Stormzy has always been a trailblazer in music and culture. All three of his studio albums have topped the UK charts, and as his sound develops, it continues to reflect the inner workings of the man himself. Despite this deeply personal aspect, his music remains rooted in the zeitgeist, often shaping the culture around him. His performance at the Brit Awards in 2020 was a celebration of Black community, with a gospel choir and appearances from Burna Boy and Tiana Major9 ending in a simple message: ‘Black is beautiful, man.’ The Banksy-designed stab-proof vest he wore as he headlined Glastonbury in 2019 – a commentary on knife crime in the UK – is on display at the Design Museum. Stormzy has proven himself as a trendsetter and visionary in the industry. His new project with Rockstar Energy Drink next month is another attempt at disrupting tradition.
The South London superstar will headline a live digital concert – 'Press Play' – with Rockstar Energy Drink on July 21, bringing his performance into five distinct digital worlds for global audiences. He'll perform hits from his most recent album 'This Is What I Mean', making world class performance accessible to all during this summer festival season.
Live music, while widely viewed as a unique form of entertainment that anyone can enjoy, is not nearly as accessible as it should be. The average concert ticket sells upwards of £100 – an inessential expense that many cannot afford right now – while In terms of accessibility for people with disabilities, there is still much work to be done to make concerts and music festivals an inclusive space for everyone. The digital concert is a revolutionary concept, providing access to live music for audiences all around the world in the comfort of their homes. To see Stormzy at the centre of such a progressive project is no surprise.
While music is what put him on the map, his actions outside the studio have transformed him into a philanthropist and all round advocate for young Black people in the UK. Despite being young himself, Stormzy has consistently used his platform to create opportunities for underrepresented groups, and not just in the music industry. He has created scholarships for Black students at Cambridge, and Merky FC — his most recent initiative — has provided young people with job opportunities and experiences within football that otherwise might not be viable.
VERSUS sat with Stormzy to talk about diversity and inclusion, music’s influence on social change, and his biggest source of energy ahead of his digital concert next month.
You’ve just linked up with Rockstar Energy to bring a live concert experience into the digital world, opening up your shows to a global audience. What made you excited when you first heard about this?
The concept of it – ‘Press Play.’ I can really resonate with it, the whole idea of mixing work with play. I always say as much as I take my job seriously, I like to have fun with it. I like to blend the two, you know? This is a fun, new experience that hasn’t really been done before. It’s exciting to headline something so different.
How do you want people to feel after they watch this performance?
I want them to just feel energised. I think that’s the best word to describe it – just energised. Just feel like they watched something that was new, something that had a lot of creative effort, something that had a lot of excitement to it, you know? I think the world right now has a lot of amazing, different opportunities and avenues for artists to connect with those who support them. So, yeah, I think this is just a new, exciting way to do that. There will have been a lot of people who’ve seen me perform live in the past, but hopefully this is just like a whole new experience for people to see me in this light.
The relationship between music and social change has always been incredibly strong. Where do you think you and your music fit into that bond?
I think anything that has that truth, especially my truth, hopefully can always contribute to some sort of inspiration, some sort of uplifting, some sort of motivating. Maybe that’s my own version of social change, you know what I mean? Just living my truth and encouraging someone to live theirs. Without being too political, I think that music in its truest form does that anyway.
You’ve said in the past that diversity isn’t just a buzzword. What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
Firstly, it just means seeing everyone for their true value. I think that’s the best way to look at it. For me, diversity is looking at everyone in this world and all their different colours, and shapes and sizes and saying, “you are all valuable, you are all worthy, you can all add value”. So yeah, that’s what it is for me, it’s just understanding that there is value in everyone – there’s equal value in everyone.
How have your own personal experiences shaped your work in creating inclusive spaces for young people, not just in music, but in sport, education, and other industries?
I think my personal experience, probably knowing and growing up in a place full of so many talented people…just knowing that when we were younger, we had all the talent and we had all the gifts, but we didn’t know the routes we could take. So I think that’s what’s allowed me to want to be someone who encourages inclusiveness and that creates those spaces.
We just didn’t know how to channel our ideas, energy and where to apply all of that talent – we didn’t have opportunities. I grew up with people who could have been anything in the world, from the Prime Minister to entrepreneurs, but you know, that first step and that first few steps in getting to that goal was just nowhere to be seen. That’s probably my biggest encouragement.
You launched Merky FC – a program focused on creating opportunities within football for young people of Black heritage – with adidas last year. After so much success in its first few months, where do you see the initiative expanding in the coming years?
I think the first time you ever launch anything, you know, it’s the first time the world sees it. So hopefully more brands and more partners, more companies, more institutions see it and wanna be a part of it to give more young people the opportunity. I hope that everyone just sees it for the project that it is, which is a project just to give people a platform – to give people that first step in.
Rockstar is a brand that’s all about energy – where do you get your energy from? What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?
I get my energy from God. My energy is very spiritual. I think for me, my faith in God and praying to Him and talking to Him and reasoning with Him, reading my Bible, that is my biggest, biggest source of energy. Especially as I’ve grown up, as well, I think the older we get, the more we realise the importance of having a source of energy, you know what I mean? So, I’ve just realised how important that is for me as I’ve grown. I just rely on God to give to my soul, to my energy.
The Rockstar in-app digital concert experience starring Stormzy will go live on Friday 21 July at 5pm BST, and will be available to stream on Spotify until 4 August. For more information about Stormzy’s upcoming performance, visit Rockstar Energy.