Michael Omari is primarily known as Stormzy, but he’s a man of many names: Stiff Chocolate, Big Mike, Wicked Skengman and The Problem. Those names refer to his dominating build, his dark skin and his badboi origins.
The Problem is, in some ways, most telling of Stormzy’s presence, alluding to his entrance into the grime scene and the way that he skyrocketed to national stardom – pissing off right-wing media, politicians, internet racists and non-believers of grime – while challenging the conservative whiteness of Oxbridge along the way.
He’s balanced this righteous, uncompromising attitude with his wholesome side – appearing on The X Factor, collaborating with Little Mix and visiting kids at hospitals while dressed up as Santa alongside Idris Elba, cultivating a persona that’s made him a national treasure. Below is a timeline of his meteoric rise.
21ST NOVEMBER, 2013: WICKED SKENGMAN FREESTYLES
While a lot of grime MCs generate a buzz via radio sets, Stormzy chose a different formula to garner attention with his Wicked Skengman series: four sets of freestyles uploaded via YouTube. As a New Gen grime MC he paid tribute to the genre’s roots, spitting over classic grime instrumentals – from Dot Rotten’s Rowdy Riddim and JME’s Serious, to Ruff Sqwad’s Pied Piper. The series showcased his intense passion for grime while prophesying his dominance in it.
20TH JULY, 2014: DREAMERS DISEASE
The Wicked Skengman series blew up, racking up hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions, of YouTube views. With the limelight on him, Stormzy pounced at the opportunity to drop his debut EP: Dreamers Disease. Released in July 2014, it was embryonic in his approach to crafting music : his ear for keen experimentation, his political takes and his relentless ambition.
13TH MARCH, 2015: “THE MAN IN YOUR VIDS? BACKUP DANCER!”
For Kanye West’s flame-filled BRITs performance of All Day, he brought the likes of Skepta, Novelist, Krept and Konan and of course, Stormzy on stage. Although enjoyed by many as a celebration of a scene that had been embroiled by institutional oppression via Form 696 (and before that, snubbed by the BRITs) detractors joked that Ye had used the UK scene as “back-up dancers” for his performance – a criticism Stormzy would later reference on Shut Up.
17TH MAY, 2015: SHUT UP
In 2015 Big Mike breathed new life into a South London classic, Functions On The Low – a melodic instrumental produced by Ruff Sqwad affiliate XTC – and took it to unparalleled heights; performing the viral freestyle at the Joshua vs Whyte fight and launching a campaign to make it a Christmas No.1. It peaked at No.8 in the UK Singles Charts.
JULY 2016: STORMZY’S 23RD BIRTHDAY BASH
Ever been in a group WhatsApp chat while a frustrated mutual is trying to organise a Thorpe Park trip with the mandem? One tweet perfectly sums up the long-winded logistical nightmare: “Organising a Thorpe Park motive is basically an events management degree.” In July 2016, Stormzy was probably used to achieving the impossible. His birthday bash resulted in over 55,000 people applying for a chance to enjoy unlimited rides at Thorpe Park, free Nandos and a live show. In the end, Stormzy celebrated his 23rd with a grand total of 200 fans.
29TH AUGUST 2016: BROTHERHOOD
Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood series climaxed with Brotherhood, in which Stormzy played a minor role as Yardz, a runner in a drug dealer’s crew. Stormzy let his natural humour and charisma seep through Yardz, and the same year he made a small appearance as himself in Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum series. Noel Clarke himself announced that Stormzy has a bright future in acting. Now, three years later, Stormzy has landed himself a role in the upcoming Noughts and Crosses series, which is based on a novella series by English author Majorie Blackman.
24TH FEBRUARY 2017: GANG SIGNS AND PRAYER
Serving us a melting pot of gospel, R&B, and grime on his debut album (there’s even an interlude from incarcerated legend Crazy Titch), Stormzy held his own against the likes of sharp lyricists like Ghetts and Wretch 32 and in the same breath, crooned side to side with Kehlani and Lily Allen. GSAP was awarded 2018’s Album of the Year at the BRIT Awards and went platinum. On Mr Skeng, Stormzy smirks back at the haters: “I do rap, then I do grime, then I do rap /Then I sing, then I roll right back.”
30TH SEPTEMBER 2017: RELATIONSHIP GOALS
The term “goals” is thrown around loosely nowadays but Stormzy and Maya Jama’s relationship grappled the heartstrings of the public through their series of drunken tweets. That’s not forgetting Birthday Girl, a tender track dropped by Stormzy as a present to Jama. Despite their mutual split earlier this year, one viral moment officially cemented their relationship as “relationship goals” as Jama gave Stormzy an order consisting of two cheeseburgers and nine(?) Chicken McNuggets (with dips) to which Stormzy responded swiftly, “Drink?” Afterwards, Jama’s SnapChat revealed Stormzy graciously holding the order in his hands.
22ND FEBRUARY 2018: BRIT AWARDS PERFORMANCE
After winning Album of the Year with his ambitious debut, Stormzy delivered a standout performance that doubled as a pressing political commentary, aired nationwide. As Stormzy took centre stage, the choir – dressed in all-black attire – sang the Gospel-infused Blinded By Your Grace. Before transitioning into Big For Your Boots, he dropped a freestyle targeting Teresa May and demanding answers for those affected by Grenfell. Stormzy used one of his biggest moments in the spotlight to date to stand up for the victims of austerity without playing into respectability politics.
JULY 15TH 2018: #MERKY BOOKS
After signing a contract with Penguin Books, Stormzy launched his #MERKY Books imprint to chronicle the voices of the young black British community. The first release was Stormzy’s biography Rise Up, followed by novels by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi. There’s also talk of plans to publish Malorie Blackman’s autobiography and the imprint has also launched the #MERKY Books New Writers’ Prize, a competition to find new young voices in the world of literature.
AUGUST 16TH 2018: THE STORMZY EFFECT
In a lecture at Oxford University, Stormzy revealed that he got 6 A*s at GCSE. Stormzy acknowledges that education is a necessity for escaping poverty-ridden environments but also takes action against the institutional oppression that prevents (mostly) black British children from reaching their potential. His #MERKY scholarship is essential in fighting against those harsh realities – it gives two non-repayable scholarships to the University of Cambridge for two black British students each year. Beforehand, the Stormzy Effect saw white teenagers rinse Shut Up as they threw out their The Stone Roses poster (you know which one I’m talking about) and zipped on a two-piece adidas tracksuit. Nowadays it has new found significance – The Guardian reported that there are currently record numbers of black students at Cambridge.
3RD MAY 2019: VOSSI BOP TOPS THE CHARTS
Stormzy scored his first No.1 with comeback single Vossi Bop, led by a catchy chorus about linking your girl. It’s hardly his most serious material, but the line “Fuck the government and fuck Boris” hit the spot while the smirking blonde toff was headed towards number 10 Downing Street.
29TH JUNE 2019: GLASTO
Stormzy made history as he became the first grime artist to headline Glastonbury 2019. (Initially, he claimed he was the first black British headliner, but then apologised to Skunk Anansie frontwoman Skin when she pointed out that her band headlined in 1999.) Donning a Banksy-made stab-proof vest with the Union Jack painted on it, the show included ballet dancers, a gospel choir, a kids’ dance crew dressed in adidas tracksuits, a voiceover from David Lammy, a duet with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, footage of the infamous Ghetts v Bashy clash and a clip of Stormzy getting advice from Jay Z (who relished the challenge back in 2008 when detractors like Noel Gallagher said hip-hop shouldn’t be at Glastonbury). Off the top of his head, Stormzy shouted out 52 UK rap acts on stage, cementing this as a historical event, not just for Stormzy, but for grime and black British culture.
9TH NOVEMBER 2019: GRIME ARTISTS ARE THE REAL PRIME MINISTERS
Lethal Bizzle once said: “Grime artists are the real Prime Ministers of this country” and while we don’t expect Stormzy to move into number 10 Downing Street anytime soon, he’s already become the bonafide Prime Minister in most of our hearts. After Jacob Rees-Mogg’s controversial comments on Grenfell during his interview on LBC, Stormzy put the Conservative MP on blast through Twitter, demanding him to resign and calling him “an actual piece of shit”. As grime has been the victim of numerous cases of institutional suppression, artists have every right to be weary of politicians but Stormzy utilises his platform to speak out on pressing issues; whether it’s advocating for Corbyn back in 2016, or begging us not to vote for Zac Goldsmith during the 2017 Mayoral elections.
[Update: on 24th November 2019, Stormzy backed Labour for the General Election]
19TH NOVEMBER 2019: HEAVY IS THE HEAD
After the rollouts of singles Wiley Flow, Vossi Bop and the introspective Crown, Stormzy announced his sophomore album (set to be released 13th December). The artwork featuring Stormzy looking at the Banksy-made vest from Glastonbury features the likes of Headie One, Aitch and H.E.R. On the just released track Own It, Ed Sheeran sings alongside the self-proclaimed “African Giant” Burna Boy. The album’s title, a phrase which refers to to the great responsibilities of a leader or a king, couldn’t be more fitting.