of why some black men go down that path.
As I was losing hope that no British filmmaker will ever be able to make the British Boyz N the Hood, God finally answered my prayers.
A Blue Story is our British Boyz N the Hood.
It’s the most important black British film to ever have been made so far in the history of black British cinema.
Showing the hood life without glamorising the hood life
Directed by Rapman (real name Andrew Onwubolu), Blue Story is a masterful, thought-provoking and authentic examination of the postcode wars that have blighted London for more than twenty years.
It’s a tale that follows the lives of two black British boys who grow up as close friends but, due to living in two different parts of South London and a series of violent events, end up becoming bitter enemies with tragic consequences.
What elevates Blue Story above the likes of Kidulthood or TopBoy, are two factors: its authenticity and its superior storytelling.
Throughout my viewing of Blue Story, I had a stupid grin on my face. I recognised this London so clearly.
The language used by the characters, the banter, the atmosphere of south London colouring the big cinema screen. Not even Top Boy has captured, so authentically, how many black British boys grow up in London. It was a joy to watch my culture being so faithfully represented on the big screen without being watered down for middle-class white people.
Rapman has shown that he is a masterful storyteller with Blue Story. As someone who has read many fiction books and studied storytelling for most of my life, I can tell when a story is well-crafted. For the most part, Blue Story is an exceptional example of how to tell a story. It takes time to develop the friendship of its two main leads but even supporting characters are layered.
"It’s the most important black British film to ever have been made so far in the history of black British cinema."
Half-way through the film, we learn something crucial about one of the main character’s brother which completely changes how you look at him and yet makes so much sense. By the end of the film, he is a truly tragic character and a symptom of the pointless generational postcode wars that have destroyed so many lives and futures of black men.
Impressively, not once does Blue Story preach to its audience. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, Blue Story could have been a very preachy film but Rapman is a gifted writer. The actions of the characters, their dialogue and the choices they make tells the audience all they need to know about why these black boys defend and die for a postcode they don’t even own. Show not tell. Rapman achieves this effortlessly.
It’s not a perfect film. The central love story is cliché, a little underdeveloped and then becomes overdramatic. There is also a shock twist towards the end of the film from one of the minor characters which comes out of nowhere and doesn’t feel earned. But these are minor quibbles. A Blue Story is a British cinematic masterpiece.
Now it’s time to tell different stories about the black British experience
Blue Story is getting amazing reviews, causing unfortunate controversy and racking in the cash. This is the epitome of urban, gangster films about black British men.
For now, we don’t need anymore.
Honestly, Blue Story has pretty much covered this aspect of the black British culture and, for some time, we don’t need any more films exploring this theme.
Although it will surely be tempting to movie producers to create more stories about black British thugs, considering how well Blue Story has done financially and critics' positive response to the film, we don’t want such films to become the core narrative about black British men.
Yes America has a plethora of films exploring black men doing crime, but it also has a lot of television shows and movies about black people leading normal lives, falling in love and having family disputes. We need more stories that showcases black British men as complex individuals leading different types of lives.
We are not all roadman.
We are not all violent.
We are not all engaging in postcode wars.
We desperately need more stories that show black men struggling with the same everyday problems that white people deal with and how we overcome them. This kind of positive representation is crucial for the next generation of black British boys growing up in London.
Finally, we have our own Black British Boys N the Hood. But why stop there? Let’s have our own Black British Downtown Abbey or our own Black British sports film.
Let us show the world that Black British men are most than just lost boys in hoodies.