Last Night's MOBO Awards Kinda, Slightly Represented Black British Music
This is an improvement rather than an achievement.
Best video last night at the Mobo’s didn’t go to FKA Twigs’ Nabil directed Cleopatran dreamscape, or Jacob Banks’ iconic stateside rooftops scene for the video to “Move With You”. Nah, it went to Skepta’s “That’s Not Me”, a video that looks like a public access television grime takeover. The video purposefully captured that raw, DIY essence of early grime DVDs like Lord of the Mics and Practice Hours - toeing the line between laughably cheap and utterly fixating. If the award was judged on truth, then this was always the winner, and Skepta made no bones about reiterating that in his acceptance speech: “Coming from the streets, you feel like, ah - my man’s video was a £100,000, my man’s video’s a million - you get me? I have to keep up with that. “That’s Not Me” video cost me eighty English pounds.” Before leaving the stage, he took time to big up grime’s new wave, notably: Stormzy (above) and Novelist.
Each year the MOBOs come in for entirely justified criticism. For a black music ceremony, the big awards are nearly always won by white people. And not like Eminem winning best hip-hop one year – but people like Adele, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J and, this year, Sam Smith, winning a shitload of awards for music that’s only really black in the sense that all pop music up to the point of Laura Marling originates from black musical styles. The awards themselves have also tended to be shoddy and run on a shoestring budget, with none of the spectacle of, say, the BET awards in America.
But the success of Sam Smith isn’t just a MOBO problem, but a British problem. How this guy doing a watered-down version of Duffy doing Amy Winehouse doing soul has become a global ambassador for British music is a mystery we’ll never be able to solve, but a burden we all must bare.
But you know what? If you can get past the Sam Smith whitewash, the Mobos were an improvement on previous years. Sure, the way 90% of Wembley was luxuriously laid out with table settings - whilst a tiny spot left of stage had about a thousand poor screaming fans jammed into it like cattle - did remind me a bit of the Titanic, but apart from that the entire ceremony felt really exciting and totally British. Sometimes you need Little Simz spitting bars directly through your television screen to remind you that whilst our charts might limp on the crutches of American imports, our actual culture doesn’t.
Meridian Dan pulling up in his German whip to perform that very song was a reminder of how well that song did back in March, way before this new grime revival fully kicked off, reiterating that there is totally still a mainstream space for the new grime wave to inhabit. And then Fekky joining in to do his Boy In Da Corner ode “Still Sittin Here” felt like seeing the past, present and future all in four minutes.
Little Simz had to carry Candi Staton through a poorly planned rendition of “You Got The Love”, but the novelty of seeing the two perform together was still pretty absorbing. Even Mel B was on top form as presenter, dropping bombs like “this guy has made more of an impact on the underground than the Piccadilly line.”
With Skepta, Fuse ODG, Stylo G, Krept & Konan and Stormzy all picking up awards, then, this was at least a Mobos intent on reflecting black music in the UK – but let’s not pat them on the back too much, that is after all what they’re supposed to have always done.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @Cide_Benengeli