STORMZY

The grime star cel­e­brates a Num­ber 1 LP with a storm­ing Birm­ing­ham gig (left).

Q (UK) - - Contents - RU­PERT HOWE

Half an hour be­fore show­time, Stormzy’s warm-up DJ Rachael An­son in­ter­rupts her old-school hip-hop set to ad­dress the room over the mic. “How many ’ 70s ba­bies do we have in here tonight?” she yells. Si­lence. “How many ’ 80s ba­bies?” One or two iso­lated shouts. “So… how many ’ 90s ba­bies?” An­son feigns shock, but the up­roar that fol­lows isn’t un­ex­pected. The post-Mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion is Stormzy’s de­mo­graphic and, like the rest of the na­tion’s “yout” he ref­er­ences in his verses, Birm­ing­ham have taken him to their hearts. A few hours ear­lier a queue out­side the venue went snaking half a mile up the side of a busy dual car­riage­way. One group at the front said they’d been wait­ing there since 2pm. As such de­vo­tion shows, the 23- year-old from South Lon­don is now an anointed pop star, with a Num­ber 1 al­bum to prove it. Yet when he up­loaded his now in­fa­mous Shut Up freestyle to YouTube in 2015, Stormzy was just an­other as­pir­ing player spit­ting in front of his own crew in the park. Back then it was Skepta who was tipped for star­dom. But the re­lease of de­but al­bum Gang Signs & Prayer ear­lier this year, fol­low­ing a 12- month hia­tus, has con­firmed Stormzy as grime’s most dy­namic young tal­ent. Since then he’s remixed Ed Sheeran, guested on a Linkin Park al­bum and been given a De­liv­eroo gold card. Tick­ets for the #GSAP tour sold out within min­utes of be­ing an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary and the at­mos­phere in Birm­ing­ham feels like it’s been build­ing for months. But when the man him­self ap­pears in a cloud of dry ice, bounc­ing on his toes to the coiled groove of al­bum opener First Things First, it’s as if there’s a col­lec­tive in­take of breath. Can this re­ally be him? At the same time, there’s no mis­tak­ing the tall, ath­letic frame. Starkly out­fit­ted in white T-shirt, black leg­gings and box-fresh white train­ers, Stormzy prowls the stage in a pan­ther­like crouch, un­spool­ing verses with flu­ency and con­fi­dence. At the song’s fi­nale he makes the ad­mis­sion: “This is the big­gest head­line show I’ve ever done…” – be­fore adding that his first visit to the city was as sup­port to Lethal Biz­zle in 2014. To­day, arms out­stretched, he re­joices in fac­ing his ad­mir­ers alone. Backed solely by min­i­mal lighting and diminu­tive tour DJ Ti­iny, this is a show de­void of showbiz: no py­rotech­nics, no bling. Us­ing back­ing tracks may seem like he’s short-chang­ing his au­di­ence, but it means the sound is un­err­ingly crisp and the bass chest-cav­ing. It also fo­cuses at­ten­tion on Stormzy’s own strengths, not least a for­mi­da­ble de­liv­ery which car­ries an air of cool­headed author­ity even as he rat­tles through rau­cous grime bangers Cold and WickedSkengMan 4. One of the sur­prises of Gang Signs & Prayer was Stormzy’s will­ing­ness to step out­side grime’s stripped-down bash­ment tem­plate. His live set, too, fre­quently veers off-road. After call­ing for a chair, he seats him­self for an un­ex­pect­edly touch­ing read­ing of Vel­vet, de­liv­ered in a husky croon. Given sim­i­lar treat­ment, even al­bum in­ter­ludes Blinded By Your Grace sound soul-stir­ring, es­pe­cially when sung back to him by 3000 voices. And, wise to his new-found celebrity, he finds space for a roof-rais­ing take on his Shape Of You remix. “This one’s by a good friend of mine,” he grins. Only a shouty cameo from lo­cal MC Jaykae and mis­fir­ing at­tempt at a Wretch 32- less 21 Gun Sa­lute fall flat. The fi­nale, though, is an im­pres­sive show of force. Strip­ping bare-chested for a mosh­pit-det­o­nat­ing Big For Your Boots and im­pe­ri­ous Shut Up, Stormzy seems in­tent on lift­ing grime to an­other level through sheer willpower. And while he in­tro­duces old-school favourite Know Me From with the warn­ing, “This is where it gets dan­ger­ous!”, the at­mos­phere stays res­o­lutely up­beat and ex­u­ber­ant. As flushed faces stream for the doors, it’s as if grime has fi­nally cast off its pre­vi­ous aura of brood­ing in­su­lar­ity – in the process un­cov­er­ing a per­former with a reach far be­yond its LDN roots. His next ma­jor as­sign­ment is a de­but ap­pear­ance at that week­end’s Coachella fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia; later in the year he’s off to Aus­tralia. Big steps, even for Stormzy’s size 12s. But in this form, he’s ready to take on the world.

BACKED SOLELY BY MIN­I­MAL LIGHTING AND A TOUR DJ, THIS IS A SHOW DE­VOID OF SHOWBIZ: NO PY­ROTECH­NICS, NO BLING.

“Un­spool­ing verses with ar­rest­ing flu­ency and con­fi­dence.” Stormzy, O2 Academy, Birm­ing­ham, 11 April, 2017.

Whip­ping it up: Stormzy takes the weight off his feet. “This is where it gets dan­ger­ous!” Stormzy turns up the heat.

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