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.