Rappers headlining Glastonbury Festival has never been met free of derogatory comments or belittling remarks so it was no surprise when the negative reactions started rolling in after the announcement of Stormzy’s headline set on the Pyramid Stage. Echoing Noel Gallagher’s 2008 declaration that Jay Z and hip hop at Glasto was “wrong” and the petition to replace Kanye West as headliner in 2015, Twitter trolls were quick to question the booking of Stormzy.
“RIP Glastonbury,” one wrote. “Stormzy headlining Glastonbury after one album. Hard life. Genuinely couldn’t name a single song he’s ever done,” another wrote. Side note: ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ reached number one and went platinum, while Stormzy's got one Ivor Novello, two Brits, two BET Awards and six MOBOs sitting on his mantelpiece. As the first black British solo artist and UK rapper to headline the festival, he assured people he’d “mash it up.” He certainly came in blazing, arriving on stage in a Union Jack-printed stab proof vest to a storm of fireworks and erratic instrumentals, before touching on themes of racial equality, religion and performing songs with lyrics digging at potential UK prime minister Boris Johnson.
The power and respect Stormzy now holds was evident before he even appeared on stage, with the screens either side of the Pyramid playing a meeting between the South London MC and rap icon Jay Z, the latter giving him advice on his headline set. A clever move regarding the circumstances of 2008. Later came a 'Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1' duet with Chris Martin of Coldplay, one of the biggest bands in the world, before a cover of Ed Sheeran's 'Shape Of You'.
'Know Me From' had him pacing across stage in front of bold worded visuals paying tribute to his home of Thornton Heath, Croydon and South London. "Oi Glasto, it's the only the fucking beginning," he shouted halfway through the the song. A confident, arms-crossed stance was a theme throughout, with the prison block-style production behind him a bold statement on the world's most iconic festival stage.
'First Things First' brought an air of eeriness, with 'Mr Skeng' - a track filled with lyrics about being dissed and haters - being a fitting selection based on the uproar of him being headliner. "This is the greatest night of my entire life," he shouted to a rapturous applause, a wide smile reaching across his face, something that reappeared over and over again.
After a slew of tough grime tracks, a touching moment came with the introduction of two black ballet dancers, backed with classical music, with text on the screens explaining how ballet shoes are now made for both skin tones after previously only being for made for a white skin tone. Another slap-to-the-face statement came with a cover of Kanye West's 'Ultralight Beam', paying tribute to murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, touching on the inclusion of his face on posters to fill the "quota" and discrimination from promoters. It was no doubt a conscious decision to position other calmer, more accessible songs like 'Cigarettes & Cush' in between the grime songs.
If there was a moment to shout out his peers, this was it. Rappers Dave and Fredo joined him to perform 'Funky Friday', the first British rap song to hit number one, before he rolled out an endless list of UK MCs to inspire him (Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta) and UK rappers to listen out for including Mixmag cover star AJ Tracey, Mostack, Yxng Bane, Little Simz, Ms Banks and Slowthai.
The choir performing 'Blinded By Your Grace Part 2' alluded to a set closer, but Stormzy ensured it was certified grime tune 'Big For Your Boots' that rounded off a touching yet powerful set. It was only right to end on the sound that made him and it was heartwarming to see a childlike smile on his face throughout. Who said rappers or MCs shouldn't headline Glasto?
[Photo: Glastonbury Festival]
Dave Turner is Mixmag's Commercial Content Editor, follow him on Twitter
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