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[[Sound Off]] #Grime4Corbyn

by Jamie Forrester

How Grime launched a political youth revolution

Politicians have long been disregarded as liars, cheats and waste men on the streets amongst a large portion of the disengaged youth. However, one unassuming man and his politics would be about to change the political and musical landscape side by side with some of the biggest Grime stars.

UK general election 2017 poll of polls. Source: FT

When Theresa May called a snap general election many feared the worst for a Labour led Jeremy Corbyn and the future that would be bestowed upon his party. Throughout most of 2017 the Conservatives had a gap of anywhere between nine and twenty points in the polls, and many thought should Mrs May call a snap general election the embarrassing defeat that the Labour party would suffer would be enough to split the opposition. 

Mrs May and the Conservative led government alongside the “polling experts” would make one catastrophic mistake however and that was to count out the Youth Movement that was starting. With a political imbalance and a disregard for the many over the few we seen over a quarter of a million under-25 register to vote on the last day possible. Whilst many thought that this would not see a huge change in regards to the overall vote the political juggernauts were once again disregarding and further inspiring a movement in those that politics had long forgotten. 

The question you might be asking yourself is where does the Grime industry feature in all this? Well, through artists such as JME, Stormzy, Novelist and Lowkey, Labour – a party for the many – had a platform to be able to spread their message through a new medium. All over Twitter we saw #Grime4Corbyn trending and a political movement that no-one could have imagined became an overnight reality. 

How could Grime the epitome of anti-establishment suddenly become the beacon of hope to a political party who were all but down and out in the 11th round? Well the answer is that despite it appearing anti-establishment it isn’t, grime is a culture and it talks about the issues facing the men and women living on the streets and in the estates. Grime has always been about the many and giving a voice to those who have for so long been voiceless. But why Jeremy Corbyn? Why not previous leaders such as Ed Miliband? Well the answer is simple: In Jeremy Corbyn the country had the potential to have a true left of centre government and way of thinking, Corbyn was exiled to being nothing more than a backbencher many disregarded and forgot about until his sudden and climactic rise in 2015 (sound familiar?), yet he has never wavered from his political beliefs since his election to parliament in 1983. Whether it be him challenging Margaret Thatcher on the privatisation of public services or fighting his own party for their part of the War in Iraq, he stuck by his morals and beliefs much like grime music has never wavered from its beliefs and messages.

The Grime Industry as a whole got behind the Corbyn led opposition and wanted to play their part in change and to help inspire men and women like themselves to get involved. Now you know why they wanted to play their part but much like the political forecasters of 2017 you want to know how they were going to achieve the message they are preaching right?

Grime4Corbyn gigs started popping up in places such as Tottenham, Brighton and Dalston. In marginal seats such as Croydon posters started to appear with Stormzy plastered on them saying “The Tories hold Croydon by 165 votes (that’s literally it) even your dad’s got more facebook friends. Stromzy says VOTE LABOUR”. AJ Tracey would feature in a Labour Party campaign video explaining exactly why he would be voting for them and why you should be too.

For far too many years Labour had been pushing for the young voter in all the wrong ways, instead of inspiring them through alternative means they are engaged with they were too busy wasting money on statues of a flawed centralist manifesto further distancing themselves from those they would come to rely on so heavily. Meetings between artists such as JME and Jeremy Corbyn took place and JME would go on to tweet “I met @jeremycorbyn today, and explained why bare of us don’t vote.” These people were so distant but by talking through the right channels means more of us would vote. 

Through the voices of these artists who a large portion of young uninspired voters looked to for guidance and who’s music gave purpose even when hope was gone. Labour had tapped into a well that had long been cemented up. On June 9th the decision Theresa May and her Government had made to call a snap general election would turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes in UK political history. What once was a majority led Conservative Government would be no more and despite forecasts right after polling stations shut believing this would do nothing but grow the majority they already had the youth movement had struck and ensured that the beginning of something very special was taking place.

Drawing of Jeremy Corbyn holding a speaker

#Grime4Corbyn was more than just a fad but instead it was the beginning of a political movement that to this day is still going on. The campaign spurned new hope for those who had long given up, it helped to spread a message of tolerance, love and togetherness and how it can help achieve anything and most importantly it showed the power that those who were disregarded have and that it does not have to be bestowed upon you by anyone it is simply your god given right. The movement showed that those who had been exiled to the underground with their music not only could become mainstream chart toppers but they could also help to foil the plans to keep them underground and suffering politically. Despite Jeremy Corbyn not winning the election in 2017 it inspired new hope amongst the youth and has helped to create a movement and relationship between Grime music and a better society that helps the many not the few

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[[SOUND OFF]] THE EXTRAORDINARY RISE OF LEWIS CAPALDI

By Hannah Sly

Where did Lewis Capaldi come from?

A year ago, he was relatively unknown. Fast forward to the present, the Scottish singer-songwriter possesses the glowing fame that is equal to a multitude of established artists who, unlike Capaldi, have spent years building and later maintaining as they attempt to stay relevant in a rather volatile industry.

Capaldi’s meteoric rise into the public consciousness is surely one of the most extraordinary in recent times.

An abundance of artists behind nostalgic one-hit wonders have defined a year musically, but subsequently failed to sustain that momentum. After their brief encounter of fame, they disappear completely from the popular culture radar – never to be seen again.

There’s been plenty of comparable male singer-songwriters who have failed to replicate Capaldi’s prolonged level of eminence. For example, take Jake Bugg and Tom Odell – both achieved number one albums in the UK but gradually faded from the public eye soon after.

This could prove somewhat controversial, but let’s face it, Capaldi’s music is rather monotonous and repetitive. Don’t take my pessimistic word for it, his debut album, conveniently named Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, received mediocre reviews following its release in May. NME gave it a disheartening two stars, the Guardian three. Despite admiration for Capaldi’s powerful voice, lead singles and impressive song-writing skills, all reviews echoed similar sentiments – why is there such a huge disparity between his music and online persona? NME’s review expressed bewilderment that “such a charismatic star could make a record so lacking in personality”. After listening to all 12 songs chronologically, you can see why they came to this conclusion. A steady stream of heartbreak ballads with similar sounding backing tracks…

Having said that, the critics are the minority here. Capaldi’s album reached number one in the UK and stayed there for six whole weeks. If that’s not enough, his debut became the fastest-selling album of 2019, opening on 89,506 sales in week one, surpassing established artist Ariana Grande who previously held the title. His UK and Ireland tour sold out in 10 minutes – making Capaldi the first artist in history to sell-out an arena tour before the release of a debut album. Impressive.

How was this swift success possible? How has he managed to swerve the one-hit wonder territory and make history so early in his career? Two things spring to mind – his humour and social media.   

In an age dominated by oversharing, memes and ‘stan’ culture, Capaldi, a millennial, clearly capitalises on this contemporary trend. Almost everything he does professionally is intertwined with his social media platforms. 

For instance, when Noel Gallagher made unpleasant remarks about Capaldi in an interview, he retaliated not by condemning his words, but by exploiting the dispute. For context, Gallagher branded Capaldi “Chewbacca”, advised him to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame, and called Scotland a “third world country”. In true Capaldi style, he walked on stage at the TRNSMT festival holding the Scottish flag, wearing a Chewbacca mask

He then changed his Twitter name to ‘Chewis Capaldi’ and picture to Chewbacca. At Glastonbury, he walked on stage wearing a shirt with Gallagher’s face inside a love heart, before singing his hit song ‘Someone You Loved’ to an army of fans.

Naturally, the photographs posted online afterwards received substantial engagement

Instead of customary ‘please buy my album!’ posts, Capaldi uses witty images and self-deprecating humour to promote his work, thus attracting a wider audience via the power of online sharing. He’s not afraid to be himself – amusing not only his fanbase, but those who happen to stumble upon his online platforms unintentionally. In an era of unattainable perfectionism, it’s refreshing to see a celebrity embracing authenticity over falsity.

Even when he teams up with branded sponsorships, Capaldi’s still genuine. 

After formulating a continuing narrative on social media that he’s finding it difficult to ‘find love’, he joined with Tinder to produce billboards using various comical images taken directly from his social media pages – posing unconventionally, wearing his famous novelty sunglasses. Capaldi also tapped into the bizarre popularity of Greggs on Twitter and used his popular humour in the real world to promote his new album on a London Underground billboard – embracing Capaldi-esque terms like “Scottish Beyoncé” and “finally famous”. He knows he’s equally notable for his both music and online persona. 

Capaldi refuses to engage in any contentious political chit-chat. His lyrics are free from edgy statements and his social media is crammed with unflattering selfies rather than his views on Brexit. 

Capaldi joins the long list of contemporary British, casual, guitar-holding male singer-songwriters who have “exceptional voices and wilfully unexceptional images that entrench an impression of authenticity”. Ed Sheeran… George Ezra… artists who could easily walk into a university lecture and blend in effortlessly. Two decades ago, appearance was everything – for both men and women. 

This has faded somewhat. Well, for men…

The ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter trend has failed to prosper among female artists. How can women embrace authenticity when the industry expects them to look perfect? Capaldi himself said that female artists would “come up against more media scrutiny” if they were to dress casually, share unfiltered selfies and post slapstick humour.

 

Nonetheless, we emphasise social media as the sole source for Capaldi’s rapid rise to fame. How true is this really? He still had to sing in deserted pubs and support other successful music artists beforehand. Not all is what it seems.

Essentially, to be a celebrity, people need to like you – no matter the superiority of your voice. The extraordinary thing about Capaldi is that his entire brand has been built, and continues to exist, online. He’s a part singer-songwriter, part social media star; #relatable in an era whereby #relatability is a hugely saleable commodity

With a new decade on the horizon, expect to see an array of new artists imitating Lewis Capaldi. It’s certainly worked for him.  

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[[SOUND OFF]] XXXTentacion: Better off (Dying)?

By Nico Drysdale

Late, influential, yet heavily problematic and controversial artist, Jahseh Onfroy, otherwise professionally known as ‘XXXTentacion’, provokes thought as to whether he will be deeply mourned or his demise will be favoured.

As news spread online within mere minutes of the shooting and murder of young, Floridian hip-hop artist Jahseh Onfroy on June 18th 2018, fans and celebrities alike paid respectful tributes to the 20-year-old’s sudden death. “I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here”, tweeted Kanye West and, “You were a true artist, one of the most fucking talented of our time”, Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker expressed​.​ Simultaneously, antagonistic reactions, an onslaught of unconcerned, unsympathetic memes and criticism, directed towards those who failed to actively condemn Onfroy, flooded social media.

Kanye West Instagram  ​tribute ​to XXXTentacion
American hip-hop artist Kanye West, pays tribute to XXXTentacion and expresses his sorrowful thoughts concerning the late rapper’s death

Was this an insensitive and unwarranted reaction? Or perhaps justified and comical?

Known for his quick succession from underground SoundCloud Rap fame to mainstream success, (with hits such as ‘​Look At Me!​’ ​​hitting US billboard charts,​​earning him a $10 million record deal for his third album); it was established that the allure and rapid reputation of the 20-year-old’s career, was popularised by and depressingly coincided with, the myriad of unsettling crimes charged against him (particularly those regarding domestic violence towards his girlfriend at the time: Geneva Ayala).​​ Google Trends data ​visualises how ‘XXXTentacion’ was minimally searched before October 2016, when the alleged abuse occurred, and how after this release of news, searches for his name dramatically increased.

XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme
XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme instantly circulated​ ​social media after his death.

XXXTentacion’s notorious relationship with crime began in 2014 with gun possession charges, escalating in 2016 when he was arrested and charged with “robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and home invasion”, consequently violating the ​house arrest ​agreement​ ​prior to trial on ​these charges​.​ Three months later, ​he was charged with “aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering”​.

Pleading not guilty in court, as well as denying charges across interviews, the rapper ​laughed off ​domestic abuse allegations ​in a “profanity-strewn tirade” on social media calling the charges “fabricated”, pledging to “champion for women’s rights” through donating $100,000 to domestic violence prevention programmes. Complex magazine repeatedly questioned XXXTentacion’s representative for details regarding the proposed charitable donation, but no evidence of payment was ever actually provided.

Although domestic violence charges were ​discharged​ after Onfroy’s death, this is NOT the same as being found not guilty and is debted to his untimely demise. In fact, there is a plethora of concrete, public information suggesting that the late, controversial XXXTentacion was, to all intents and purposes, an abusive, misogynistic, active anti-feminist and all-round violent criminal.

Articles discuss the troubled tendencies, insecurities and woes of Onfroy, emphasising the conditions of his financially unstable upbringing, drug-addled, traumatic ​childhood​ and his personal struggles with mental health. These themes are ​prevalent​ within his music; a combination of hip-hop and depressive emo that are traced around “mental illness, suicide, extreme misogyny and a prevailing feeling of numbness” that reflects “​a life lived with disregard for humanity, both other people’s and his own”​. His involvement with SoundCloud Rap highlighted a new wave of artists “whose music embodied a disconnect with societal norms, embraced internet culture” and drug use – specifically Xanax. He subsequently gained and influenced a following of cult-esque, devout listeners whose struggles align closely with his, consequently inspiring and sparking a sense of belonging within those who could relate to his music; generating the problematic and ignorant idea that this excuses his criminal actions.

Fans rushed to defend Onfroy after he pleaded not guilty in regards to the horrific, violent domestic abuse charges against him, in turn, prompting a new narrative that painted his ​“accuser as a liar”. However, the alarming accusations, which ​Pitchfork​ described in harrowing detail in 2017, paint Onfroy as a repulsive, repeated psychological and physical abuser that inflicted a “grim pattern of routine abuse”, on his said girlfriend at the time, highlighting the blatant toxicity of himself and his fanbase.

Furthering this, ​Pitchfork​ also produced a transcript from a 27-minute recording of Onfroy detailing and confessing to unnamed acquaintances, to multiple crimes, including the physical violence he inflicted on his ex-girlfriend and other individuals. XXXTentacion’s public response consisted of a series of disturbing videos he posted on Instagram, threatening to “domestically abuse y’all little sisters’ pussy from the back” to anybody that called him “a domestic abuser”.

Disgustingly, the Floridian rapper’s incarceration only seemed to propel his ever-growing celebrity forward rather than hinder it; landing him a ​reported​ $6 million record contract with Capitol Records after Ayala’s deposition was publicly released in 2017. From threatening to murder her and their unborn child, proceeding to brutally beat her until her eyes were leaking blood, forcing her to pick between two grill utensils because he was going to “​insert​ one of them in her vagina”; XXXTentacion frankly shows his true colours and raises fundamental questions about the “​separation of art from the actions of those who create it”.

Spotify fleetingly blacklisted the rapper’s music from playlists, (a widely criticised action) in 2018 for flouting the regulations of their hate content and hateful conduct policy, due to the string of violent allegations against him. Sadly, the streaming service reinstalled his music when his publicist questioned why the actions of other artists who had been accused of similar offenses had not undergone the same treatment. Similar controversy was sparked when a posthumous collaboration between XXXTentacion and likewise SoundCloud Rap artist Lil Peep was ​created​, despite Lil Peep explicitly ​rejecting​ XXXTentacion for his abuse of women when he was alive.

Deeply mourned or a welcomed demise?

No doubt the 20-year-old’s music influenced an incredibly devout fanbase; but was this without harm? His cult-like following spoke to listeners who’s struggles aligned with his; inspiring those who similarly shared a disconnect with societal norms, generating toxicity to the extent that they would purposefully ignore his frequent and violent criminal convictions. NO amount of talent or recognition can erase the psychological and physical trauma the internet ‘sadboi’ inflicted on several individual’s lives; when you actively chose to expose yourself to the works of an abuser, you are amplifying indelible suffering, in turn silencing victim’s voices, further enabling repeated patterns of abuse. This will be Jahseh Onfrony’s true legacy.