Last night, Stormzy dropped his long-awaited new film GSAP via YouTube. The 15-minute long short neatly sews together three narrative strands, telling the story of fictional character Thomas “T” as a young boy and a teenager growing up in south London punctuated by shots of Stormzy rapping along to excerpts of his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer in a sun-drenched, pastel-hued location in Spain.
The film, written and directed by Rollo Jackson, produced by Somesuch and supported by YouTube, hits quickly on key themes of Gang Signs & Prayer in Christianity and crime. GSAP opens with abstract architectural shots sweeping over the surface of baby pink villas and a grey London council block accompanied by a mother’s voice and the same organ music heard in Blinded by Your Grace Pt 1. “May the god of Jehovah bless you, guide you, protect you”, the woman intones. “It’s like a battle with two demons inside of you,” Stormzy growls. “Am I going to make the right decision, am I going to make the wrong decision?”
That push-pull between “good” and “bad” traces the film’s backbone and the protagonist’s fate — road or church, the mentorship of his football coach or a local gang leader. While Thomas is pressurised into an unidentified life of crime which eventually kills him, Stormzy appears to have chosen the advice of his “Ghanian queen” mum.
We spoke to director Rollo Jackson to find out more about the story behind the scenes. “I was pretty lucky in that I was approached by Fader (and YouTube) to just basically ‘make a music film’,” he explains. “I was also lucky in that through working with Stormzy before [in a video for Adidas Originals X Nigo featuring Stormzy] I had kept in touch and been in and out of his studio over Summer 2016 and knew what his album was going to sound like. Really from just listening to those demos and staying in touch I was able to build out the themes in the film that simply reflect the album itself. After our initial chats, he had to devote himself to his album which then went bananas on its release so I really had to run with developing the film myself for a while. I’d like to mention James Massiah and Akinola Davies for their help during this phase too.”
With a loose brief, Rollo was free to play with the rich narrative already build in Stormzy’s album. “Whilst I wanted to make a film that was inherently ‘London’, I also liked the idea of turning grime on its head a bit, taking it out of where we normally think of it or how it’s seen in a lot of music videos. A friend of mine had been to La Muralla Roja in Spain and the pictures just blew my mind; I was desperate to shoot there. That coupled with the fact that I wanted Stormzy to have this role of narrator meant that it seemed like the perfect location, (abstract, upside down, pastel-coloured, inverse of London almost), in which to feature him.”
“Whilst the film follows the script pretty closely, one thing that I hadn’t counted on was Crazy Titch featuring on the album in one of the interludes,” Rollo continues. “It was pretty surreal as he’s an artist from the first generation of grime that I had grown up with; I didn’t know about that feature or Stormzy even being in touch with him until it came out. The film is really about choices and influences you have as a kid – Crazy Titch is obviously someone who as has been well documented, at a similar point in his life, made some bad choices. There was a real echo of his life in the story of the kid in the film, so suddenly I had this opportunity to use elements of classic grime archive right in the middle of the film in the scene when we transition from young Thomas to grown Thomas. It was a pretty serendipitous moment, and maybe one more for an older generation but nonetheless an extra layer to the film which came out of nowhere.”
Alongside the film sits a zine shot by Alex Hulsey and designed by Fraser Muggeridge Studio, whose graphic design we have covered liberally in the past. “Everything I make usually ends up as a QuickTime or a Vimeo link so beyond making the film itself I was really keen to have something physical as a legacy,” Rollo explains of the idea. “Doing a zine seemed appropriate, something lightweight and full of colour. Almost like a cd insert to an album that I don’t even know is available as a CD. Stills from films don’t really tell a story so I wanted to get a photographer to shoot people both in character but also on set and then mix up the two. Alex Hulsey, who took the pictures, smashed it and totally got what I wanted to do. With the help of him and Fraser Muggeridge we hopefully made something that feels irreverent and stylised but also adds something to the film itself.” Watch the film and flick through the zine below.