Stormzy Early Life
Stormzy (Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr), born July 26, 1993, is known to not settle for less. When The BRIT Awards, the U.K.’s Grammys equivalent, failed to nominate any artists of color in 2016, he responded with a freestyle asking, “What, none of my Gs nominated for BRITs? Are you taking the piss? Embarrassing.” As a result, he took a meeting with BRITs chairman Ged Doherty, who later invited 700 new judges to vote for the show’s 2017 installment. Some critics say that there’s no point looking to the BRITs for validation. The MOBO Awards — for “Music of Black Origin,” founded in 1996 — are more than good enough. “But The BRITs is a place where they basically say, ‘These are the elite artists of the British music scene,’” Stormzy tells me. “I am trying to be respected as one of those elites. I always say: infiltrate.”
The talented star is one of the leading performers in the British grime scene. Grime is a style of music that developed in London in the early 2000s, growing out of electronic music genres, particularly garage and jungle and is characterised by heavy, dark baselines. He also played the character Yardz in the 2016 film Brotherhood.
In 2014, it was the hilarity of freestyles like “Shut Up” and his “WickedSkengman” series — and his 2015 video “Know Me From,” which starred his mum — that helped to propel Stormzy to a national audience. He first learned to weave humor into his bars from a Croydon DJ and MC named Carl Beatson-Asiedu, a.k.a. Charmz, who took Stormzy under his wing as a teenage MC. “He would cuss your mum, cuss your shoes, talk about your girl,” Stormzy remembers. “I used to emulate him.” Beatson-Asiedu, tragically, was murdered in 2009.
Who is Stormzy?
Stormzy was born Michael Omari (Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr.) on July 26, 1993, to Abigail Owuo, a single mother who emigrated to London from Ghana. His mom and two older sisters, Rachael and Sylvia, referred to the baby as “Junior.” Stormzy shared a room with his younger half-brother, Brandon, and the family lived in Thornton Heath, a bustling suburb in the south London borough of Croydon. In the area, Stormzy was the kid that everybody knew.
“You couldn’t really avoid him growing up,” recalls Tobe Onwuka, 25, who grew up one street away and is now Stormzy’s manager. “He was always known for his talent and charisma. We would have these house parties when we were younger, and as soon as Stormzy stepped in, you could feel his presence.”
Stormzy’s father, a cab driver, was not present throughout his childhood. 2017’s “Lay Me Bare” details a recent encounter between the MC and his dad, in which the older man asked his now-famous son for a new car. “When you hear this, I hope you feel ashamed,” Stormzy spits venomously. “Because we were broke, like what the fuck? Mum did well to hold us up.”
Abigail raised Stormzy to believe that he was the “best thing since sliced bread.” As a child, he imagined growing up to be prime minister. She surrounded him with hiplife and gospel, and took him to the Elim Pentecostal chapel every Sunday with his uncles and aunties. “In Ghana, they are very connected to God,” Stormzy says now. His connection to his faith “stems back from that.” Today, Abigail is temporarily in Ghana, running a wholesale business Stormzy helped her establish there.
“Mum used to work bare jobs,” Stormzy explains on one of our days together, while tucking into a double lunch of lamb chops and sweet and sour chicken, with two rounds of egg fried rice and two Appletisers, at a fancy Thai restaurant near central London’s Oxford Street. “She was looking after all of us and working all these jobs. I remember her coming home, being back for like an hour. Putting the kettle on, making a corned beef sandwich, sitting in front of the telly. Trainers on, back out. Women are powerful. Both my big sisters didn’t take no shit either, and they used to protect me.” Today, a respect for women is evident in his work. For his recent “Big For Your Boots” video, he surrounded himself with strong women including Beats 1 radio anchor Julia Adenuga, singer Ray BLK, and TV and radio presenter Maya Jama, who’s also his long-term partner.
Stormzy remembers the kids he grew up alongside “worrying about getting stabbed or shot at.” He saw street life entangle “kind people,” and as a teenager, had his own short-lived stint as a small-time drug dealer. But for as long as he can remember, his life was anchored by MCing. 24-year-old friend Adrian Thomas, a.k.a. Rimes, met Stormzy at the age of 11 in secondary school and remembers taking him to a local youth club named Rap Academy, where Stormzy quickly gained a reputation as the best. “You just used to spit when you spit,” Stormzy remembers. “Youth clubs, the block, outside a chicken shop.” He would share his location via Blackberry Messenger, and local kids would show up to watch him freestyle.
Stormzy adored school. His favorite subject was English Literature; he wrote poems and devoured novels. He can still passionately describe scenes in British author Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series. He went to Harris Academy in South Norwood and was an academic student, gaining six A*s for his GCSEs, but he often played up in class and was almost expelled from school. As a result of his lack of focus in class, he received disappointing A-level results. His stellar grades put him on course to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. But at 17, he was expelled for a series of minor transgressions, like talking back to his teachers.
He briefly enrolled in a different college, only to walk out of an English Lit exam and never come back the following year. “Looking back, it was a bit cocky,” he says. “Like, I’m smart, I’ve got faith in myself.”
He credits this disappointment with teaching him the importance of a good work ethic, and therefore explains his success today. Before becoming a professional musician, he studied for an apprenticeship and worked for almost two years at an oil refinery.
After briefly working in a warehouse, he landed a prestigious apprenticeship with the engineering firm Doosan Babcock in 2012, which required him to move to the middle of the country for eight months. He then went to work in an oil refinery in the port city of Southampton. The work was easy to him but he was dispassionate about it, and he dedicated every spare moment to music. When he had a week off from training in 2013, he used it to make a mixtape that he titled 168, after the number of hours in a week.
Stormzy first found fame through his YouTube videos, which he has been making since 2011. Stormzy’s ambition was piqued when he saw South London rap duo Krept & Konan win a MOBO Award for Best Newcomer in October 2013.
“I went to school with Krept. Konan knows my sister from years ago,” he says. “I’m looking at them and thinking, What? Why can’t I spit and get a MOBO?” He quit his job a few months afterward.
The gamble paid off. During the week we spend together, Stormzy has the No. 1 album in the U.K. with Gang Signs & Prayer, which was released on his own label #MERKY, distributed by ADA of Warner Music Group. It sold over 65,000 copies in the U.K. its first week, and set a new British record for the most first-week streams of a No. 1 album. “I just felt I deserved it,” Stormzy shrugs. “I don’t wanna sound arrogant, but sometimes it’s cool to feel like that. That you deserve something.”
To see an independent grime album reach No. 1 for the first time is a totemic moment not only for Stormzy, but for the genre as a whole. “I’ve never understood this whole thing of there being this elite force in British music, but on the side is grime and rap,” Stormzy says, indignantly. “There’s at least five or six artists in that elite of American music. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, Kanye West, and Jay Z will be there. In this country, it’s not like that. I just question shit. I ask, Why can’t I get played on that radio station? Oh, they can only play it in the evening. But there’s a clean version, why can’t they do daytime? They might say something about the tempo of the song, or the feel of the song. So when I’m getting in the charts, it’s [so I can] break all the walls down, and say, ‘OK, what are you gonna say now? Why can’t you play me?’”
Stormzy and Maya Jama
Stormzy and Maya Jama decided to call it quits after four years together. On August 21, 2019, The Sun exclusively revealed that the celeb couple had parted ways to ‘focus on their careers.’ The rapper attended Maya’s 25th birthday bash at Night Tales bar in Hackney, East London, just days before their relationship broke down. A source close to the telly host said: “Maya has moved out of their home in South West London.
“The decision isn’t one she has come to lightly, but ultimately the relationship has come to an end. She wants to focus on her TV and radio career for now.”
The pair were last seen together in June at Glastonbury festival, where Maya supported the headline set of the BRIT award-winner, whose real name is Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. Opening up about her high-profile relationship in the past she said: “We’re the same as a normal couple, it’s literally a normal relationship.
“We did one Vogue shoot and that’s the only one we’ll do and we left it there.”
Stormzy was confirmed to headline Glastonbury on Friday June 28, 2019. He played on the famous Pyramid Stage at 22.15pm. Performing on a bill that also sees The Cure and The Killers headline, many questioned whether or not Stormzy deserved to be a headliner being that he’s only had one studio album. Speaking to BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Dotty, he said: “There were so many doubters being like, ‘Oh he hasn’t got no number one song’ or, ‘Oh he’s got one album out, he’s not ready’.
“I’m there because I’m a serious musician.”
Reassuring festival-goers that they’re not going to be let down with his performance, he continued: “If you think I got booked for Glastonbury headline to come there and not give you an iconic headline performance, you’ve gone crazy.”
For many longtime grime fans, Stormzy’s mainstream success is a hopeful sign that times are changing. The older generation of MCs who came before him are watching his trajectory with pride. Reached by email, Skepta wrote, “Three years ago I met Storm, and I told him it was his world, his vision, and that he was gonna be exactly who he says, regardless of validation from anybody. He has really shown people how to stick to the plan.” Later, in an artist lounge at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, British rapper Wretch 32 explained the pleasure of his success succinctly: “The special thing about Stormzy is that the next generation can see a ‘Yes.’ Whereas before, even my generation, they always saw a ‘No.’”
- The Brit Awards in early 2018 – where grime artists historically haven’t been recognised but where Stormzy won best album and best artist – was his moment.
Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. Biography and Profile