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The aptly-named rapper/MC/hip hop artist STORMZY kicked up a hell of a proverbial one when bursting on to the music scene a la `Big For Your Boots’. A Top 10 smash in February/March 2017 and a preview from the prompt chart-topping set, `Gang Signs & Prayer’, Britain’s No.1 grime act and regular Glastonbury headliner was mysteriously given the cold shoulder across the big pond, despite his MOBO Award in October 2014 (as Best Grime Act) and millions of subsequent streams on Spotify and the like.
Born Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., 26 July 1993, Croydon, London (from Ghanaian stock), STORMZY grew up in the nearby district of South Norwood, and began his road to rap royalty at the age of 11. Although “a very naughty child, on the verge of getting expelled”, Michael still managed to glean As and Bs from his GCSEs. An apprenticeship led to a job at an oil refinery, though music, and grime in particular, grabbed his attention; his influences ranged from “Godfathers of Grime” WILEY and SKEPTA, to R&B acts The FUGEES and FRANK OCEAN.
2015 saw ethnic activist STORMZY break into the mainstream, having already made his mark on the previous year’s 7-track download-EP, `Dreamers Disease’, and as a collaborator with Chip and Shalo on the single/video, `I’m Fine’. Bolstered by earlier plugs from the BBC’s Radio 1, and Later… With Jools Holland (as the show’s first unsigned rapper), the man’s Top 50 debut, `Know Me From’, was superseded by the double-headed Top 20 hit(s): `Wickedskengman 4’ and `Shut Up’. A subsequent period of relative seclusion, in which only a Top 50 Lethal Bizzle & Stormzy single (`Dude’), a non-hit `Scary’ single, and his outspoken allegiance to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, emerged.
STORMZY’s silence was broken, however, when the self-financed #Merky Records (championed and distributed by ADA/Warner Music Group) dropped the aforesaid GANG SIGNS & PRAYER (2017) {*8}. Featuring fellow MCs WRETCH 32, GHETTS & J HUS, plus cosmopolitan singers MNEK, KEHLANI (& LILY ALLEN), Yasmin Green and Raleigh Ritchie, there was a definitive buzz surrounding the man’s chiselled grime and grooves. In similar respect to polar opposite ED SHEERAN (though not a complete chart takeover), every track peaked from Nos. 7 to 100: top showings derived from the gospel-ish `Blinded By Your Grace, Pt.2’, the tongue-twisting `Cold’, the wanton `Bad Boys’, the WU-TANG CLAN-esque `First Things First’, the blunder-busting `Mr. Skeng’, the LAURYN HILL-ish `Cigarettes & Cush’ and the quiet storm of `Velvet – Jenny Francis (interlude)’.
Outsider collaborations followed in quick succession as STORMZY’s street-cred expanded to an nth degree: LITTLE MIX were first to utilize his celebrity status on the Top 10, `Power’, whilst close to the man’s heart came in his contribution to the Artists For Grenfell chart-topping cover of SIMON & GARFUNKEL’s `Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Further to this worthy cause for the 72 poor people killed in the horrific and controversial tower-block fire in London on 14th June 2017, the grime artist – who’d called PM Theresa May a “paigon” (meaning trustless) – kept up the momentum by featuring on Krept & Konan’s Top 30 hit, `Ask Flipz’, plus Jorja Smith’s Top 40 hit, `Let Me Down’.
Expectations of a forthcoming sophomore set were more than rife when fresh single, `Vossi Bop’ (with ED SHEERAN and BURNA BOY), gate-crashed the No.1 spot in spring 2019. On the back of a cameo on MoStack’s Top 20 hit, `Shine Girl’, soulful solo follow-up `Crown’ cracked the Top 5. Although featuring on the cover shot of Time magazine (and a cameo on SHEERAN’s chart-topper `Take Me Back To London’), it seemed grime giant STORMZY was finding it tough to break into the music biz elite on US shores. Whilst maybe early 2020 might furnish his heartfelt soul-rap songs with airplay et al, the man seemed to be suffering from a certain Xmas alienation when his expletive-friendly, mid-December-released sophomore set, HEAVY IS THE HEAD (2019) {*8}, fell short of the No.1 spot; held off by a regurgitated ROD STEWART album. Labour supporter Michael Owuo was well aware of the growing racism in Boris’s Brexit Britain (he stated as much in a post-Conservative-winning election social media spat), but putting that to one side, his cool and calculated album was certainly miles better than recent material by Trump-loving Kanye. Top 10 download singles, `Audacity’ (featuring Headie One) and `Lessons’, showed a softer side to the hard, outer shell of the STORMZY one (as was `One Second’ with H.E.R.), whilst recent head-on chart acquisition, `Wiley Flow’, and `Pop Boy’ (feat. Aitch) – although very 50 CENT – tongue-twisted and ear-wormed their way into minds of all and any persuasions. Justice was done when, in the first week of 2020, both the album and `Own It’ secured the “double-whammy” No.1 slots.
© MC Strong/MCS Jul2019-Jan2020

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