Stormzy: Gang Signs and Prayer

review stormzy x1 cong

We can see why people love Stormzy, the first grime artist to land a number one album; he’s got charm and intelligence. The aging musos in the Review Corner haven’t got much in common with a black man from London, but even as young dogs we’d not have gone down the Tip Café to meet the homies, hoping not to meet a skengman carrying a leng, causing the fam grief. It’s a different world, but Stormzy’s smart — he reportedly got six A* GCSEs — and sensitive, as well as being a believer. So you get rap/ grime while Stormzy meditates on life on the streets (skengman: a badman who gets violent in a beef, possibly carrying a skeng — bladed weapon —or leng; gun) but also more charming RnB/soul/gospel tracks, where Stormzy proves he can sing and write pop.

His main attraction is his admission of vulnerability: in opener First Things First he raps: “I don’t use a shank/I got money in the bank” but then goes on: “Mad, mad demons in my thoughts/Young Stormz wasn’t ready for the limelight/Took a little break from the game, started praying.”

In early standout Big For Your Boots he raps: “You’re getting way too big for your boots/ You’re never too big for the boot” but then: “Should’ve looked after your kids/Get out the booth, go home to your son/It’s never too late to commit.” Part of the appeal of this track (and several others) is Stormzy’s love of how things sound; his voice not only delivers words but adds effects.

Then there’s Blinded By Your Grace Pt2, a gospel song in which he sings (proper singing): “Lord I’ve been broken/Although I’m not worthy/You fixed me, now I’m blinded/By your grace.” You could play it in New Life Church of a Sunday morning, at least until the next song, Return of the Rucksack (even though its hook, “Put these MCs on deep freeze/Yeah, I roll deep on these” is really catchy, Stormzy using the sound of his voice again).

What’s surprising is how complex the album is, ranging across genres and each song layered, both musically and lyrically. This is particularly true for his layered life — raised on the streets by his mum (his biggest fan) but now getting out: “I was fourteen tryin’ to buy me a gun/So now I thank God for the guy I’ve become.”

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