Enter the eye of the Storm

There seems to be a problem brewing and it’s picking up pace that no amount of avoiding hiding or running for cover can offer an escape from it. The problem goes by the name of Michael Omari otherwise known as Stormzy and this storm shows no signs of slowing down so we may as well embrace it and get swept away by the tail of this tornado tearing up the scene because it’s going nowhere fast.

The ‘Big man with a beard’ has achieved so much this year that it became impossible to swerve the debris from every set he smashed, every freestyle he set ablaze and the opportunities flying his way like a rocket making it’s ascent into the outer reaches of the universe which is quite fitting seeing as Stormzy has achieved feats that are usually out of reach so early in an artist’s career and are reserved for the greats who have been in the game long-term. How has he done this? Why is it that Stormzy has been chosen to give Grime the lime of light? A beacon he has carried proudly over the last few years lighting the way for others.

Whilst one of Stormzy’s heroes, Skepta has been touring the U.S and Canada making nuff noise for Grime internationally; Stormzy has stayed at home and kept it lit with all the other main players of Grime on a national level. For a relatively new kid on the block it speaks volumes that old skoolers such as Boy Better Know, Wiley, Skeppy, Krept and Konan and Lethal Bizzle (who he supported on tour in 2014) have given Stormzy their blessings to run wild with a scene they helped to steer to the summit. Raised in South London (One of my regular stomping grounds on the come up) Stormzy stretched his ear to the beasts from the East making noise and admired the bombastic bass coming from their speakers, it was listening to the grassroots of Grime that Stormzy decided to start clashing at his local youth club and hoped that one day South London would to have a place on the scene to rival East London crews and artists. Determined to use his good grades to establish a secure career a young Michael Omari decided to take an engineering apprenticeship but his heart remained beating at 140 bpm while he was studying and he decided to leave his studies and grab on to the hand of grime which always had a firm grip and never let go.

The Wicked Skengman started to make rumbles and stir up the scene with his Behind Barz take 1 freestyle for Link up TV in 2010 where he stepped up to the Mic “Lookin like an Xman shadow ting” and delivered with a bravado that defied his young years and a voice which had barely broken which reminds you that – this yout is headed towards big man tingz. He followed that up with his Behind Barz sesh take 2 in 2014 this time towering over the mic after an apparent growth spurt to deliver a blistering freestyle fully loaded with ammo for his detractors intent on dragging him down; Big Mike was angry and with the maturity and experience he’d garnered over the years since his first freestyle, he now had the power to reinforce his status to the haters with self-assuredness and conviction.

Next up came the much-loved Wicked Skengman series which had Stromzy emceeing over classic Grime instrumentals including Dot Rotten’s “Rowdy Riddim”, S-X’s “Woooo Riddim”, Ruff Sqwad’s “Pied Piper” and finally JME’s “Serious.” Accompanying the releases were the raw ‘man on the road’ feel visuals filmed by Stormzy’s long-time friend and collaborator Jaiden Ramgeet. The evolution of all the Skengmen is apparent when watched back to back -in the first Stormzy is in what looks like an alley way with two of his boys where he states he’s more than a You tube ni*ga and we get an introduction to his many aliases. In W.S Part 2 Stormzy is on a street corner flexin his peng ting WhatsApp hoodie and states that he is the black Gary Barlow “Because he’ll tell your girl to take that.” W.S 3 introduces us to the infamous Goggle hat (Which he says a friend left behind in a car so he decided to ‘borrow’ it) Also notable in this instalment is that one of the mandem bursts through the crowd to the front of the assembled crew to showcase his impressive shoulder bounce to the beat, every time Big Stormz delivers a lightning line his boys holler and shout their approval but rather than edit out the hype Stormzy’s bars cause it’s left in unedited so that we the viewer can see and feel the reaction his lyrics have on his crew which only adds to organic and gritty feel of each episode. W.S 4 is a full on madness and even Stormzy himself is surprised at how many people turned up for the shoot; he chats to his fans some of whom have travelled from Birmingham to meet him, he clashes with a little kid and you can see he is genuinely grateful to the locals and fans who came out to support him and celebrate his growing success. Krept minus Konan creeps into frame to offer his support and roar his approval at the lyrics “That’s my people, that’s my crowd, that’s my kingdom, that’s my crown” and the often quoted “Punch a Grime MC off his Segway.”

By now the quiet storm brewing around Stormzy had become a succession of eardrum shattering thunder claps as Wicked Skengman 4 made history by becoming the highest charting freestyle to enter the UK charts (No.18) without radio airplay, marketing or label backing which is a triumph unheard of for an unsigned Grime artist; Stormzy himself acknowledges the power of the people and the impact that word of mouth marketing can have for an artist who has chosen to bypass the formulaic route often used by pop and rap artists in order to keep his sound authentic and produce material in the way he envisions it.

Stormzy - IMAGE 2
Stormzy performing in his trademark Adidas garms

In between the Skengman releases Stormzy worked on multiple projects simultaneously (including collabos with his unofficial crew Section Boyz) which saw him showered with hailstones of victory – He released his debut EP Dreamers Disease in July 2014 which is filled with surprises, it opens with an exquisite instrumental and sees Stormzy in autobiographical mode contemplating his rapid rise to the top; he raps honestly about his struggles in a heart on your sleeve manner. The street anthem “Not that Deep” which preceded the album release is there and displays a version of Stormzy we are all familiar with. Standout track and my personal favourite “Storm trooper” is a heartfelt tale of a woman suffering domestic abuse and has Stormzy stepping up as the guy who will defend her and save her from the violence she has endured, if you haven’t seen the video to this it’s a must see and tackles a sensitive issue with care and shows Stormzy’s awareness of an issue which countless women suffer from in silence. Stormzy flips it yet again and closes the EP rapping over an afro beat in a nod to his Ghanaian roots. In the same year Stormzy got out the goggle hat once more and donned a track suit and made history (I’m losing count of how many times he has done this! The history making thing!) to become the first unsigned Grime artist to appear on “Later with Jools Holland.”

On Bonfire night Stormzy was the guy who made a big bang at the MOBO’s 2014 by winning the award for best Grime act which left our Skengman literally speechless which is understandable as he won against the heavy weights he looked up to such as Wiley, Skepta and JME. If all of Stormzy’s aforementioned achievements hinted that we had a freshman peering through the gates of Grime at the old skoolers in the playground, then this night cemented Stormzy’s solidity amongst his contemporaries and saw him bust through the gate to stand next to the old skoolers on an equal footing; his place rightfully earned through skill, determination and unfathomable belief in his craft. 2014 saw a series of perfectly timed lightning strikes which proved fruitful for Stormzy and had us all lit in awe of his star power.

Now here we are in 2015 and the storm is showing no signs of subsiding, if anything its gathering speed and power, destroying everything in its path. The one man cyclone picked up another accolade this one from the BBC who placed him at no.3 on their “Introducing, Top 5” list which is like a blessing from the biggest commercial boss on UK shores and would have exposed him to a wider audience who hang on every word and recommendation that the BBC utters. March saw the release of the phenomenal “Know me from” which utilises printed props such as the iPhone interface and the WhatsApp logo to the fullest (I still check my WhatsApp every time I hear the sound effect on the track) The video also features a legendary cameo from Stormzy’s proud mum who now has a following of her own and the phrase “Stormzy’s mum is more road than you” has been coined in her honour. The most hilarious moment to come from the release was the confusion the lyric “Peng tings on my WhatsApp and my iPhone too” caused amongst his fans who wondered why Stormz wasn’t making enough money to be able to afford a better upgrade than an iPhone 2.

Next to emerge from the storm like a rouge piece of shrapnel hurtling towards us at turbo speed giving us no time to breathe let alone run for safety was the freestyle “Shut up” released in May. Here Stormzy addresses the people who called him a “Back up dancer” when he was invited on stage by Kanye West during his “All Day” performance at the Brits back in March, alongside Grime luminaries – Skepta, Fekky, Krept and Konan, Novelist, Jammer and many more. Stormzy drops gems for us all to grab – “Yeah I’m the best, I’m so cocky, I’ve got a mob like A$AP Rocky” and “Dare one of you man try get loud, all of my man they move so foul” Stormz unleashes an unapologetic torrent of punch lines and put downs to the mans he thinks “Tark too much” it’s a stark reminder not to make the mistake of underestimating Stormzy and it’s all delivered over Dj XTC’s beautifully classic instrumental “Functions on the low” which is the perfect contrast for Stormzy’s stinging bars.

The self-proclaimed ‘Child of Grime’ is a formidable figure both in stature and persona; you listen to him speak in his interviews and he commands your attention in a subtle yet assertive way and you know that he’s not playing when it’s obvious that the passion for his music oozes from every pore, he also has the knack of carrying a mighty presence and infectious energy and all the while he somehow manages to retain a down to earth attitude, he’s always cracking jokes in a silly and childlike manner which is part of his charm and it wouldn’t be unusual to see Big Mike striding to Morley’s with his endless legs (If Victoria Secret decide to release a male range he’d be first pick to model them with his 6ft 5 frame) to get some chicken and chips! This is what makes Stormzy loved by the industry and fans alike – his effortless ability to balance his humility with his hunger which ensures he pushes himself to the next level of his dizzying journey. Stormzy’s strengths lie in his realisation that the Grime scene needs unity which has enabled it to find its way back to prominence in recent years; he relentlessly champions the underdog and makes it clear to the youts who look up to him that if he as an unsigned artist can achieve so much so soon they too can do the same. It’s this ‘share the success’ attitude which Stormzy vocalises frequently which makes him accessible and respected to the old and new skool.

What is startling for such a new artist is the definition, clarity and structure Big Mike has over his music, he’s experimental and hops between rapping, emceeing, singing and making wifey riddims such as the “All that matters” cover and “Flawless” remix in his Stiff Chocolate guise. Stormzy’s Coup de Force is his ability to glide between fierce and funny like a silent assassin in the night who then moves on to his next conquest before we even realise a switch up has occurred because we’re too busy enjoying the flow or bouncing to the beat or as is often the case with Stormzy – both! So what could possibly be next? Well Stormzy has now been given his own radio show on Beats 1 radio titled #Merky of course which you can hear every Friday at 8pm, it was announced at the end of November that Stormzy is to make his acting debut in the final instalment of the Kidulthood trilogy “Brotherhood” and sees Stormzy become a multi task master conquering rap, grime, presenting and now acting.

He calls himself Stiff chocolate but the way he’s effortlessly slip sliding between differing musical genres and creative mediums he may have to change his name to melted chocolate. So go ahead stare into the eye of the storm but be warned – if you blink you’ll be sure to miss something.

Cammy Thomas

 

 

1 thought on “Enter the eye of the Storm”

Comments are closed.