Entertainment & Arts

Stormzy reveals his 'inner battle' in a new short film

Stormzy in the short film for Gang Signs and Prayer Image copyright Merky / Somesuch / YouTube
Image caption Stormzy: "One thing I always try and emphasize is that you can control your life"

Stormzy has released a moving and compelling short film to accompany his album Gang Signs and Prayer.

The 15-minute film, which premiered on YouTube, tells the story of a young boy in south London, who is raised - like Stormzy - by a single parent.

He latches on to a father figure in the local community, who may not be as benevolent as he first appears.

Stormzy said the film revealed the "two demons" he faced growing up, and the "inner battle" of many black youths.

Image copyright Merky / Somesuch / YouTube
Image caption The story mirrors Stormzy's own upbringing, but is not a biopic, says director Rollo Jackson

"The hardest choice in life, but probably the most important choice is actually, like, the road you decide to walk down," he said.

"Young youts like myself, that grow up in the hood, we often don't know that we are actually the masters of our own destiny.

"There are so many things that steer us in the wrong direction. However, we decide what happens in our own lives."

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Media captionStormzy performs First Things First / Blinded By Your Grace at the Mercury Prize ceremony.

The film is loosely based around the star's debut album, which has sold more than 200,000 copies this year.

The songs Return of the Rucksack, Bad Boys, Mr Skeng and 100 Bags feature prominently, with Stormzy acting as a "narrator" through his lyrics.

Describing the story, Stormzy said: "Gang, Signs and Prayer for me is like balancing the inner battle I face, on a day-to-day basis.

"It's like, two things inside of me that I can either decide to feed and decide to nurture, or I can try and let it die.

"So with the gang signs, that's obviously something that I try not to feed. And then you got the prayer... that I should maybe be feeding a bit more."

Image copyright Merky / Somesuch / YouTube
Image caption Teenager Abdul Basit Ayanwusi has a starring role in the film

Speaking to the BBC, director Rollo Jackson said the film was more than a year in a making.

What was the inspiration for the story?

Stormzy's album was very much the inspiration for the film. Throughout last summer I made several studio visits and saw it coming together so by around Christmas time I had a good idea of where it was going, its themes and overall vibe.

The film is meant to be a mirror to those themes without ever trying to be a biopic of Stormzy. It's more open-ended and universal than that. It's simply about choices and influences that kids go through and have to figure out.

Fourteen-year-old Abdul Basit Ayanwusi gives an incredible performance as Thomas. How did you discover him?

Abdul came in via street casting. He's actually an amazing dancer [he's appeared with Justin Bieber and Lady Leshurr] and hadn't done much acting before but he instantly stood out. He has an intelligence and focus though that set him apart from a lot of kids - as well as a ridiculous amount of energy.

He was composed, inquisitive and just dealt really well with the long days and endless takes that are part of being on set.

Image copyright Merky / Somesuch / YouTube
Image caption The film was supported by YouTube, which has played a key role in the rise of grime

Stormzy's film has had backing from YouTube, which has been instrumental in developing the UK's grime scene, with artists building a huge following, independently of major record labels.

YouTube's head of music Lyor Cohen said fans would "definitely see more" music videos being supported by the site, and that he hoped the company's relationship with the music industry could improve.

"There's still more work to be done but I'm optimistic - I joined Google and YouTube because I saw a great opportunity to bring tech and music together," he said.

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