“First thing’s first, I’ve been putting in the work / I’m a rebel with a cause” spits Michael Omari – mightily reputable as grime royalty, Stormzy. The admirably diverse set begins in the same way as Gang Signs & Prayer, the critically acclaimed debut album which broke music history as the first independent grime album to ever reach a UK no.1. No pressure, then.
Tonight’s show at Norwich’s LCR is the 10th in a colossal UK sell-out, the last before he drops a visit to the Golden State’s Coachella, a detour from his UK victory circuit. Ten nights in he may be, but Stormzy is on full-form and this shows from the outset. As strobe lighting cuts through a dense cloud of smoke, hype-fueled beginnings soon turn into a glorious mix of energy and spirit.
It takes a serious talent to pull off such a structure, intertwining the likes of hard banger ‘Cold’ with the spiritually-geared ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt.1 and 2’, and grime chart anthem ‘Shut Up’ with classically smooth R&B sensibilities on ‘Velvet’. On paper this shouldn’t work, but the crowd switch from moshing to phone light sing-alongs on Stormzy’s command, showing equal appreciation for both styles despite the perception that some of Omari’s original fans weren’t keen on the new direction.
For those who have followed the genre straight from its East London roots, a detachment from the production of solely grime hits may not be most favourable. But the show is a replication of an album which has helped propel grime into the masses via a hype which Omari appears to live up to time and time again.
Stormzy proves he can do both with equal measure, pulling up a stool and vocally replicating the record with impressive live singing efforts – for an artist known best for hard grime tracks, anyway – later demanding “energy, energy!” for lead single ‘Big For Your Boots’, and not forgetting pre-GSAP bangers ‘Know Me From’ and ‘Scary’.
Stormzy’s live and studio efforts are proof of grime’s crescendo into the British popular music scene, backed by the likes of fellow grime monarchs Skepta and Kano.
A growing icon propelling the genre into incredible critical and commercial heights. A hype-fulfilling triumph. This is Stormzy, and there’s plenty to go around.
Photos: Mohamed Abdulle