Earlier this year, Stormzy made U.K. chart history, after launching a viral campaign that resulted in the first grime freestyle to crack the Top 20. Now, the south London MC is at it again, with the hashtag #ShutUpForXmasNo1 campaigning for his “Shut Up” freestyle to the take the charts' top spot by Christmas Day. In the U.K., the Christmas number one is a coveted position—but since The X Factor launched a decade ago, it’s been dominated by the reality show's winners, making it a particularly lucrative season for mega-millionaire Simon Cowell.
Originally released as the B-side to “WickedSkengMan 4” in September, “Shut Up”—a freestyle over XTC’s 2004 instrumental “Functions on the Low”—is a firm fan favorite, with 13.8 million views and counting on YouTube. But after Stormzy performed it at a boxing match between heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte’s fight at London's O2 Arena last weekend, it found a fresh audience, creeping back into the Top 50 in the U.K. charts by the next day.
The FADER caught up with Stormzy on hands-free while he drove around London to find out more about why he wants a number one, how he intends to get there, and what else we can expect from him in 2016—from his debut album to his first big-screen role.
Where did you get the idea from, to go for the Christmas number one?
STORMZY: [The boxing match] was an incredible night, and then the next day my mate texted me like, 'Have you seen the chart?' He sent me a screenshot, and “Shut Up” was at number 41. We was just laughing about it, like, 'How funny’s that? Sick!' Later on in the day it went up to 34, and then 27, and then I was like—'wow, this is an opportunity for some more disruption. Some more fun and games. Let’s go for a Christmas number one.'
I’ve always liked the idea of David vs. Goliath. I find it so funny when publications and radio stations and corporations and all these people who don’t necessarily endorse underground music are kind of forced to mention it, do you know what I’m saying? Because, say it did become number one, the news would have to talk about it. I know how uncomfortable it makes people. I find it funny.
What would the significance be of a grime freestyle getting the Christmas number one?
I just think it would be so sick. It’s the same kind of mentality I had with “Wicked Skengman 4” [Stormzy’s 2015 single that became the first grime freestyle to crack the Top 20]. Grime music has been having an amazing couple of years. But this would be one of those things—like, 'oh, you don’t respect grime? But we got a Christmas number one.' How can you not respect a genre that has a Christmas number one? Whether we get it or not, it’s all air anyway, but I feel like the fact we’re ruffling feathers, that people are having to start to talk about it, is sick. That’s the essence of grime anyway—going against the grain, doing stuff when we’re not allowed to. I remember “Pow” was banned from clubs and Lethal [Bizzle] was still out there performing it, and I know a lot of MCs back in the day used to get blacklisted, and [the authorities] used to shut down [grime] events. [Grime has] always had that kind of punk, rebellious nature about it, so this is just another one of them things.
To be fair, I’m not hell-bent on getting a number one. But, if we can shake things up a bit where, maybe Simon Cowell is sitting down somewhere now thinking 'oh shit…'—just causing a stir, a little bit of impact, that’s the main thing. Getting a number one would just be this incredible, miracle bonus. But that’s the main thing: letting people know that we can compete. That one day, we will be competing, so you should start worrying now.
“That’s the main thing: letting people know that we can compete. That one day, we will be competing, so you should start worrying now.”
Obviously this campaign is something that couldn’t have happened 10 years ago. How do you think social media has changed what it’s like to be an artist on the come-up right now?
A lot of older artists look at social media and think, that’s made everything easier. But it’s a strange thing—because of course, for me, social media has been a massive massive part of my come-up and where I am today. However, it’s also made things a lot harder. Back in the day, there might have been like 20 MCs, and you had to have their CDs, it was exclusive. Now it’s like, you’re one of a million MCs on Twitter. Twitter’s beautiful for projects like this, and campaigns like this. The unity of human beings sometimes shines through Twitter. But you get a lot of pricks on there as well.
What’s something everyone can go and do right now to support the campaign?
Well, first, buy it! That’ll help. If you’ve got a spare 99p to donate to the cause that’d be amazing. But for me, the main thing right now is the streaming. If everyone could just stream it—what a lot of people were doing when “Wicked Skengman 4” dropped, they were just playing it all day...stream it, please, on Spotify. For newer artists and smaller artists, that’s the pain in the arse that’s not allowing us to get that extra 10 chart positions. That’s how big of a thing streaming is now—it’s the difference between a number one and a flippin’ number 25.
What are you doing for Christmas?
I’m just gonna spend time with my family, man. ...I’ve been away from home a lot this year, I’ve been touring, so I’m gonna get back home and have some of mummy’s cooking, I haven’t had that for flippin’ months.
“The unity of human beings sometimes shines through Twitter. But you get a lot of pricks on there as well.”
You recently announced that you’re making your big-screen acting debut [in Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood in 2016]. How did you get that role?
This is what I love about my career—so far, all these opportunities, they’ve been like, offered to me. It hasn’t been like, me knowing this person or us talking to that guy; it’s literally been people hitting me up. So Noel just hit me up on Twitter DM, offering for me to be in his movie. So I was like, yeah, let’s do it.
Have you been filming already?
Yeah, my last day is tomorrow on set. I’ve been filming for the past two weeks, and the rest of the cast have been filming for about six weeks now. It has been a challenge. I found a whole new total respect for actors. I always knew they were talented and amazing, but that’s the thing, with creative arts, a lot of the time people don’t understand the graft and the grind. And I should have known better, to be honest—me being a musician, I should have known better than to think that acting was some walk in the park. I didn’t necessarily proper gauge how difficult it was gonna be, and how much work and commitment it would need.
And how is the album coming on?
The album is coming along beautifully. I feel like it’s gonna be a beautiful, amazing piece of work, a true representation of myself. That’s what I’m working on. I want it to be a moment, I want to exceed my own expectations of myself. I want to pull something out of the bag where, I’m listening to it and thinking, ‘wow, I’m proud of this. I’m proud of what I’ve created.’ That’s all I’m working on right now. I’m not going to put it out until it’s ready. But: 2016.