Rapper’s Boris stunt overshadows Mercury Prize spectacle

Slowthai poses on arrival for the awards ceremony. (AFP pic)

LONDON: Angst-filled rapper Dave scooped up Britain’s coveted Mercury Prize on Thursday in a politically-charged London finale that included an expletive shouted from stage at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A new wave of 12 rebellious voices vied for the 2019 edition of British or Irish album of the year.

Rage against injustice coursed through the lyrics and spilled into interviews, reflecting a jaded era in which Britain is cutting ties with Europe and economic worries weigh.

Few expressed those frustrations more explicitly than Slowthai, a 24-year-old rapper from smalltown England – and the bookies’ early favourite.

“<expletive> Boris Johnson!” he screamed as he took the stage, stripped to his waste, a mask of the right-wing UK leader in his hand.

“<expletive> everything!”

But Dave, a 21-year-old South London rapper whose album “Psychodrama” is a full-frontal assault on institutional racism, softly asked his mom to join him on stage after holding up the winning statuette.

“I did not expect this,” he admitted, his left hand draping his mother’s shoulder.

Dave’s two siblings have served time in prison and he devoted his award to one of them, Christophe, who “inspired this album”.

“This is your story that we told, even though you can’t be here,” Dave said.

Going green

Created in 1992 as an alternative to the more mainstream Brit Awards, the Mercury Prize’s past winners have included PJ Harvey, Pulp and Skepta.

The list defines the two leading musical nations’ shift from indie rock to Britpop to, more recently, grime and its dark, in-your-face hiphop style.

“Tell us we used to be barbaric, we had actual queens. Black is watchin’ child soldiers gettin’ killed by other children,” Dave hypnotically chants in the hit track “Black”.

“The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice. A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news.”

Dave first made headlines when Canadian superstar Drake remixed his 2016 single “Wanna Know”.

Adding another political twist, the Oxford rock band Foals wore Extinction Rebellion stickers and shared their support for the climate activists, led by the Swedish teen Greta Thunberg.

“Everyone can kind of unite over the environmental issues,” Foals guitarist Jimmy Smith said.

Female voices

This year’s list of contenders included punk rockers – a throwback to Britain’s last era of political tumult under the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The politically-charged punks Idles’ “Joys as an Act of Resistance” made The Times newspaper recall “a gang of skinheads in 1981”.

The Irish punks Fontaines DC came up with “Dogrel,” an album bemoaning the gentrification of Dublin and – in their eyes – demise of its city centre.

Female voices were represented by the likes of Anna Calvi, a queer singer-songwriter whose “Hunter” explores gender issues – and more.

“People recognise that your queerness is a big part of the energy you create. But it’s not the only thing,” she said upon the album’s release.

Cate Le Bon, who mixes pop with folk on “Reward,” has won rave reviews and follows a year-long time out in which she studied furniture making.

The judges wrote that this year’s award “celebrates both the striking diversity of British and Irish music-makers and their shared purpose in exploring issues of identity and belonging at a time of division and disagreement”.