Setting records which will go down in music history hasn't stopped Stormzy from being that approachable guy from Croydon, who is always willing to offer advice wherever he can.
Coming of age during the early years of grime, Stormzy like most South Londoners his age at the time, was attracted by the sometimes harsh but always entertaining bars being spat by the new age of Black British MCs and rappers at the time.
Starting to spit his own bars publicly at the tender age of eleven, despite being pulled away from music - at first by the streets and then by his job on an oil rig - he never left it for long, eventually finding his way back for good. Not long after his return he would release WickedSkengMan which got him some major attention. He was able to translate that exposure, into everything you see today.
He has gone on to become the first grime artist to score a number 1 album, the first black British male to headline Glastonbury and the first grime artist to be on the front cover of magazines including Time
But just how does a young man - raised by his single mum who immigrated from Ghana, the Kensington Avenue schoolboy who went on to get six A*'s for his GCSE's at the notoriously tough Stanley Tech, a young man who admittedly was 'a little sh*t' - become one of the most successful music artists in the UK today? Many may say it comes down to work ethic, talent or as Stormzy frequently thanks God.
Follow Stormzy's music journey in his own words, in the Grime section of this exhibition. From his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to the top of the charts, explore what it means to be from Croydon, a black man and a celebrity all at the same time.
Click images to expand
© Abigail Owuo; Stormzy by Olivia Rose, National Portrait Gallery, 2016.
"Me, Michael, Abigail's son, me with my family and friends, my journey from the get go has always been bigger than myself. I don’t want to get too spiritual, but on a destiny one, for me to grow, I have to help other people." Quoted from This is Grime.
© Stormzy by Olivia Rose, National Portrait Gallery, 2016.
"If people want the honest truth, it was me being a bit scared. Me coming into the industry, there was so many characters and so many different types of artists that I didn't know where to fit in. So I decided I'm just gonna be myself. You know, on a shy one, like, f**k it. This is me and I'm gonna lay myself bare. This is me f**k it, but I can spit, I've got sick music, but this is me." Quoted from i-D
© Stormzy by Jack Davison, Vogue, 2018.
“The uncomfortable truth that our country continuously fails to recognise and admit, is that black people in the UK have been at a constant disadvantage in every aspect of life - simply due to the colour of our skin. I am not the UK’s shining example of what supposedly happens when a black person works hard. There are millions of us. We are not far and few."
© Stormzy by Mark Mattock via i-D, 2017.
“There are so many things about me that are so South London, which I wouldn’t have learnt anywhere else. I wouldn’t have had the heart or the character or my strength and my wits.”
“It’s super deliberate, in my pronunciation, in my diction, in my stance, in my dressing, in my attitude. This is Black British. I wear it with pride and honour. Man grew up on Skepta, Wiley, Ghetts, Wretch. I didn’t grow up listening to Nas and Rakim. I knew about tracksuits and Channel U and Krept & Konan and Roadside Gs. So I’m super Black British.” Quoted from GQ
© Stormzy Brit Awards by Dave J Hogan, 2018.
“You’re going from one extreme to another extreme. From poverty, not having anything, violence and street life to glitz and glam and finally having resources and money at your disposal.
And that’s a rapid gear-six change.
There’s no award that’s going to beat my first Mobo. But, of course, God willing, one day I’ll get a Grammy. I’m never going to feel like Glasto again. But one day maybe I’ll headline Coachella and then I’ll have that." Quoted from GQ
© Stormzy Glastonbury by Shirlaine Forrest via WireImage, 2019.
"It's such a spiritual thing to me. I couldn't not make music. I don't think there's a better feeling in the world than having an emotion in your head, and getting it out through music. That can't be beaten. It's therapeutic. Even if I wasn't a full-time musician, I'd have to be doing music in some way or form to get all this out. It's a release, music is my release." Quoted from i-D
© Heavy is the Head by Mark Mattock, 2019.
“Wherever there’s underground culture or music, grime has a place. [On Glastonbury] I wanted it to be the pinnacle of my career, my defining moment. For the first time ever in my life, maybe in my career, I’ve achieved something and it’s given me perfect peace. I know I definitely do deserve all of these opportunities, 100%, I’ve worked for that. But also, I’m not the only black [person] … There’s loads of us.” Quoted from Time
© Superheroes Music Video, Animated by Taz Tron Delix, 2020.
“We’re all superheroes, as much as we come from where we come from, we might be disadvantaged, we might have so many obstacles in front of us, you are a superhero in your own right, and don’t ever forget that.
Those little skills that we have, those big skills that we have, those talents, those things that often go ignored, that makes you a superhero. The sky is the limit, to let you know all those things inside of you make you incredible.” Quoted from The Guardian