WORDS

Of all the cameos on Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer, the sounds of radio DJ Jenny Francis – who’s dubbed herself as the Lady of Soul – is perhaps the most special.

On the album, Francis bridges the gap between Stormzy’s gooey love song Velvet and his explosive signal, Mr Skeng. “That was Stormzy, with the smoochy Velvet on #Merky FM,” Francis says in her distinctive late-night-radio tone, I’m Jenny Francis, hope you’re well. Right! It’s time for another, here’s Mr Skeng. Crank it up, sit on it and let it move ya!”

With over 20 years experience and a fiercely self-governing policy on what gets aired, Francis is more than qualified to play a role in Big Mike’s journey. We spoke to her about her history with the grime scene, her contribution to #GSAP and why those with “hating ears” need to think again.

For people that may not have heard of you, give us some background on what you do…

The shows I’m best known for are called the Slow Down Zone and The Hype on Choice FM. I just used to play anything that had a mood or had a vibe which could relax you. I’ve never been playlisted, it was all completely 100% self-produced. For 23 years, that was the agreement I had with the station. As far as I’m aware, I was the only show on commercial radio to be totally self-produced.

Wow! It must have had a certain authenticity then.

Definitely. If you gave me a song today and I liked it, it would be on the air tomorrow.

How did your contribution to Gang Signs & Prayer come about?

As far as I know, Stormzy grew up listening to my show. I used to do The Slow Down Zone and a show called The Hype. The two were combined so I had two hours of uptempo tracks and two hours of the Slow Down Zone. Now in Hype, it was one of the first times grime featured on commercial radio. This is before Stormzy’s time but people like Skepta and Wiley got some of their first commercial airplay on that show. At the time, everyone was really reluctant to play anything from the UK. I said, “I want to play UK music, this is what we’re about.” Half the artists never knew me but I’d play it all. Crazy Titch featured on my show many years ago when he released I Can C U. A lot of stuff came through that show. Stormzy’s the new generation.

Having seen so many MCs come through, what do you think of Stormzy’s music?

It’s excellent. You can hear straight away that he has a God given talent. You can’t buy talent. You can’t made somebody have it. You can’t buy passion! He has all those things – all the makings of a true artist in my opinion. He’s young, vibrant, energetic, hungry and taking the music to another level. That’s not condemning the artists that are still doing their thing, it’s just the new generation with a different approach taking things to another level as you’d expect given the opportunities available, I see nothing wrong with that he should be able to take the music up a level and that is exactly what he’s doing.

What do you make of Stormzy mixing the rap up with singing?

It’s a diverse album. Anybody that thinks ‘Well, ok, Stormzy’s made an album. Let’s dismiss it as grime’ is really losing out. It’s such a complete body of work. He touches on all genres and the sound is elevated. There’s no point going back, we’re going forward.

I would say this: to anyone who hasn’t listened to the Stormzy album, put your hating ears away, open your mind, listen to the album and then decide. Don’t just write it off as grime or any other MC. Put the album on and put your hating ears away. Give the album a good listen and then decide. I guarantee you, you’ll love it.

Did Stormzy’s team reach out to you or did he get in touch personally?

He reached out to me himself and it came from there. If I didn’t like what he was about, I wouldn’t have done it. And I think he knew I’m that sort of person! My motto on my show was always: if I like it I will play it. If I don’t, I won’t. Whatever songs I believed in, I would play. One of the things I love about him is his realness and his humility. It goes back to his spirit; he has a very, very warm spirit. When you have talent, you don’t need to be arrogant; you just showcase your talent. Talent always shines through. Always.

What do you think it is about the sound of your shows which has struck such a chord with young people like Stormzy?

It’s a combination of relating to your audience and giving them the music they want. You engage an audience by sharing your passion – what you believe in and what you love. This is why I don’t like playlists. If I play a track which has been given to me then I have to build a vibe around it. If I’m playing something I honestly love, it’s not hard. Crank it up, sit on it, and let it move. My job ’til the day I die is to inspire people to love their passion and never let anyone take it away.

Follow Jenny Francis on Twitter here

CONNECT TO CRACK