Stormzy: Celebrating Black Excellence In Music And Activism

by Duke Magazine

The young and bold London-based grime MC of Ghanaian heritage, Stormzy made a swift rise in the early 2010s to become one of the U.K.’s most critically acclaimed artists. Climbing out of the underground grime scene with a series of triumphant mixtapes, singles, and freestyles, he made his breakthrough in 2017 with his platinum-certified, chart-topping debut Gang Signs & Prayer, which was an ensemble of gospel and R&B tune. Within five years of the release of his debut EP, he was a Glastonbury festival headliner. His first number one hit single, “Vossi Bop,” preceded his sophomore album, 2019’s Heavy Is The Head.

Stormzy, born Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. in the south London town of Croydon launched his musical career clashing at youth clubs around his hometown. His performances evolved from grime-only music that showcase the love of artists towards more rap-oriented material that made a way for the reflection of Stormzy’s adulation for big artists like Drake. In 2013, he began uploading his “Wicked Skengman” series of freestyles over classic grime beats and in 2014, he made his official debut with the EP Dreamers Disease. A year later he released the single “Know Me From” along with “WickedSkengMan 4,” the first track in his “WickedSkengMan” freestyle series and a Top 20 hit in the U.K. Accruing huge credits, Stormzy later in the year performed the single’s B-side, “Shut Up,” at a match between heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte. The song jumped into the Top 40 following the broadcast, and the rapper launched a campaign to have the song top the charts during Christmas. This boosted the track to the number eight position, and the number one position on the R&B singles chart. 

In 2017, Stormzy returned with a Big Bang with his official full-length debut Gang Signs & Prayer under Merky Records, which featured the platinum single “Big for Your Boots,” “Cigarettes & Cush” with Kehlani and “Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 2” with MNEK. The critically lauded set debuted atop the U.K. albums chart and was soon certified platinum. In 2018, the album took home the prize for British Album of the Year and Stormzy being crowned British Male Solo Artist of the Year at the annual Brit Awards. 

Cruising via the wave of acclaim, he was announced as one of the headliners at 2019’s Glastonbury Festival. The same year, he also scored his first number one single in the U.K. with “Vossi Bop.” Garnering reverence for his great musical disposition, Stormzy appeared on the cover of Time, topping the U.S. magazine’s list of “next generation leaders.” Single “Own It,” featuring Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy, reached number two in the U.K. pop singles chart, and even preceded Stormzy’s second album, Heavy Is The Head. 

However, 2020 saw the release of the mixtape Game Over, as well as the standalone single “Still Disappointed.”

As a political activist, the 27-year-old rapper has always been at the fore of chanting for correction of bad governance, chiefly focused on the UK government. Also, Stormzy committed a whooping amount of £1 million a year for ten years to charities, organizations and movements charged with fighting racial inequality, justice reform, and Black empowerment in the United Kingdom. 

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