“I have no idea how I got here.”
That’s the generally grounded answer Stormzy, real name Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, gave Hypebeast when asked how he reached his stratospheric level of success.
The rapper – who is currently settling down after the release of his third studio album, That’s what I mean – has become a mainstay of British music, using his grime roots and passion for songwriting to articulate the environment he grew up in, his relationship with God and his delicate (and sometimes public) experiences with love.
When Stormzy entered the rap game, he came up with something new. 2013 was a year full of competitiveness in the grime scene after its new revival and Big Mike’s Wicked Skengman The series made the rapper the new kid on the block.
He used his robust rhymes to set the bar with a fresh approach to the genre, while paying homage to those who came before him, spitting on classic grime instrumentals, from JME’s “Serious” to Dot’s “Rowdy Riddim.” Rotten.
Stormzy’s clear and immediate flow, coupled with nostalgic visuals reminiscent of 2000s shock culture, was what the scene needed at the time of its inception, with debates arguing that the genre might be “dead” after the pirate radio crash in 2005. However, Stormzy’s 2015 hit single, “Shut Up”, was proof that the genre was alive and well, and in more than capable hands to bring it to a new level of popularity.
The single was originally filmed freestyle; one that intended to retaliate against the online hatred of “bitter” animators who wanted to deflect light from Stormzy’s success. It revitalized the classic instrumental “Functions On The Low” from legendary UK producers Ruff Sqwad and quickly turned into a viral music video that battled for the No.1 Christmas spot on the UK Christmas charts.
Paying homage to those who came before him is why Stormzy is now held in such high regard – and knows it. “When I first entered the game in 2013, I feel like every point, every interview I’ve had the opportunity to pay tribute, show my respect and give them their flowers, I’ve always done it because I’m very well aware that no matter how far I’ve come, no matter what I’ve accomplished, I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders,” Stormzy told Hypebeast.
However, alongside the mountain of musical accolades he has racked up in his career so far, Stormzy is also passionate about his community, as well as a commitment to helping those around him achieve greatness. From his widely respected initiatives with black students at the University of Cambridge to the #Merky Foundation, Big Mike has also thrown parties in his hometown of south London to give back to the place that made him what he was. it is today.
Now three studio albums deep – all of which landed consecutively at number one on the UK charts – Big Mike is in good stead. He often reflects on his headlining performance at Glastonbury and admits he only makes music for himself now. He’s earned his selfishness, and now he’s working on his latest project: a new partnership with Rockstar Energy that will host a virtual performance, which Stormzy is excited about as he attempts to transition from “work to play.”
With that in mind, Hypebeast sat down with national treasure Grime to talk about his position as a leading figure in British music, his new work with Rockstar and the people who made Stormzy the legend he is today. today.
What’s it like to be a guardian of the UK music scene?
It’s a beautiful feeling that you can inspire, encourage, motivate and exemplify what someone else can be. I learned recently that the best way to do that is to be myself, my truest, most authentic self. There are things I can do to actively encourage others; whether it’s reaching out to artists or laying foundations.
But, what I’ve learned most recently, especially after the release of my new album, is that the more courageous and free I am in my own identity and character, that should inspire people. I’m just happy that who I am and the most authentic version of me is something that can encourage people to be theirs. It’s a beautiful feeling that I can inspire, while being myself.
“The foundation laid by the OGs is integral, and I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without them.”
On the other hand, how important are the people who came before you, who laid the groundwork for you to succeed?
They are everything. Since I entered the game in 2013, I feel like every point, every interview I’ve had the opportunity to pay tribute, show my respect and give them their flowers, I’ve had it. always done because I’m very well aware that no matter how far I’ve come, no matter what I’ve achieved, I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of people.
It’s from Jazzie B, down to D Double E. They’re super integral, the same way when I’m 70 I’ll be in the kitchen with the boys and we’ll see a kid who’s done bigger and greater than anything we have ever seen – it will be unfathomable. We’ll watch this to see he’s done something we never could have imagined, I think that’s how it’s got to be. It’s supposed to continue, those who came before me did it for me. Now I’m going to do something that allows them to do that.
It always reminds me of Jay-Z’s lyrics, “Young Carter, go further, go further”, he’s basically telling Lil Wayne that he’s supposed to go further than me, and I’m supposed to pass it on to you. re destined to take it to a new level. So the foundation laid by the OGs is integral, and I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without them.
“I was very balanced with all facets of myself. It allowed people to connect with different parts of it.
Do you think grime music has the same level of authenticity as before?
I firmly believe that nostalgia makes us think that whatever era we are in, makes us think that we are missing something from before. I feel like 10 years from now I’ll look back on that time and think it’s so authentic and real. Then, 10 years later, I will look back and think the same. I think it’s a vicious circle. I think music and culture are where they belong and reflect the times. I think it’s another era of authenticity. If we watch Channel U and even today all the new UK rap, it’s undeniably authentic – it’s because we’re in the moment.
It’s the same with football. Everyone says “Oh the golden age”, but I’m going to come back to this hat-trick [Manchester] The city team and I think it’s a good time for football. So when you’re in time, it’s hard to see time. I like to think that whatever time we’re at is a good time, and we’re moving along at a decent pace.
When you look at hip-hop, there was a time when rap came out that people didn’t like and they were critical. But, I always say it’s the same era as Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J Cole – it’s amazing! Even if there are things people don’t like, I’m not too worried.
Tell us about your new partnership with Rockstar.
My new partnership with Rockstar has been really fun. It was a breath of fresh air compared to what I usually do. As artists there are things we do every time we release music, there is a normal pattern. So when I got together with Rockstar, it was a really fun and dynamic thing to do.
The partnership also comes with a virtual performance, doesn’t it?
I was really excited to work with Rockstar on this, it’s super exciting. I think the whole concept is about moving from work to play. Anyone who knows me knows that I really enjoy working and playing – I’m either a big kid or an uncle. I think this campaign really sums it up – I go from work to fun.
It’s been a big part of my character throughout my career, the balance between taking the job very seriously and not taking it seriously at all. I think that’s the quintessence of me. I’m the same person who’s going to be in the studio fidgeting and fighting over every little thing, but I’m also the kind of person who’s going to grab the mic, freestyle and laugh. I think this new campaign really sums that up.
“All I’ve done throughout my career is make music that I love, be myself, and I’ve had enough confidence in myself to make whatever music decisions I like. .”
How and why do you think you have created such a diverse and loyal fan base?
I don’t know! I think sometimes we like to think we have it all figured out. I just thank God. When I’m asked questions like this, I have no idea how I got here. All I’ve done throughout my career is make music that I love, be myself, and I’ve had enough confidence in myself to make whatever music decisions I like.
What I’m left with is this catalog that stretches from “Big For Your Boots”, to “Blinded By Your Grace”, to “Wiley Flow”, to “Audacity”, to the song with Little Mix, all these songs and those moments are my different characteristics, traits, feelings and emotions. I have always been true when I expressed them. I didn’t go super heavy with one emotion or one side of me and neglected the other. I was very balanced with all facets of myself. It allowed people to connect with different parts of it.
There might be a freestyle — which might not be music to your mom’s ears — but it might connect with “Blinded By Your Grace.” I just got to be my authentic self and it allowed people to connect with that.
But, if I’m being honest, I still don’t know. I’m in the studio making music and I’m in there and I’m not considering who it’s going to connect with, I’m just doing what makes me feel good and praying to God that it feels good. I don’t know how I got here, I just thank God.