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Stormzy Told Oxford Students The Brit Awards Diversity Problem Is Not Just About Race

"If you have a load of middle-aged white guys on the panel they might not know about little Stormzy in south London," the rapper said.

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UK rapper Stormzy, who has previously called out the Brit Awards for its lack of diversity, told Oxford University students in a speech on Monday that he no longer believes the problem is simply about race.

The 22-year-old, who last year became the first rapper to chart in the UK with a freestyle, was invited to St Catherine's College by Oxford Guild Business Society to talk about his success and the rise of grime music.

Less than 24 hours after the event was announced, more than 1,200 students had balloted for seats and up to 800 people watched a live stream on Periscope.

It didn't take long for Stormzy to be asked about the #BritsSoWhite controversy.

In January, the rapper released a heated freestyle slamming the lack of diversity among this year's Brits nominees, which he called "embarrassing".

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However, Stormzy admitted his "thoughts have kind of changed since then".

The rapper explained he had recently had a "positive" and "constructive" talk with the head of the British Phonographic Industry – the body that represents the UK's recorded music industry – and commented that he was "actually a very, very nice guy".

"He showed me the figures of the voting panel for the Brits, and showed me how all the categories work and the eligibility... I gave ideas of how they could be more in touch... 'cause I think that's what it's all about," Stormzy said.

Music fans had used the #BritsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter in the run-up to last month's ceremony to vent their frustration over the exclusion of internationally acclaimed UK artists such as Stormzy, Krept and Konan, and Little Simz.

Stormzy is not the only musician to have spoken out about the lack of diversity at the Brits.

On the day of the award ceremony Marina and the Diamonds called the list of nominees "sickening". Rock band Wolf Alice said grime music "has been criminally overlooked".

And after performing with Rihanna at the Brits, Drake ditched official afterparties and made a surprise appearance at a Section Boyz gig.

Many saw his decision to support the British rap scene as a statement about the Brit Awards' lack of diversity. Later that night, the Canadian rapper also announced he had signed to British grime record label Boy Better Know, founded by brothers Skepta and Jme.

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Speaking of the disparity, Stormzy acknowledged he "knows what it looks like from the outside" but was adamant the Brits' diversity problem was less about race, and more to do with the voting panel being out of touch with modern British music.

"I think it's more a discussion about the voting panel," he said. "We came to an agreement that the majority of the voting panel were middle-aged white guys.

"If you have a load of middle-aged white guys on the panel they might not know about little Stormzy in south London."

Last week Brits chairman Ged Doherty pledged that next year's awards show will represent a more diverse range of music.

In a letter to The Guardian, Doherty promised to review the voting academy who decide the nominees, as he suspected the current members of the voting academy were "largely white and with a bias towards older men".

"This does not mean that there is an underlying prejudice at play, but the unintended consequence is that emerging genres of music may not be properly recognised," he added.

Stormzy, who won Best Male Act and Best Grime Act at the MOBO Awards, and previously won a BET Award for Best International Act, revealed he had hoped to study political science at Oxford before pursuing his career in music.

His mother, who watched the talk from the audience, had also wanted him to follow a more academic career path.

On Instagram, Stormzy said: "My mum's gonna be super proud of this one, your boy didn't get to go Oxford but it all turned out alright in the end."

At the end of the night Stomzy shared a selfie with his mum, who looked very proud.

Thank you to everyone that came, to those that streamed it & a massive thanks to @TheOxfordGuild for having me. ❤️🙏

The lack of diversity at awards ceremonies has led to heated debates on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Oscars, held in February, was boycotted by actors including Will Smith and director Spike Lee who complained about the lack of black talent being nominated.

Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Fiona Rutherford at fiona.rutherford@buzzfeed.com.

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