By Makenna Adams
“Engineering was the safe and practical choice, but music was what I loved,” shares British rap and songwriting icon Stormzy, in a radio interview. Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., better known as Stormzy, began rapping amateurly at the age of 11. However, his talent was left untouched for many years; originally planning on becoming an engineer, Stormzy attended Stanley Tech South Norwood, a technical trades school in Norwood, South-East London.
In the early 2010s, Stormzy turned his attention away from engineering and onto music, where he became involved in the world of grime music. Grime is often confused with rap, though the two genres have different sounds. Grime music traditionally “has the tempo of 140 bpm, set usually goes up to 144.5, never goes down to 138. It has very grungy basslines, a lot of melody [and] a really hard-hitting sound,” comments Stormzy. Stormzy began to gather attention in the UK underground scene after releasing his Wicked Skengman series of freestyles over classic grime beats. In July 2014, Stormzy released his debut EP Dreamers Disease independent of a record label. In 2017, Stormzy released his album Gang Signs & Prayers; in 2019, Heavy Is the Head.
Stormzy has been both praised and criticised for political commentary in his songs and during performances. At the 2019 Glastonbury Festival, Stormzy invited politician David Lammy who discussed the proportion of black and minority ethnic people in the British criminal justice system and, While performing his hit single “Vossi Bop”, Stormzy encouraged the audience to join him in chanting “F**k the Government and f**k Boris,” referring to former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party campaign. During the show, ]Stormzy wore a Union Jack stab vest designed by the artist Banksy, which people believed to be a comment on the rise in knife crime in London.
Stormzy has been recognized throughout his professional career for revolutionizing the British grime-rap scene. Yet, even more impressive than his mark on the music industry is how he gives back to his community. Preaching the importance of education to his fanbase, Stormzy created the “Stormzy Scholarship for Black UK Students’” at the University of Cambridge. His scholarship grants tuition for two students and establishes maintenance grants for up to four years.
Stormzy’s impressive journey and rise to fame emphasizes the need for young people to pursue their passions. Once a prospective engineer, Stormzy chose to forgo a safe career in favor of his dream of becoming an artist. Throughout his time in the spotlight, Stormzy has continuously brought needed attention to social issues and encouraged his fans to do the same. As the University of Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, shares, “Stormzy is an inspiration, not just for his music but for his engagement on social issues and encouragement of young people.”