A London-based grime MC of Ghanaian heritage, Stormzy made a swift rise in the early 2010s to become one of the U.K.'s most critically acclaimed artists. Climbing out of the underground grime scene with a series of triumphant mixtapes, singles, and freestyles, he made his breakthrough in 2017 with his platinum-certified, chart-topping debut Gang Signs & Prayer, which incorporated gospel and R&B influences. Within five years of the release of his debut EP, he was a Glastonbury festival headliner. His first number one hit single, "Vossi Bop," preceded his sophomore album, 2019's Heavy Is the Head.
Born Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. in the south London town of Croydon, he launched his career clashing at youth clubs around his hometown. His performances evolved from grime-only music that showed a love of artists like Skepta to more rap-oriented material that reflected Stormzy's growing appreciation for artists like Drake. Late in 2013 he began uploading his "Wicked Skengman" series of freestyles over classic grime beats; in 2014, he made his official debut with the EP Dreamers Disease.
A year later he released the single "Know Me From" along with "WickedSkengMan 4," the first track in his "WickedSkengMan" freestyle series and a Top 20 hit in the U.K. That December, Stormzy performed the single's B-side, "Shut Up," at a match between heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte. The song jumped into the Top 40 following the broadcast, and the rapper launched a campaign to have the song top the charts during Christmas. This boosted the track to the number eight position, and the number one position on the R&B singles chart. Before returning to the studio to record his first LP, he released non-album single "Scary" in the spring of 2016.
Stormzy returned in 2017 with his official full-length debut Gang Signs & Prayer (#Merky Records), which featured the platinum single "Big for Your Boots," "Cigarettes & Cush" with Kehlani, and "Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 2" with MNEK. The critically lauded set debuted atop the U.K. albums chart and was soon certified platinum. In 2018, the album took home the prize for British Album of the Year and Stormzy was crowned British Male Solo Artist of the Year at the annual Brit Awards.
Riding the wave of acclaim, he was announced as one of the headliners at 2019's Glastonbury Festival. That year, he also scored his first number one single in the U.K. with "Vossi Bop." In October, Stormzy appeared on the cover of Time, topping the U.S. magazine's list of "next generation leaders." Single "Own It," featuring Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy, reached number two in the U.K. pop singles chart, and preceded Stormzy's heavily anticipated second album, Heavy Is the Head. ~ David Jeffries & Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi