Grime chart-topper Stormzy is a melting pot of contradictions. The London rapper splices swagger and vulnerability and has broken new ground for British urban music in talking frankly about his struggles with depression. He also combines a pop savvy and unexpected credibility, with his debut album Gang Signs and Prayer blending ragged dance-hall beats and slinky r’n’b production.
He swept into Dublin on a whirlwind of hype. Twenty four hours before his sell-out concert, a huge mural of the artist was unveiled in Smithfield — a tribute, said the graffiti collective responsible, to Stormy’s status as a “boyo”.
Inside the venue, meanwhile, teenage and 20-something concert-goers couldn’t contain themselves as the 23-year-old rhymer (real name Michael Omari) strutted from the wings.
Gang Signs and Prayer is an ambitious record that deploys every trick in Stormzy’s tool-kit. Live, however, the emphasis was on simplicity. With an on-stage DJ providing the only accompaniment, Omari prowled pack and forth, spitting out his lines with a singular mix of intensity and good cheer.
The stripped-down approach brought out the best in his music. ‘Bad Boys’ was a ode to teenage restlessness that fused braggadocio and self-doubt while on the soulful ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ Stormzy perched on a stool and crooned his heart out.
This was an unlikely sight and one that was repeated for the first half of ‘Blinded By Your Grace’. But after that, the furniture was wisely dispensed with as he plunged into his album’s store of ‘bangers”.
Here he brought an impressive physicality and also a striking lack of ego. ‘Big For Your Boots’ was a party anthem that doubled as hard-hitting putdown of a fellow pop star fallen victim to ego (their identity alas destined to stay secret). ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Not Me From’ showcased his facilities as a lyricist, the clever wordplay allied to a rumbling groove.
There was none of the usually rapper’s aloofness and through the evening he sported a variety of cheesy smiles, visibly gobsmacked by adoration coming his way.
He even managed to grin and bear it as a chorus of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ broke out. The “stool” sections weren’t entirely successful and Stormzy will probably have to rethink how he incorporates his more introspective numbers. Otherwise, this was a knock-out turn from a superstar whose rise has surely only begun.