Grime was birthed in the capital and until recently has remained London-centric with few exceptions, but as Stormzy’s (aka Michael Omari) sold-out UK tour dates show, from Glasgow to Bristol, Brits all over are at last recognising the genre. The tour follows the release of highly-anticipated debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ which more than delivered, setting a British record for the most first-week streams for a number one album in chart history. In Liverpool, every song off ‘GSAP’ is met with ecstatic reception and despite his hard-nosed grime-persona, Omari can hardly hide his grin.
Sufficiently hyped by the time the 23-year-old MC from South London appears silhouetted against white light, the mass of jumping, steaming bodies clad in Adidas is word-perfect from set opener ‘First Things First’. Only just visible through the forest of arms reaching skyward for Snapchat, Omari leaps about on stage for the length of his set, his hulking, 6’3” frame stripped to the waist and the mic absurdly tiny in his spade-like hands. For all the criticism, performing to an entirely smartphone-wielding audience is a sure-fire way to immortalise music – the genre has historically thrived on its Internet presence.
With over 48 million views on YouTube, ‘Shut Up’ predictably sends the crowd into a frenzy, and closes with Omari mock-conducting the mosh pit in a football chant style rendition of the ‘nah nah nah’ hook. He is accurately described as a ‘towering pop personality’ by the Guardian, and imbues each one of his testosterone-charged badman anthems with charisma and well-placed humour. The way in which he raps lines such as ‘If you got a B-E-T bring it out, Oh you don’t? Shut your mouth’ can only be described as sassy.
Omari is a talker, dedicating minutes of stage time addressing all the ‘gyals in the room’ and telling the guys they are ‘not too bad to sing’ during ‘Velvet’ – the smoochy and RnB-inflected number is hardly typical of his style. The gospel-redemption track ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt.2’ and tongue-in-cheek romantic ‘Cigarettes & Cush’ are received enthusiastically despite their distinctively non-grime production. With a back catalogue of lyrics as hyper-macho as the next grime artist, on ‘GSAP’ Stormzy is testing the boundaries of his genre with aplomb.