Michael Omari, aka Wicked Skengam or better known as STORMZY has achieved so much already, some might say that he has ticked off boxes that people may struggle to do during their entire musical career. He burst onto the UK grime scene after winning Best Grime Act at both the 2014 and 2015 MOBO awards and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC's 'Sound of 2015' shortlist.
These awards were bolstered by prime time TV appearances on Jools Holland's 'Later' show and in 2015, where he performed "Shut Up" during British Heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua's ring walk for his fight against Dillian Whyte, (I wonder if he applied for the same task duing his recent victory against Wladimir Klitschko?)
His debut album Gang Signs & Prayer was the first grime album to reach the top spot in February 2017 and to date, he has racked up over 100 million views on YouTube ("Shut Up" is currently at 56 million alone) and his Spotify stats are catching up fast. Not bad for a 23 year old from Croydon who even managed to take a 12 month hiatus from social media ahead of the release of his aforementioned debut album.
We were fortunate enough to catch Stormzy play in Exeter when he supported Bassment Jaxx in September 2015, his set going down a 'storm' (no pun intended) with the young and exciteable audience that had amassed in the gardens for the show. We also chatted to him after the show and I was surprised at how polite and friendly he was, his manners were impeccable, a true gent in every respect. 18 months later, we were in Bristol at the O2 Academy to see if he had changed and how tracks from his debut long player would be received.
From the off, it was apparent that Stormzy had used the past 18 months to really hone his attack, what you saw on stage was a talented confident young man, ready to deliver his message from the streets to people of the streets. I sometimes struggle to believe what artists sing/rap about but taking on topics such as growing up in London and mental health allow you to delve into his mind and understand that his subject matter is very real and very personal to him. The audience wasting no time at all in singing his lyrics back at him, so much so, he could have quite easily kicked off the track and let the room take over whilst he stood, injecting key words every now and then to keep things on track.
With the recent release of his debut long player, one would expect the newer tracks to feature heavily on the setlist but I was surprised to see that he included a good peppering of older material that kept the crowd engaged throughout his set. To be able to switch from his soulful, almost gospel like tones to full on bass driven, floor pounding grime in an instant was akin to witnessing a grandmaster practising his craft in front of a group of green apprentices, eager to learn the way. Younger females stared at him through puppy eyes, slightly older males admired him and very much wanted to be him, the entire room waiting on his every step and going mad whenever he leant into the pit, showing off his chiselled torso and oozing charisma, charm and a certain confidence that you just don’t get with young artists these days.
I would describe his set as a roller coaster ride, the early part consisting of some proper grime numbers including “Cold”, “Bad Boys”, “Shut Up” and “First Things First” which was followed up by the softer feel of “Velvet”, allowing Stormzy to take a seat (literally) whilst he sung to the capacity crowd. The break did him good as he was soon up and jumping again with numbers such as “Mr Skeng” followed by “21 Gun Salute” and “Big For Your Boots” which cemented the right for him to be up there on that stage, preaching to the congregation, HIS congregation in the church of grime.
Seeing Stormzy at the O2 in Bristol was a treat, the venue, that easily holds 750 was packed to the rafters, even if he had chosen to host the show at a larger venue, there would have been people left disappointed and ticketless, forced to part with exorbitant amounts of money on the secondary market, something that Stormzy himself is dead set against. To expect him to tour again this year is a big ask, if you’re off to Glastonbury or Boardmasters in Cornwall, you can expect to see him gracing these stages, for anyone else, I’d keep your eyes on his social media pages and be prepared to jump when the time is right!
Words by Steve Muscutt
Pics by Mabdulle