‘It’s a Corbyn ting’: how Stormzy and UK grime are aiming to get the Tories out
Whatever way the UK turns this week, the Grime4Corbyn movement represents a landmark moment
Stormzy: “Have you seen that footage of House of Commons? They’re all neeky dons! The way they all laugh and cheer. Is this f**king Game of Thrones?” Photograph: Samir Hussein/Redferns
When the designer Ryan Hawaii sprayed “David Cameron hates the mandem”, quoting his friend Marco Grey, on a wall in Shoreditch as part of a street exhibition inspired by being homeless, he probably never realised it would become an oft-repeated, much replicated slogan.
Cameron was a target for grime culture and lyrics, with Novelist’s Street Politician, containing a David Cameron sample, as Novelist rapped, “Hot head like I’m a Tory / Real gangsters don’t do this for the glory / Back boy stick in the system / When the feds chat shit I don’t listen.”
Grime has always been inherently political: anti-establishment, DIY, giving a voice to disenfranchised, angry, smart, and funny young people, creating community and a tribal fandom, building a scene from the ground up and maintaining that grassroots even when superstardom beckons.
Of late, grime has given British music a massive energy boost. But grime’s role in electoral politics – that managed to eschew the cheesiness of the “come on young people” tone – has been a welcome curiosity of this British election.
Last Saturday, a Grime4Corbyn gig in Tottenham featured a panel discussion about the links between grime and Corbyn’s politics. There were sister gigs in Dalston and Brighton. The Guardian reported: “In the last few days, posters have appeared in the marginal Tory seat of Croydon, south London, featuring a photo of chart-topping grime artist MC Stormzy, claiming: ‘The Tories hold Croydon by 165 votes (that’s literally it) – even your dad’s got more Facebook friends. Stormzy says vote Labour! ’”
In a Labour party video, AJ Tracey spoke about rising house prices, how he’s in debt because he chose to go to university, how the NHS is “one of the jewels of the UK” and how the Torys are trying to dismantle it: “It’s a Corbyn ting. Not a Tory ting.”
Housing is a common concern among grime artists, with Stormzy expressing a frustration about his peers being shut out of the housing market, as well as singing Corbyn’s praises and slamming the showboating in parliament: “Young Jeremy, my guy. I dig what he says. I saw some sick picture of him from back in the day when he was campaigning about anti-apartheid and I thought: ‘yeah, I like your energy’. Have you seen that footage of House of Commons? They’re all neeky dons! The way they all laugh and cheer. Is this f**king Game of Thrones? You lot have got real issues to talk about and deal with. That’s why I like Jeremy: I feel like he gets what the ethnic minorities are going through and the homeless and the working class.”
Over in the Boy Better Know stable, Jme posted a photo on Twitter of him meeting Corbyn, as well as encouraging young people to vote, tweeting, “I met @jeremycorbyn today, and explained why bare of us don’t vote.”
Rapper Akala (and younger brother of Ms Dynamite) wrote an op-ed in the Guardian saying: “I will be voting for the first time in June and I will – I am shocked to be typing this – be voting Labour. I am not a Labour supporter; I do not share the romantic idea that the Labour party was ever as radical an alternative as some would like to think. Despite building the welfare state, Labour has been an imperialist party from Attlee to Wilson to Blair . . . So why will I be voting now? Jeremy Corbyn.”
As young leaders and naturally political role models, the Grime4Corbyn movement wasn’t a gimmick, but an articulation of how grime reaches both the masses and the underground, and how these are artists are being listened to, and amplifying their voice to make a difference. It’s been a while since British pop music has felt that urgent.