Stormzy, the 23-year-old whose debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ is out this week, is the most exciting MC in the country right now. Jordan Bassett traces the pivotal moments in his ascent
July 26, 1993
A smart – but naughty – kid
Stormzy was born Michael Omari in 1993 into pretty average circumstances. Brought up in Thornton Heath, south south London, by Abigail Uwuo, a single mum, he was a smart kid but often in bother at school – and was almost expelled. There’s no record of him telling a teacher to ‘Shut Up’, but we’re not quite ruling it out.
Dropping out of school to pursue music
That academic talent took him to Leamington Spa, where he began studying for an engineering apprenticeship. He was shocked at the outrageous language his fellow “lads” used when speaking to each other, but came to realise it was all fairly harmless. This perhaps contributed to his persona as the funnyman of grime, the MC-next-door. “I was two different people,” he told Pitchfork of his student days. “One good professional who did all his assignments – and then on the weekends I was back in London being Stormzy. Not even Stormzy the rapper, just Stormzy the hoodlum. But coming back just made me realise how distant I was becoming from my life [in London]. It didn’t make sense for me to be a criminal on the weekends.”
July 20, 2014
Hitting it big with his debut EP
Having put out the ‘168’ mixtape in 2013, the following year Stormzy released his debut EP ‘Dreamers Disease’, which topped the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart. In March 2015, he broke the UK Top 50 with his first official single, ‘Know Me From’, the video for which featured him and his mum strutting through Thornton Heath.
February 25, 2015
Performing with Kanye at the Brits
Kanye West is a man with his finger on the pulse of popular music. At the BRITs in 2015, he ushered 40 emerging UK grime artists onstage for a crushing rendition of his track ‘All Day’. The genre was overlooked at that year’s ceremony, so it was a symbolic moment of walls being broken down.
September 11, 2015
Busting the charts with a freestyle
It’s true that the charts are all over the place at the moment, having been wildly disrupted by streaming, but Stormzy going Top 20 with a freestyle – ‘WickedSkengMan Part 4’ – was still a bizarrely impressive feat. The lo-fi video sees Stormzy – in a park, pals calmly sipping bottled water in the background – deliver a vicious responseto his doubters. “We’ve got a grime freestyle into the UK Top 20 – history for us all,” said Stormzy afterwards.
November 4, 2015
Beating Skepta at the MOBOs
Given the supportive nature of grime, there was no bad blood from Skepta when, in 2015, Stormzy was named Best Male Act and Best Grime Act at the MOBOs. Taking to the stage, he said: “I’m gonna keep on saying this: a lot of people think these things are down to the artist, but it’s down to God.”
December 12, 2015
Rapping at the boxing
After ‘WickedSkengMan Part 4’, the B-side, ‘Shut Up’, reached Number Eight in December 2015. The reason? Stormzy performed it before British heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s boxing match against Dillian Whyte at London’s O2, and launched a campaign to have it reach Christmas Number One. While the result wasn’t quite the KO he’d hoped for, it was still a swift right hook to that year’s X Factor single, which topped out at Number Nine.
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May 21, 2016
Coming out in support of Jeremy Corbyn
The beleaguered Labour leader received a much-needed boost of credibility when Stormzy told The Guardian: “My man, Jeremy! Young Jeremy, my guy. I dig what he says… Have you seen that footage of House of Commons? They’re all neeky dons! The way they all laugh and cheer. Is this f**king Game Of Thrones?… That’s why I like Jeremy – I feel like he gets what the ethnic minorities are going through and the homeless and the working class.” Not the first nor the last time politicians will be called “neeky dons”, we hope.
July 26, 2016
Shutting down Thorpe Park for the LOLs
July 26, 2016 has gone down in history as a great moment for the relationship between theme parks and rap. Stormzy asked Thorpe Park if he and 200 “of the gang” could visit to celebrate his birthday. They said yes. On the day, Stormzy tweeted: “The ones thinking why’s he so gassed are the ones who ain’t never been Thorpe park on a bangin sunny day with the mandem and a few girls.”
March 15, 2016
Getting his own Nando’s burger
Stormzy’s bantz – like the Thorpe Park stunt – have endeared him to an audience that likes his good-time-guy persona. This audience also enjoys a cheeky Nando’s. Naturally, then, Stormzy tweeted Nando’s about the #Merky Burger, a creation from his own brilliant mind (it’s basically grilled halloumi in garlic bread with chilli) and the chain restaurant tweeted back that they’d made it reality. In the music business, they call this synergy. We call it delicious.
February 24, 2017
Unveiling his album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
Stormzy recently released the excellent track ‘Big For Your Boots’, on which he pronounces the word “boots” like he’s speaking through a Polo mint. He also sold out a UK tour and unveiled the tracklist for his debut album, which will feature – among others – Kehlani, Wretch 32 and J Hus. Wonder what his former teachers make of that?
Read More: Stormzy’s ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ reviewed