How Stormzy’s rap to Prime Minister boosted Grenfell campaign

It's well worth remembering during lockdown that Stormzy, the British grime artist and Brit Awards winner, made history with his show-closing plea for the Grenfell people's petition.

The rapper's twitter to fans, backed by 100,000 petitioning re-tweeters, triggered a parliamentary debate on the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower inferno. A remarkable act of political musicianship by a Black British rap star. 

STORMZY’S RAP TO THE PRIME MINISTER - The rapper spat out the lyrics almost three years ago: “Like yo Theresa May where’s the money for Grenfell?”
“What, you just thought we just forgot about Grenfell?” he angrily shouted.
Then Stormzy, 24, added “You criminals - and you got the cheek to call us savages?
“You should do some jail time you should pay some damages. 
“We should burn your house down and see if you can manage this."

Each line in Stormzy’s litany of shame evoked the charred wreckage of the Grenfell tower. To the vigils and marches of thousands of protestors. To the bereaved survivors demanding justice. To Black and minority ethnic youth, Stormzy’s rap portrayed their angry cries for justice. Later, the grime and hip-hop star, 24, called on his more than one million Twitter followers to sign the Grenfell petition. It demanded that Mrs May use her powers to appoint additional panel members to the independent public inquiry.

Within a few hours Stormzy tweet to “sign, share, RT(re-tweet) and spread the word” gained massive support. The petition registered the 100,000 signatures required for Parliamentary debate.

What a transformation,  seven years ago African British Michael Owuo, whose parents are Ghanaian, gave up his safe job as an oil industry engineer to start out as an amateur rapper. Better known these days as Stormzy, "he is now so influential that prime ministers quake at his disfavour", said The Times.

Stormzy's rap "was so powerful",  said music star Emeli Sandé, praising Stormzy’s "admirable" Grenfell rap at the Brit Awards.

The Independent trumpeted: “Brit Awards 2018: Stormzy takes dig at Theresa May, attacks Daily Mail, in Brits performance freestyle”.

Unexpectedly, Stormzy won praise from a most unlikely source. The conservative-leaning newspaper, The Times, reported:

"Stormzy whips up MPs' debate on Grenfell Tower inquiry, was the headline in The Times. Its story reported: "The power of one man and his 1.2m-strong army of Twitter followers was proved when the grime artist Stormzy almost single-handedly helped to trigger a likely parliamentary debate on the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire". 

The Grenfell people’s petition, which was previously delivered to the prime minister's official home 10 Downing Street, called for May to appoint additional panel members. With the same decision-making power they would sit alongside retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is the chair of the Grenfell Tower inquiry. This is "fundamental" to "avoid a collapse of confidence in the inquiry's ability to discover the truth of the tragedy”, the petition stated.

Launched by bereaved Adel Chaoui, Karim Mussilhy and Sandra Ruiz, it praised the move for a more diverse make-up to the inquiry panel. In a joint statement, they said, "The public have shown they've not forgotten about Grenfell."

"Just as they supported us in the immediate aftermath of the fire when local and national government response was lacking, they've backed us again - and demanded the voices of the survivors and bereaved are heard."

Panel members "must be appointed with relevant background, expertise, experience and a real understanding of the issues facing those affected",  the petition added.

It also called for legal representatives of victims' families to "see all evidence from the start" of the inquiry and be "allowed to question witnesses at the hearings".

May's spokesperson said that £58 million had been committed to the Grenfell community. And that she was "absolutely committed" to supporting Grenfell victims and set up inquiry not just to look at what happened but why "people were ignored for so many years".

Furthermore, the spokesperson reportedly said: “The PM has been very clear that Grenfell was an unimaginable tragedy that should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen again."

“She’s determined that the public inquiry will discover not just what went wrong but why the voices of the people of Grenfell had been ignored over so many years.”

Dismissing Stormzy’s rap as largely comedic gestures and vague threats may be a big mistake. He won two prestigious music industry awards. He has more than a million grime-loving fans. And, for Black youth, his rap is a growl from the underbelly of a flawed system – not unlike Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti and Bob Marley.

Info-savvy observers claim Stormzy’s novel use of the Brit Awards stage and social media is 21st century brilliant - lauded by both supporters, critics and hip hop legends alike.

BBC Radio 1xtra host DJ Semtex concluded the “BRIT Awards were a moment in history”. Stormzy marks a time “where rap artists have found and defined their own voice, created their own rules, and demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that they are here to stay”.
NOTES: Stormzy, born Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, is a  prize-winning star of the Black British Ghanaian diaspora in Britain. Notably, the inner-city Londoner helped ex-Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn win big youth support, including from rapper like Stormzy.
Emili Sandé featured alongside Stormzy on the Artists For Grenfell charity single.
DJ Semtex hosts BBC Radio 1xtra, the biggest Hip Hop show in  Britain and Europe.
The BRIT Awards are the British Phonographic Industry's annual pop music awards

Finally, I encourage you to look at my series of Grenfell articles on the Chronicleworld’s weblog, and welcome your serious comments. Please donate generously to the Justice4Grenfell campaign

* Thomas L Blair is an award-winning contributor to, and author of the eBook The Audacity of Cyberspace available at  Books and