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.