Could Michael Omari be the man to take grime mainstream? For the 23-year-old MC, better known as Stormzy, all signs point to stardom.
There’s the chart success: last year, ‘WickedSkengMan4’, originally a video for Omari’s YouTube channel, became the first freestyle to hit the UK Top 40. There are the A-list co-signs: Kanye called him up onstage for that Brits performance and Adele, of all people, gave a Stormzy shout-out on her last tour. And now there’s cinema: he stars in Brotherhood, the final film in Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood trilogy.
If he does steer the maligned UK genre to acceptance, he’ll do so in his own style, a sportswear-heavy look he’s repped since his first YouTube freestyles. For Omari, a tracksuit is war gear, a uniform from the streets worn for battles on the mic. Take a lesson from his rules of engagement.
Ignore The Dress Code, Rep Your Own Code
Stormzy was the first unsigned rapper to play Later…, the BBC music show that normally sees Jools Holland tinkling a piano over soft rock. He was also the first act to appear in a tracksuit and CP Company goggle beanie, a look not exactly native to BBC Two. In a genre where authenticity is all, it spoke volumes; Stormzy doesn’t dress nice just because others expect him to. It also started something of a trend: his idol Skepta bit the look for his own Later… performance a few months later.
“I thought, this ain’t the time for me to adjust,” Omari told Noisey at the time. “ This is the time I need to rep, not tone it down. I wanted to show everyone what we’re about point blank; DJ, bars, aggression. This is our culture.” Your aesthetic might not stem straight from the streets of Croydon, but the lesson still applies – you’ll always look better in something you like, than uncomfortable in clothes you wear for other people.
Be A Man In A Uniform
In 2015, surrounded by mates, Stormzy rapped soon-to-be breakout single ‘Shut Up’ in a South London car park. The video, which has accrued 37m views, sees Omari spit in a postbox-red Adidas tracksuit. The three stripes have since become a signature – he tears up festivals in full looks, from ZX Flux sneakers to socks to snapback, and even outfitted his mum in trackies and Superstars for the self-shot ‘Know Me From’ video.
That love hasn’t gone unrequited: Adidas signed the MC up as a sponsored artist and even paired him with Paul Pogba for a video to announce the midfielder’s world record Manchester United deal. In adopting a uniform, he joins fashion dons like Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld and Barack Obama, whose one-look life is as much about personal brand as it is a streamlined morning. Emulate Omari and you’ll discover your entire wardrobe suddenly gels – you don’t have to worry what you’ll wear a new buy with, when there’s only one option.
Know The Power Of Being Neutral
Crimson tracksuits aside, Stormzy’s go-to palette is as withdrawn as his lyrics are punchy. He rarely strays from navy, grey, white and black, be it top-to-toe tracksuits or tees and baggy shorts. Like repping just one brand, keeping colours muted means it’s easy to mix and match your wardrobe – everything goes together. It also serves as a backdrop to make brights pop, be it the flash of a gold chain or a pair of scarlet pool slides.
A stripped-back palette also lets you play with pattern. For Stormzy, that means monochrome camos or the Adidas x Nigo collaboration’s cartoons (he modelled for the collection’s Tokyo-shot lookbook). It also allows more leeway with texture – think a shimmering bomber shrugged over soft jersey, or the gleam of boxfresh leather trainers. Proof that single-note looks can be as deep as a man’s bars.
Know That Everything Starts With The Fit
Before Stormzy, Omari went under the moniker Big Mikey, a fitting name for a 6’3″ MC. That frame’s handy for onstage presence, less for finding clothes that fit (which perhaps explains his love of the Adidas tracksuit, a piece built for athletic physiques). When you’re blessed with heft, you don’t want to add anything else to your silhouette. A lot of streetwear steers boxy, but snug cuts mean Omari keeps his looks lean.
And though the monochrome thing is a Stormzy signature, beanpoles can benefit from breaking things up. If top bleeds into bottom, the eye travels up and down. Instead, pair dark trousers with a lighter hoodie and you keep the focus on your upper body. And loom just that little bit less.
Learn The Power Of An Accessory – And Make It Your Own
A knotted neckerchief was one of AW16’s biggest looks, Gucci’s runway move since copied in every high street window. It seems Stormzy’s been watching; he rocked the look at this year’s Red Bull culture clash. On Alessandro Michele’s models it smacks of 1970s bohemians, an afterthought entwined around alabaster skin. On Omari, it’s worn not as a scarf, but a mask, a nod to the gangs so many of grime’s breakout MCs escaped through music.
You perhaps don’t need an accessory that hides your face from CCTV cameras, that you can pull up should the police pull up. But it proves that even fashion-forward looks needn’t be off-limits, so long as you can find something to make it your own. And if anyone does intimate that you can’t pull it off? Tell my man shut up.
Know When – And How – To Dress All The Way Up
The rules that apply to your tracksuit apply to your actual suit – make it fit and nail the accessories. Grime’s stars don’t often appear in black tie, but Stormzy proves you don’t need practice to make perfect. The trousers are slim but not skinny – go too tight and a tall frame looks lanky – and the jacket creates upper-body bulk, to hold the eye up top.
Omari also proves that context is everything. On the Oscars red carpet, the murdered-out dinner jacket is no fashion killer. At the MOBOs, when all around are in bombers and denim, muted tailoring speaks volumes. You don’t need to tack quite so hard against the tide. But in an office full of navy two-pieces, the split suit, or even a suede biker swapped in for your jacket, ensures you never blend in.
Embrace Your Baldness
Next time you’re feeling self-conscious about your growing forehead, consider this line from ‘WickedManSkeng4’:
“Stormzy’s this, Stormzy’s that.
Stormzy’s blick, Stormzy’s black.
Stormzy’s hairline going way back
But I still fuck your girl, go and retweet that.”