There is an extremely short list of names in music today who have elevated themselves in their own lane to the extent that they can be recognised just as much for their instincts as world-class brand-builders as for their chart-topping releases.
When we think about Ed Sheeran’s self-awareness, Adele’s humility, and Harry Styles’ vulnerability, we don’t look at these characteristics as anything but parts of what makes them human. But did you ever consider that what we’re actually recognising are the raw, instinctive attributes of natural brand builders?
Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. better known as Stormzy, is no different. His unrivalled command of supply and demand and keen attention to how his story unfolds have helped him exceed most of his personal life goals, and he’s only two albums in.
With personae straight from the pages of a superhero comic book, Big Mike, The Problem, Stiff Chocolate or Wicked Skengman as he’s sometimes known has built his brand on a select few pillars which have guided him to domestic and international recognition since his breakthrough in 2010.
“I think God puts names in my head, like, ‘Wicked Skengman’, ‘Stiff-chocolate’, I dunno where they came from,” he told Livemag, “People are like: “What are they?” I’m like: “Bruv, I dunno. I’m as confused as you.”
As he launches his latest release’ This is what I mean’ with his new label partner Def Jam 0207 we see a cultural icon at the top of his game masterfully honing all the skills he’s developed since launching his early WickedSkengMan YouTube videos more than 10 years ago.
Stormzy seemed to suss out very early on that you can have all the hype in the world but unless you can deliver quality, that hype will be short-lived. With this in mind, he continues to put music’ the product’ above anything else. It represents ambition, reality, and honesty. Whether narrating personal stories or offering social commentary, he knows that settling for anything less than excellence will leave him vulnerable.
With that foundational value in place, Stormzy gets to have fun entertaining fans and critics alike with endless moments of audacious ambition. Whether changing the narrative around opportunities in education through his Cambridge scholarship program, appearing in kit launch campaigns for his beloved Man U, or using his platform to challenge the government to do better, one thing is clear – he has set out his stall as someone willing and able to shift the cultural paradigm.
His work has been praised for its honesty and social commentary, with Stormzy using his platform to speak out on issues such as racism and knife crime. He has also supported the UK grime scene, helping to put it on the map internationally. In 2019, he made history by becoming the first black British solo artist to headline at Glastonbury, cementing his place as one of the most notable names in UK music today.
We see this framework come to life in Stormzy’s partnership approach. By recognising that each association has the potential to positively and negatively affect how he’s perceived, he curates a small group of complimentary brand partners with whom he can develop more meaningful relationships. The focus then becomes how he can turn that relationship into a traffic-stopping moment that matches his musical ambitions.
And when it comes time to release new music, Stormzy uses his keen instincts to test the temperature of culture by gradually emerging from hiatus, building up to a big bang return.
This time around, for the setup of his latest album ‘This is what I mean’ Stormzy released the single “Mel Made Me Do It” on 23 September 2022, his first solo single since 2020. The music video included a variety of cameos, including Usain Bolt, Jose Mourinho, Louis Theroux, Jonathan Ross, and Zeze Millz, among others. This 10min plus opera allowed him to reset perceptions and remind people what he can do. More significantly, it reminded people what an influential artist and cultural figure he is.
When you look at it again and watch how the subsequent campaign has rolled out, you realise that the video was essentially a blueprint of his forthcoming campaign – now that’s mastery.
With characteristics more reminiscent of a CEO than a local MC made good, he is indeed a ‘problem’ for anyone attempting to complete. He’s mastered the mic and media storytelling, making both look easy. As a result, has the world in his hands. If we see any signs of slowing down, you can rest assured that it’ll be because he has chosen to and for that reason, Michael Ebenezer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. we salute you.
P.s Check out the Louis Theroux Interviews.. Stormzy over at BBC Iplayer HERE