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Inside the rapper's assertive and intimate second album, Heavy Is The Head.
Ticketmaster have teamed up with Disrupt and the University of Westminster for State of Play: Grime, the first comprehensive report into grime, in which Stormzy is revealed as both the most-streamed grime artist on Spotify, and the nation’s favourite.
It’s yet another milestone in a career that has seen the grime superstar reach the top of the official UK album chart earlier this year, take home MOBO’s first Best Grime Act award, and lead a Q&A session at the prestigious Oxford University. And that’s just the start.
Stormzy has been integral in the mainstream rise of grime, a genre whose humble roots spread back to East London. The ripple began back towards the turn of the new millennium. “Back then in the bedrooms of East London council estates, the next generation of young producers and MCs were creating a brutal, edgy, uncompromising music,” says Mykaell Riley, Director of the Centre for Black Music Research at the University of Westminster, in the grime report’s foreword. “It was the sound of social deprivation emerging from the shadows of re-urbanisation and gentrification.”
The genre has never let go of these roots. Even as the mainstream spokespeople of the genre find themselves on the cover of national magazines and played across the globe’s airwaves, the grassroots vibes never dissipate. It’s a characteristic that runs throughout Stormzy’s music.
Heralding grime as an indisputable success story, Riley concludes in his foreword that the genre is built on enterprise, entrepreneurialism, and creativity. All have become staples of Stormzy’s career.
Stormzy takes the foundations laid by the likes of Wiley and Dizzee Rascal during the 2000s, the latter of whom took home the coveted Mercury Music Prize for Boy in Da Corner. Alongside the likes of collective Boy Better Know, and the emerging new school of grime featuring the likes of Skepta and Wretch 32, Stormzy has helped to place the genre firmly on the mainstream map.
It was his Wicked Skengman YouTube videos that first caused a stir, which before the release of mainstream breakthrough Shut Up allowed him to release his debut EP and walk away with the inaugural MOBO Award specifically honouring grime. His rapid rise in an increasingly established scene led to an invite to perform on Later With Jools Holland; the first unsigned rapper to appear on the show.
Having teased chart success with Know Me From, it was Shut Up that ultimately broke the barrier between the mainstream and the underground. The track became the first freestyle rap to enter the UK charts, debuting at No.18, peaking at No.8 and spending 35 weeks on the list.
The track laid the foundations for this year’s debut Gang Signs & Prayer, released on the 24 February 2017. The album launched Stormzy to the No.1 spot on the official album chart (the first grime album to do so), as well as securing a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize, a continued supporter of the genre. Big For Your Boots, the first single to be released from the record, scored Stormzy his biggest UK hit to date, peaking at No.6 with 22 weeks in the charts.
With his streaming accolade, based on Spotify’s all-time streaming per artist data, Stormzy now rivals the likes of Shania Twain, Nine Inch Nails and Lionel Richie. As an artist, Stormzy is now ranked as the nation’s favourite in grime. Almost half (47%) of those surveyed by the State of Play: Grime report placed him at the top, followed by contemporaries Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta and Kano.
The success is testament to the growth of grime, led by the innovation of both its forefathers and current household names. As with any genre, grime has evolved throughout the years, emerging from a distinctive way of life. With the rise the community aspect of the genre remains strong, reaching out across the UK and the world, but never forgetting the roots. Wit that, acts such as Stormzy expertly fly the flag high for an ever-growing, ever-influential aspect of British culture.
Find out more in our State of Play: Grime report here now.