eye of the stormzy
21-year-old Michael Omari from Thornton Heath is at the forefront of grime’s new wave.
There are many cogs in the wheel that has become known, reluctantly, as the 'resurgence of grime.' Alongside a string of hits from the scene's early gatekeepers - Skepta, Meridian Dan and Lethal B - it's fair to say that a considerable part of grime's current incarnation is down to fresh, new, hungry, innovative talent. And leading the pack is 21-one-year old Michael Omari aka Stormzy aka Big Mike aka Stiff Chocolate aka Wicked Skengman.
Since storming onto the scene a little over a year ago, the Thornton Heath rhymer has been tipped by the BBC, the MOBO's and the BET Awards, thanks to highly persuasive releases like Not That Deep, Where Do You Know Me From and his #WickedSkengman freestyle series. He was the first unsigned rapper to appear on Jools Holland, has sold out two U.K tours and has clocked up in excess of 15 million plays on YouTube to date. All this has been without a record label or distribution company; just Stormzy, his manager Tobe, an assortment of unknown producers and his mate Jaiden Ramgeet on camera duty.
Whether singing Justin Bieber covers, sticking his mom in his videos, working with Nick Jonas or dropping some of the hardest bars anyone's ever heard, Big Mike is an exciting and ambitious artist with an inventive grasp of language and a powerful way of delivering it. i-D catches up with the MC amid a flurry of new releases including You're Like, 10 Minutes and Shut Up…
What were you doing 10 years ago?
I was on a back road in Thornton Heath with about 30 men on pushbikes, being a little terrorist.
What made grime so hot again?
It's a weird time, in a good way. There are so many people doing their thing all at once - and I don't think there's been that many people doing that in a long time - since the days of Wiley, Dizzee, The Movement, Bruzer, Flirta D, Roll Deep who were all ringing bells and popping off. Until today.
Where did grime go wrong?
I don't think it ever went wrong. It's a young scene that wasn't allowed the time to flourish. Hip hop had its time and it was allowed to peak, be shit, fuck up, go commercial. It had that. This is a young, underground genre. We have our fuck ups and peaks, and that's fine, it's music, it's cool.
Who's your favorite MC?
Skepta. I was a big Skeppy fan since 2005 before music. It's weird now I'm on the other side; I'm an MC, and he's like a big brother, so I feel it's weird to say that now. But he is (laughs).
What was the first bar you wrote?
"Holding the rebore, who's he kidding/ Glimpse of the big ting man starts shitting/ Man fall back cos Stormzy's spitting…"
Where are you from and what's it like?
It's alright. I live in Norbury, right next to Thornton Heath, but I grew up a Thornton Heath boy. It was a jungle then but now it's a bit more calm. It's vicious, but not vicious like when we were young. Krept and Konan will tell you that. I can walk through the area now and it's cool. It's influenced my music, because if I wasn't born there, I wouldn't be an MC.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Prime Minister. Just cos I thought I could. I think I'm intelligent enough. Whatever I was going to be, I wanted to be the top don of life, which in the UK is Prime Minister.
What were you like at school?
Until Year 8 I was really good. I'd go to assembly and get bare certificates. I was a G, a top student. And then I just, I don't know. I was a bit of a troublemaker, a bit of a clown. But I got my work done. I did well in my GCSEs, I got my work done. I walked the fine line of top student and little flippin' prick, a menace. I was a frustration for teachers. I've always been good at the work and play balance.
What did you learn from school?
I clocked early that it's very important to laugh and have a good time. I say that when nowadays I'm a tired yout' who just wants want to sleep all the time! But I learned you should have a good time as well as working hard. It's about balance.
I think I was 13/14 and it was with my childhood like, erm… it was a girl who was stringing me along and she kind of broke my heart. Nah, not really, but I liked her way more than she liked me [laughs]. We're still friends to this day, it's cool.
What was your first job?
I worked in Screwfix. My sister got me the job. I got sacked after a month, after my probation period because I just didn't go in.
What's the hardest part growing up?
I come from a family where I didn't have the luxuries that a lot of people had. Simple luxuries, like new sneakers. I didn't get dissed for it, but I didn't have the new kicks, the new jeans, none of that. I had to deal with that on my own terms. It was frustrating for me.
What advice would you give to kids growing up?
Do what you want, but don't do nothing bad.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
To carry on working cos in life you get what you deserve. You get what you put in. Me understanding that is the best piece of advice I've had. Go get what you deserve. And keep going. I know it's clichéd, but something could happen and you need that mantra. It's key. Don't stop. Get upset, cry, kick off at everyone, stay up all night thinking about it, but get over it and get on.
What's on your bucket list?
I want to travel. Literally everywhere. Even places where man shouldn't be going. I want to see every corner of the world.
What's the bravest thing you've ever done?
I left home at 18 to go and live hundreds of miles away to start my engineering apprentice. Leaving the ends as well, that bubble, to totally remove myself, leaving my friends and going off to random parts of the country was good for me.
Who do you look up to?
Lauryn Hill because I learned a lot of stuff from listening to her. I feel like she's fought demons and battles that she didn't have to face. There was a road in front of her to take, but she chose a different one. That's very admirable. I hope I'd have that courage.
Have you got any growing up left to do?
It's scary how much I've got left to do. But I know I'll be fine.
Nah. Everything's come to this so I don't want to change anything.
Age is… about the way you use it.
Get tickets for Stormzy's #LiveInTheFlesh tour here.
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Olivia Rose
Styling Jack Borkett
Photography assistance Rowan Hall, Menelik Simpson
Fashion assistance Caio Reis
Stormzy wears all clothing adidas.