Stormzy has come a long way from his humble beginnings. Hailing from the streets of south London, the 29-year-old is now a multi-platinum international sensation operating at the very top of the UK rap scene. He’s also a trailblazing beacon of hope for the recognition and progression of the scene, not only in the UK but across the world.
With the arrival of his third studio album ‘This Is What I Mean’, a suave and increasingly articulate Stormzy has emerged from the brazen grime star we were first introduced to back in 2014. This seems like a good time, then, to take a look back at Stormzy’s journey to becoming the sophisticated role model he is today.
1Best Grime Act goes to…
The first big accolade Stormzy ever received was a MOBO award for Best Grime Act in 2014 – but that wasn’t the only major ‘first’ he celebrated that year. The MC dropped his debut EP ‘Dreamers Disease’ in the summer, which featured ‘Not That Deep’ – a song that gained colossal support from grime giants Skepta, Ghetts and Jme (the latter later featured on the track’s official remix). Stormzy went on to perform the song live on Later… with Jools Holland, a booking that made him the prestigious music show’s first-ever unsigned rapper performer. Ever since his entry into the mainstream, Stormzy has been breaking records.
This will have been many people’s entrypoint to Stormzy. Rapping over XTC’s grime beat ‘Functions On The Low’, Stormzy’s now-iconic “fire in the park” freestyle video, released in May 2015, has racked up over 127 million views at the time of writing. Later re-recorded in the studio, ‘Shut Up’ earned Stormzy his first Top 40 hit, peaking at number eight in the UK charts after he tried to get it to Christmas Number One in December 2015.
3‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
At the start of 2017, Stormzy was best known for his punchy grime singles. But on his debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, he showed off his softer side by diversifying his sound. One of the biggest (and most successful) demonstrations of this came with his gospel track ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt.2’, which landed at number seven in the UK charts. ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, meanwhile, went straight in at Number One: selling over 68,000 copies in its first week, it became the first grime album in history to reach the top spot.
Being a wordsmith himself, Stormzy decided to branch out into literature in 2018 by starting his own publishing imprint under the same name as his record label, #Merky Records. A partnership with Penguin Random House UK, the move also came ahead of him putting out his highly anticipated autobiography, Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far. Championing Black voices “from untraditional spaces that are inclusive and intersectional”, #Merky Books is now the home of seminal Black writers like Malorie Blackman (known for the critically acclaimed Noughts And Crosses) and Keisha The Sket author Jade LB. Even when he’s not on the mic, Stormzy is still bringing Black British excellence to the foreground.
5The Stormzy Scholarship
This mission continued with the launch of the Stormzy Scholarship in 2018, a partnership with the University of Cambridge that has so far provided financial support to 19 UK Black students. Stormzy, who has 14 GCSEs and five A-Levels under his belt, wants to use his lofty position in the music world to provide support for those who are in the same socioeconomic situation as the one he grew up in.
6“Where’s the money for Grenfell?”
After picking up two BRITs (British Male Solo Artist and British Album of the Year) in February 2018, Stormzy closed that year’s awards show with a powerful performance in which he called out then-Prime Minister Theresa May for her response to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire. “Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?” he asked in a freestyle, adding that the government “just forgot about Grenfell, you criminals / And you got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages / We should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.” A hugely poignant moment that further demonstrated that, on the biggest platforms, Stormzy really is a force to be reckoned with.
Stormzy kicked off what turned out to be a stonker of a year for him in 2019 with ‘Vossi Bop’, which earned the rapper his first-ever Number One single after he displaced the biggest country song of the decade, ‘Old Town Road’, from the top spot. Now certified platinum in four countries around the world, the bouncy single’s huge success – and its accompanying album, ‘Heavy Is The Head’ – was proof that Stormzy had ascended to superstar status.
The biggest moment of Stormzy’s career to date? It has to be headlining the Pyramid Stage on the opening night of Glastonbury 2019. Becoming the legendary festival’s first-ever Black British solo headliner, Stormzy took to the stage in a custom Union Jack stab vest designed by Banksy and proceeded to deliver a hit-packed set that also featured powerful comments on British society and a stirring tribute to the past, present and future greats of UK rap. A performance for the ages.
9Stormzy: king of the diss tracks
Stormzy may now be one of the UK’s biggest musicians, but he’s still very willing to go back to his roots. This much was proven in his January 2020 exchange of diss tracks with Wiley, after the latter ignited a beef by claiming Stormzy “never cared about grime, you just used it / Worse than Ed [Sheeran] with your watered-down music”. Stormzy responded with two diss tracks, ‘Disappointed’ and ‘Still Disappointed’, with the latter even charting at number 21 in the UK singles chart. This back-and-forth battle marked a huge moment for grime, and was a clear indication of Stormzy’s status as a grime mastermind.
10‘Mel Made Me Do It’
Marking his first new solo material since 2020, ‘Mel Made Me Do It’’s surprise arrival in September really made up for lost time. The seven-minute-long track made even bigger headlines thanks to its cameo-filled video, which featured the likes of Usain Bolt, José Mourinho and Michaela Coel. Most importantly, the track heralded the next era of Stormzy’s career: bring on ‘This Is What I Mean’.