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Music Doesn't Make Legacies

#MerkyBooks Imprint in collaboration with Penguin | Source: Barbican (2018)

When the word 'legacy' comes to mind in relation to the music industry, I'm willing to put money on the top results including JAY-Z and Diddy. Although the conclusions drawn aren't necessarily false, the reasons as to why they make the list are greatly overlooked. Both Sean Carter and Sean Combs are legendary musicians, but music hasn't been the only element to define their legacies.

After arguably reaching the apex of their music careers (JAY in 2003 after releasing The Black Album and Diddy in 2006 with Press Play) the rapper/producers started to focus on non-music ventures and began to reinvent themselves as businessmen. Although being insurmountably rich is on the criteria to earning legendary status, it does not complete it- there seems to be a crucial element missing.

Through arduous debating and thinking about this problem for several seconds that felt like a lifetime, giving back to the community and tackling social injustice is something that seems to plug the legacy-shaped hole. Using the influence and platform they have acquired through hard work to make a difference is what really shapes how an individual is remembered. From the Sean Bell's Children's Trust to the Charter School in Harlem, there are numerous examples of just how charitable JAY and Diddy are. Funnily enough JAY-Z discusses the concept at hand, on the song Legacy, from his latest solo album 4:44. At the beginning of the track, he talks about who he would leave his money to and when it comes to his firstborn, Blue Ivy, he has ideas about how she should spend her inheritance...

The rest to B for whatever she wants to do She might start an institute She might put poor kids through school.

As commendable as these feats may be, I can't help but feel as if they are far removed from the projects that they fund due to the lack of involvement, which could come across as disingenuous. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn't make it any prettier (well that's my opinion, pigs aren't my type) and simply donating money isn't always the best solution. Status and a recognised position within society means that public opinion is incredibly influential and people like JAY-Z have been heavily criticised for not speaking out against controversial racial issues.

Someone that possess all the components to build a legacy and is very much on track to do so is Stormzy. Not only has he aided rappers like Krept and Konan in bringing Grime to the forefront of popular UK music, he did so whilst staying true to himself and his sound. His debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer shot to no.1 and made history in the process. It is only fair to ask what is next for Big Mike?

I had the honour of attending #Merky Books Live- an evening to commemorate the launch of Merky as an imprint and the first book under their name, titled Rise Up. It was action-packed with spoken word performances and a star-studded panel discussion, but these can't be simply defined as just that. The poetry readings were an opportunity for those chosen to share their experiences and feelings with others who can largely empathise, rather than those who could only sympathise and decipher. It was also the chance of a lifetime for Brandon Turner, who was selected to perform as the winner of a spoken word competition. Before that night, he had only recited in front of around 50 people. Yes, it was huge for the performers, but it works both ways. Stormzy succeeded in inspiring the audience and in particular, the youth. When I was entering The Barbican, I couldn't help but notice the vast number of young, black people attending the launch. Whether it was just to see Stormzy or due to genuine interest- he encouraged them to see literature as something worth caring about and not just a subject studied at school.

The event was wrapped up with a one-on-one interview between the host of the night, Akala and Stormzy himself. When asked about the publishing deal with Penguin and how the Cambridge Scholarship Scheme (which Oxford turned down) came about, Stormz responded with his personal reasoning that resonated with the entire Merky team, that could be summed through a phrase he repeated "it's what you're supposed to do" and this was the moment that he registered, in my mind, as a legend in the making. Throughout the discussion, it was evident how connected to his community he is and has been from the beginning. It was inspiring to see him not just giving back but giving opportunities to those who did not have the chance. He also addressed his BRIT Awards performance by not seeing his 'politically controversial' interlude as "risky at all". It took the viewers, the music executives and the entire industry by surprise when Stormzy asked Theresa May "where's that money for Grenfell?". The Croydon MC said he wanted to speak out against the injustice surrounding Grenfell as well as the hypocrisy of the government labelling people as criminals, but we all know that wasn't the only inequity he wanted to bring to light that night...

It may have been wrong of me to title this piece, 'Music Doesn't Make Legacies'. Maybe it is more accurate to say that it does not create a legacy, but it can be used as the foundation to build one. Even though Stormzy is still in the process of constructing his Merky empire, the differences in the steps he takes in comparison to others is evident. It's no secret that he is living up to his name whilst looking out for the people that believe in it.


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