In almost no time, Stormzy has developed from a street rascal into a role model. The activist raps by the grime king of London are artillery ammo for a generation that will no longer allow itself to be hobbled by the little old white Brexit men.
Last year, Time Magazine proclaimed Stormzy to be one of the ten Next Generation Leaders. It was not Greta Thunberg, but the black British rapper who made the cover. That makes his report card better than that of the left-wing Labour figurehead Jeremy Corbyn, whose political campaigns Stormzy has been supporting for the past few years. But that will not silence the tirades that he regularly directs at the conservative Brexit government – he recently declared that the United Kingdom has become more racist during Boris Johnson’s premiership. Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. grew up in South East London with a Ghanaian mother, brother, and two sisters.
More than a talented MC who picked his raw rhymes up off the street and then set them to dark beats, he is a man on a mission. In February 2017, at the release of his debut Gang Signs Prayer, the first grime album to reach number one in the British charts, he was still considered the pacesetter of a genre. His career has skyrocketed since then.
Last summer, his first number one single “Vossi Bop” was rewarded with the legendary headline set at Glastonbury, the first time for a black solo artist. It was apparently inspired by Beyoncé’s iconic performance at Coachella: “Not in terms of sound or look, but in terms of quality and impact.” The track “Own It” off his second record, Heavy Is the Head, which was released in December, features both Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy, a white and a black mainstream hero, as though he is seeking to reinforce his statements about racial inequality.
If concerts are a fruitful outlet for social activism, then black empowerment is also a life motto offstage. Take, for example, the deal that he has made with Penguin to support British writers with migrant backgrounds and a foundation that he has established to send black British students to Cambridge University. This is how the street rascal who started rapping when he was eleven and later went viral with the freestyles that he put to grime beats (and on YouTube) is really making a difference at twenty-six.