Over the past couple of years Stormzy has done nothing but set a pace. Now, Gang Signs & Prayer, his much-anticipated debut, looks like it might be one of the most important releases of 2017.
With his gold plaques, overfilling trophy shelf and his first defining statement just days away, Stormz is at the very top of his game right now. What better time to revisit the story so far. Let’s break down all the milestones and highlights you need to know about Big Mike’s journey to success.
Stormzy’s first major break might have come in 2014, but the South London artist had been putting in work for years before that. Hailing from Thornton Heath in Croydon, Stormzy started rapping at the tender age of 11 and progressed from clashing in youth clubs to sharing music videos and freestyles on his YouTube channel StormzyTV throughout his teens which is where he also uploaded his cult Wicked Skengman freestyles. Here 16 year old Stormzy laid down a few bars in one of his earliest freestyles off the dome for Link Up TV back in 2010 way before winning MOBO and BET Awards or clocking up tens of millions of views on YouTube.
168: The Mixtape
At 19 years old he was balancing his burgeoning rap career whilst completing an apprenticeship in Leamington Spa and working at an oil refinery in Southampton. Stormzy began to make a name for himself on the underground with notable freestyles including his take on Skepta’s Mike Lowrey. Back in 2013 he released his first full length project titled 168: The Mixtape – 16 tracks recorded in a week, or 168 hours – hosted by Dice, producer and founder of Hoods Hottest. Fellow South Londoner Bonkaz makes a cameo in the visuals for the mixtape’s intro and also featured on Hammertime alongside Section Boyz Swift and Deepee.
168 foreshadowed the up and coming MC’s complete takeover of the game as he warned listeners with a statement of conviction on the intro saying:
“It’s not even the fact that I’m underrated or the fact that I’m being slept on. It’s the fact that people don’t think I’m a threat, do you understand? People don’t think that I’m one to be looked out for, one to be watched. And that’s when it becomes a problem, that’s when I have to rise up and become a problem, do you understand?”
In 2014 Stormzy followed up his debut mixtape with his breakthrough project, the critical acclaimed Dreamers Disease EP. The 7 track EP showed off Big Mike’s versatility with his ability murder grime, rap and trap beats along with slow songs. It took him to number 1 in the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap chart. The lead single Not That Deep set off a chain reaction which earned him a MOBO for Best Grime Act and introduced Stormzy to a whole new fan base when he performed the track on the BBC’s Later With Jools Holland (the first ever unsigned rapper to do so) and appeared alongside DJ TiiNY in matching Adidas tracksuits and C.P. Company goggle beanies – a truly iconic look. At this point Stormzy was set to pull a coup on the game and was a fully-fledged problem for other rappers and MCs the scene.
From Problem to Hometown Hero
Almost exactly two years ago the Wicked Skengman dropped his momentous track Know Me From in February 2015 which became his very first chart single and took the Croydon rapper to new heights. The track went silver and by now Stormzy had built up a solid fan base by inviting supporters to join him when recording freestyles, doing small impromptu shows, driving around London to gift fans with pairs of Adidas trainers and taking them out for free Nando’s. No wonder he took home the MOBO Award for Best Grime Act for the second year in a row and added a BET Award for Best International Act to his trophy cabinet.
Anthony Joshua vs Dillian Whyte
Stormzy’s biggest hit before Big For Your Boots was Shut Up, but what most people don’t know is that the freestyle recorded over XTC’s classic Functions On The Low instrumental was initially a B side for the fourth instalment from his Wicked Skengman series. Big Mike put out a studio version of the freestyle in September 2015 where he spat over the self-produced instrumental from Jme’s legendary Serious. The single was the first ever freestyle to enter the UK Top 40 and peaked at number 18 taking the record for the highest charting freestyle which was previously held by Jme’s 96 Fuckries released back in 2012. Shut Up jumped up in the charts after Stormz performed the track live at a boxing match between heavyweight hero Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte for Joshua’s ring walk in front of a sold out crowd at London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena and broadcasted live to millions of viewers all over the world.
Shut Up for Christmas Number 1
Stormzy’s performance at the Anthony Joshua vs Dillian Whyte match triggered the huge guerrilla campaign to get Shut Up to number one for Christmas. Supporters rallied behind the Croydon king with some even leaving the track to loop on Spotify overnight to boost streaming figures. Stormzy ambushed the charts with his fire in the park and outsold the year’s X Factor winner Louisa Johnson which served as a huge middle finger up to Simon Cowell. Big Mike made chart history with Shut Up when it got to number 8 in the charts and smashed the record he’d just made with Wicked Skengman 4. Shut Up was certified gold and went on to sell over 400,000 copies.
As he sprays on the ferocious, Sir Spyro-produced Scary, “You can tell me to shut up, we’ll both say shut up / When I say “shut up”, I get a plaque.”
Gang Signs & Prayer
Fast forward to April 2016 when Stormzy releases Scary and lets the scene know that he’ll be retreating into album mode, cancelling his upcoming shows, disappearing from social media and going into an impromptu hiatus.
Months later he re-emerged to bless us with the first single from his forthcoming album Gang Signs & Prayer after teasing fans and supporters with mysterious billboards which began to spring up across London. Big For Your Boots shot straight up to number 8 in the UK singles chart and the video passed the million views threshold within a day of the surprise release. To top things off the Wicked Skengman also sold out his 17 date country wide tour in just 4 days.
With all the landmarks he’s reached and things that he’s achieved over the past couple of years Stormzy is easily one of the most significant rappers in the UK to have emerged over the past 10 years and we can only imagine what’ll come next. Will Gang Signs & Prayer go gold? Most likely. It’s projected to reach number one. He’s made good on the mission he outlined on the intro track of Dreamers Disease, “I’m just trying to be all that I can be.” The rise continues.
Pre-order Gang Signs & Prayer now