“Hashtag Merky!” “Hashtag Stormzy!” “Hashtag Problem!” “Hashtag BigMike!” ‘Those are all my names’, the South London rapper bellowed into the mic, on a snowy Sunday night in Brooklyn on March 20, to a sold out crowd of about 500 fervent fans. It’s not incidental that Stormzy, his official artist name, has replaced traditional honorifics found in hip-hop such as MC, DJ, Doctor (as in Dr Dre) or even master (as in Masta P), with the social media label “hashtag.”
Stormzy’s rapid ascent to the pinnacle of Grime, a hip-hop sub-genre, is largely due to his versatile use of social media and the internet. With sold-out shows in Toronto and New York, Stormzy is the ambassador of Grime for a new generation.
Grime is a 21st Century hip-hop rebirth, in South London. In its essence, it’s a combination of hip-hop, dancehall and UK garage. Beats-wise it utilizes electronic melodies and “dark, guttural basslines,” which are reiterative, basic and minimalist. This places a lot of emphasis on the vocal quality and ability of the MC. Visually and sonically, Grime harkens back to the early days of hip-hop in America.
Not to be underestimated is the dancehall element, which rhythmically influences and soulfully infuses Grime. And then, mix in elements of UK Garage and punk culture you have something British kids from Kensington to Croydon can mosh pit to.
Grime, only about 12 years old, has been mainly confined to the boundaries of the UK. However, with social media, it’s making a global push with Stormzy and a few others at its vanguard.
At his debut New York show, amid surging fans who knew song after song and lyric after lyric, Stormzy performed crowd favorites including “One Take Freestyle,” which addressed the lack of diversity in the recent 2016 Brit Awards, “Nigo Freestyle,” which was inspired by a recent promotional campaign with Adidas along with designer Nigo, and “WickedSkengMan 4.”
Nowhere is Stormy’s mastery of social media as a vehicle for his popularity more apparent, than in the WickedSkengMan series, a four-part adrenaline-driven rap performance in the outdoors. The progressive growth of the size of the audience that came out to support Stormzy in the series, increase from just a handful of friends in part 1 to the whole neighborhood coming out in Part 4.
In the WickedSkengMan series involves Stormzy basically going out into the street, a parking lot or a nearby park and spits fire into a microphone. There is only one camera, one camera man and the one mic is attached to the camera.
The production is minimal to non-existent. The unfettered authenticity is so palpable that even as he raps and performs, the audience interrupts when a particular line gets them into frenzy. In essence the whole vibe of the series charms any fan of underground music, whether hip-hop or punk, because of the huge value placed on authenticity in those genres.
Grime according to the way Stormzy does it, isn’t some sugary pop construct, or made-for-TV production. Raw and rough around the edges, Stormzy put each of the WickedSkengMan videos on YouTube and social media, and the rest is history.
To date, the views on the WickedSkengMan series from 1 through 4 are 480 thousand, 580 thousand, 1.3 million and 5 million. All attained by the click of a mouse and by the use of a series of well-constructed hashtags.
Jay Z may have dissed social media in “Tom Ford,” when he said “guns on y’all Tumblrs. F**k hashtags and Retweets.” Well, Jay Z has that luxury. He came up in the game in a time when the hustle was about standing on the street corner and hawking your music on CDs and mixtapes. But, peril to the new artist who thinks he or she wants to use that same playbook. Even Jay-Z’s protégé, Kanye West along with his wife Kim, do not take social media lightly. Actually, that Kim and Kanye don’t take social media lightly, is an understatement.
An artist getting their music on social media is the 21st century equivalent of standing on the street corner. The hustle is no longer how many people you can push your CD into their hands, but how many people you can get to retweet and share your content. And to do so, you need to be master of your hashtag.
Back in New York, as Stormzy wound down his performance of “WickedSkengman 4,” he introduced his latest hashtag, “hashtag-Merky-2016,” which the crowd immediately picked up and ran off with.
Stormzy closed out the show with two of his top hits “Shut Up,” which was a response to critics for his appearance on stage with Kanye West during that artist’s epic performance of “All Day” at the 2015 Brit Awards.” Stormzy’s debut concert in New York City ended with “Know Me From,” which was the hands-down crowd favorite.
Before his New York debut, Stormzy had other debut performances at SXSW in Austin as well as a sold-out show in Toronto the night before. After two days of rest for him and his crew including the chill DJ Tiiny, who excitedly looked forward to visiting Times Square, Stormzy went on to L.A. for his last show on his first tour of North America.
By all counts, hastagMerky2017 is something to look forward to.
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