Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. (born 26 July 1993), known professionally as Stormzy, is a British rapper, singer and songwriter. In 2014, he garnered attention on the UK underground music scene through his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats.
Stormzy’s “Shut Up”, which was initially released as a freestyle on YouTube, became popular and peaked number eight on the UK Singles Chart after Stormzy launched a campaign to reach Christmas number one. Stormzy won Best Grime Act at the 2014 and 2015 MOBO Awards and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC’s Sound of 2015 list. His debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer (2017), was the first grime album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart and won British Album of the Year at the 2018 Brit Awards. In 2019, Stormzy achieved his first UK number-one single with “Vossi Bop” and his headline appearance at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival was widely praised; he wore a Union Jack stab vest designed by Banksy, in light of the rise in knife crime in London. His second album, Heavy Is the Head, was released on 13 December 2019.
Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. was born on 26 July 1993 in Croydon, London. His mother is Ghanaian, and he is a cousin of rapper Nadia Rose. He grew up in South Norwood, London, with his mother, brother, and two sisters. Stormzy did not come from a particularly musical household, though he liked music. He attended Harris Academy South Norwood. He began rapping at the age of 11 and would clash with older rappers at his local youth club.
Stormzy has said about his school years: “I was a very naughty child, on the verge of getting expelled, but I wasn’t a bad child; everything I did was for my own entertainment. But when I went into an exam I did really well.” He said he got six A*s, three As, and five Bs on his GCSEs, but then only achieved a “humbling” ABCDE on his A Levels: “For someone who would cuss in class and was on the verge of being expelled, it was A Levels that showed me that in life you need work ethic.” He studied for an apprenticeship in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and worked in quality assurance for two years at an oil refinery in Southampton, Hampshire.
2014–2015: Dreamers Disease and “Shut Up”
After garnering attention on the UK underground music scene via his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats, Stormzy released his debut EP Dreamers Disease independently in July 2014. On 22 October 2014, Stormzy won Best Grime Act at the MOBO Awards. Later that month he became the first unsigned rapper to appear on Later… with Jools Holland performing the song “Not That Deep” from Dreamers Disease.
In November 2014, Stormzy collaborated with rapper Chip and Shalo on the track “I’m Fine”, also appearing in a video for the song.
On 7 January 2015, Stormzy came number 3 in the “BBC Introducing top 5” on Radio 1. In March 2015 he released the single “Know Me From”, which entered the UK Singles Chart at number 49. In September 2015, he released a final instalment to his “WickedSkengMan” freestyle series, “WickedSkengMan 4”, onto iTunes, along with a studio version of his “Shut Up” freestyle over XTC’s Functions on the Low instrumental. The track debuted at number 18 on the UK chart dated 24 September, becoming Stormzy’s first top 40 hit and the first ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom.
On 12 December 2015, Stormzy performed “Shut Up” during British heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua’s ring-walk for his fight versus Dillian Whyte. Originally, “Shut Up”, released as part of the “WickedSkengMan 4” single EP in September 2015, charted at number 59. Since the performance, it began climbing up the iTunes chart and into the top 40. As a result, Stormzy launched a Christmas number 1 campaign to get the song to number 1. It generated a large amount of support which made it enter the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart on 18 December 2015 at number 8, a week prior to the Christmas number-1 week, succeeding the chart position of “WickedSkengMan 4”.
After a year’s hiatus from social media, Stormzy returned in early February 2017 via a series of billboard campaigns across London displaying the hashtag #GSAP 24.02. The album title was announced to be Gang Signs & Prayer. The album was released on 24 February 2017 and debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart on 3 March 2017.
Stormzy’s headline appearance on the Pyramid Stage at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival was widely praised. The performance featured a speech by the politician David Lammy that discussed the proportion of black and minority ethnic people in the British criminal justice system and, during “Vossi Bop”, Stormzy encouraged the audience to join him in chanting “F**k the Government and f**k Boris” – the latter a reference to former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign. The show included guest appearances by dance group Black Ballet and pop singer Chris Martin. Stormzy wore a Union Jack stab vest designed by the artist Banksy, which was widely perceived as a comment on the rise in knife crime in London.
He has reached number one on the UK Singles Chart twice; firstly as part of “Artists for Grenfell” on 23 June 2017 with “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and secondly with his own solo single “Vossi Bop”, which debuted at number one upon its entry, ahead of “Me!” by Taylor Swift featuring Brendon Urie by some 500 combined sales. Stormzy later released the singles “Crown”, “Sounds of the Skeng” and “Wiley Flow”, before announcing his second album, Heavy Is the Head, for release on 13 December 2019. Stormzy was recognised for both his contributions to music and his activism, landing him at number 5 in the Top 10 of the annual Powerlist in 2020, with an estimated net worth of £20 million in 2020.
Stormzy describes himself as “a child of grime” influenced by the likes of Lethal Bizzle, Bruza, D Double E and Flirta D, but also cites R&B singers such as Frank Ocean and Lauryn Hill as influences on his sound.
In May 2016, Stormzy endorsed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. In an interview with the newspaper The Guardian, he spoke of his admiration for Corbyn’s activism.
In September 2017 after being presented with the Solo Artist of the Year award by Corbyn at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, Stormzy called Theresa May a “paigon”, a word used to describe an untrustworthy person. Later the same month, the conservative commentator Iain Dale placed Stormzy at Number 100 on his list of “The 100 most influential people on the Left”, describing him as “Corbs’ favourite Grime artist”.
On 21 February 2018, Stormzy performed a freestyle at the Brit Awards, calling out May for her perceived inaction in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire the previous year. The following day, 10 Downing Street issued a statement defending the Prime Minister.
In November 2019, along with other musicians, Stormzy endorsed Corbyn in the 2019 UK general election with a call to end austerity. He also said “people led change can be possible under a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government”. He described the Labour leader as “the first man in a position of power who is committed to giving the power back to the people” and branded Boris Johnson “a sinister man”.
In November 2017, it was revealed that Stormzy had posted a series of messages on Twitter in 2011 that were deemed to be homophobic. These included a tweet where he referred to a gay character on the soap opera EastEnders as a “fucking fag”. He also asked another user who was discussing using hair straighteners if they were a “fag” and urged his followers to “put on BBC1 this little black boy is a f***g fag”. He later posted a series of tweets, stating:
I said some foul and offensive things whilst tweeting years ago at a time when I was young and proudly ignorant. Very hurtful and discriminating views that I’ve unlearned as I’ve grown up and become a man. The comments I made were unacceptable and disgusting, full stop. Comments that I regret and to everyone I’ve offended, I am sorry, these are attitudes I’ve left in the past… I take responsibility for my mistakes and hope you can understand that my younger self doesn’t reflect who I am today. Again, I’m sorry to everyone I’ve offended. To the LGBQT community and my supporters and friends, my deepest apologies.
In July 2018 it was announced that Penguin Random House division William Heinemann was to launch a new imprint in partnership with Stormzy, called #Merky Books. The imprint launched with Stormzy’s first book, Rise Up, in autumn 2018, followed by Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi in summer 2019. That Reminds Me, a novel in verse by Derek Owusu, is the most recent, released in November 20