Stormzy is a rapper from Thornton Heath in London and his sudden rise to prominence has gained serious pace over the last two years. He came in third place in BBC Introducing’s top 5 for 2015 and followed that up with three big single releases in “Know Me From”, “Shut Up” and “WickedSkengMan 4”, all of which charted in the UK. He then became a viral sensation with “Shut Up” and eventually performed it for Anthony Joshua’s ring walk in his fight with Dillian Whyte in December 2015. It also cracked the top 20 in the Christmas charts after a petition tried getting it to number one. He then released a couple more songs in 2016 before going on an eight month hiatus, something he ended in February 2017 with an album announcement and a new single titled “Big For Your Boots”. The buzz around this album is hard to begrudge and he has just claimed the top spot in the album charts. With many calling it a masterpiece, will “Gang Signs & Prayer” be another example of the positive moves in the grime genre? Let’s find out.
First Things First – 9/10:
As an album opener, it’s as hard as it gets with cold bars and strong production. His arrogance and confidence on the track is brilliant to hear as he tells us all that now he’s back he’s here to prove that he is number one and on this evidence, it’s hard to argue with him. He mentions his depression here too as he gives us an insight into the hurdles he’s had to conquer to get to where he is and I have nothing but respect for that. Huge intro to the album and I can only hope it follows suit throughout.
Cold – 8.5/10:
This one has the beat of a classic grime anthem with those hi-hats and snares and it doesn’t fail to deliver with the bars either as Stormzy tells us about how suddenly he soared to fame and his journey from listening to Giggs to being bigger than him. Even if it is an appalling technical lyric, I can’t help but love it when he says “crikey, oh my god it’s big Mikey” just for the cheeky innocence of it while also managing to sound intimidating as a result. As the title suggests, this track is seriously cold I love it.
Bad Boys (feat. Ghetts and J Hus) – 10/10:
My favourite track on the album hands down. Absolute genius from all involved, right down to the minute details as well as the lyrics and rhythms used within the track. J Hus steals the show with his incredible hook which gets stuck in your head as soon as you’ve heard it. I also really like how Stormzy doesn’t try and flow really quickly and proves that rapping can also be brilliant without a rapid fire flow. Ghetts does a good job of keeping his ginormous teeth in his mouth for his verse and he gives us a real old-school feel with his feature. A classic anthem with memorable bars and a simple but wonderfully effective beat.
Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1 – 8/10:
The first evidence we have of a softer side to Stormzy, something which has mainly come about thanks to the love he has found for his girlfriend Maya Jama. He even gives singing a go on this track and although he isn’t technically perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, he does put soul and passion into it and you can really hear that with the end result. A beautiful love ballad by Big Michael? What’s going on with grime at the moment? Whatever it is I’m all for it.
Big For Your Boots – 8/10:
His comeback single after eight months out, I was initially crazy about this song for the first feel listens but I then became unsure of it. Now that the album is out I’m back on it’s hype because within the album’s concept it fits absolutely perfectly. Following the previous song with this was a big call but I think it paid off because he showed both sides of his personality and character. I also vibe to the way he says “boots” it’s absolute gold.
Velvet / Jenny Francis (Interlude) – 8/10:
More evidence of Stormzy’s development as an artist here as he produces a slow jam with a soulful attitude to it straight after a hard hitter like ‘Big For Your Boots’. His bars on this track are fantastic and he does a top job changing his style up on the chorus as he whispers and murmurs his way through before powerful female vocal takes over. I bump this one a lot even if I’m not 100% sure why it has been called an interlude. A great rap track about love and emotion as he opens up to his listeners about the love he has for this girl.
Mr Skeng – 8.5/10:
Back to the grime we go for this boom blaster of a track with a hard beat. He seem to completely snap on this track as he’s curses on every other word and calls out just about everyone who has ever doubted him in the only way he knows how, telling them to “f*** off”. I really like the hook of this track as he sums up how he’s feeling and gives a generalisation of the type of people his doubters are. The rat-a-tat beat works well on this track and Stormzy makes it his own as he explodes onto the mic and spits anger. Great track.
Cigarettes & Cush (feat. Kehlani) – 9/10:
This is a big deal for Stormzy, being able to draw a big American artist like Kehlani onto his album is a sign of the major moves he is making in the grime scene. This is a fairly self-explanatory track, as the title suggests it’s mainly about cigarettes and weed, along with a smattering of emotion. Kehlani’s involvement is fantastic as she provides great vocals on the chorus and then brings a nicely executed verse too, using her typical attitude to throw some swagger on the track. The longest track on the album and there’s good reason for that it would seem with the high-profile feature and the chart sounds to it. I really like this track it’s definitely one of my favourites on the album.
21 Gun Salute (feat. Wretch 32) – 9/10:
A far slower ballad type of track than you would’ve expected when seeing the title and the feature of legendary grime artist Wretch 32. It is an absolutely remarkable prayer to God that will touch your soul and provide a soothing sound in your ears. The chorus is like nectar, it’s just so soft and graceful I really like everything about this song. It’s a perfect length and is straight to the point.
Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 2 (feat. MNEK) – 9.5/10:
This is an absolute blessing of a track. The second instalment of Blinded By Your Grace and this time we are treated to a feature from soulful singer/songwriter MNEK and the work he does on this track is heavenly. Stormzy is so positive in this track and speaks so passionately about God as he shows pride in himself and his accomplishments. The instrumental is brilliantly crafted too, especially that guitar touch.
Return Of The Rucksack – 9/10:
Back to Stormzy’s killer instincts here as he raps harder than he ever has before. He sounds like he’s spitting pure envy over this beat and the results are absolutely phenomenal. You can’t help but sit up and recognise his greatness as a UK Rapper on tracks like this, as he goes on topics surrounding his life and his come-up. “Using my name for a dead bit of fame” is one of my favourite lines this year.
100 Bags – 8.5/10:
Emotional to the core as Stormzy crafts a gorgeous song as a tribute for his mum, celebrating her roots and what she did for Stormzy’s life. It is such an incredible thing to hear an artist showing this much love for a parent and he makes it a great track in the process. Good bars and flow, smooth beat and tear-jerking context. What more could you want?
Don’t Cry For Me (feat. Raleigh Ritchie) – 9/10:
Another up-and-comer in Raleigh Ritchie joins Stormzy on this track and his role on the chorus is absolutely stunning as he blows us away with catchy melodies and emotive language. As for Stormzy himself, he spits some of his best ever bars and changes up his flow and cadence better than he ever has. This track definitely has single potential and if it were to be released I reckon it would chart high.
Crazy Titch (Interlude) – 8/10:
Great phone call between Stormzy and Crazy Titch as Titch tells us all about how influential Stormzy is, claiming he’s taking the genre from “second rate” to “first rate”. It’s a smart interlude to back up all the hype surrounding him and to prove to us that Stormzy really is the future of the genre. Normally I don’t rate interludes but I felt as though this one was important.
Shut Up – 10/10:
Stormzy’s biggest track to date and it has to be said that it is somewhat of a surprise that it has made it onto the album given how long it has been out. Despite this it was a banger when it first came out, is still a banger now and will continue to be a banger for a long time to come. This track was the moment it all stepped up a gear for Stormzy and it’s inclusion on the album is welcomed. Anyone who tries telling you this song is anything other than fire, tell my man shut up.
Lay Me Bare – 10/10:
Wow. What an album closer. A battle of demons and competitors to get to where he is now and this song encapsulates that with blissful passion. He truly puts his life into this track and he is absolutely laying himself bare. Battling depression and his faith is at the forefront of this track and he speaks so elegantly about them all. I absolutely love this song and think it is the perfect finale to a masterful album.
Overall – 9.5/10:
My favourite album of the year so far, easily the best one too. To put this into perspective for you, I see this album as equally important to grime’s development as Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ album was last year, it’s that good. If it had been released last year, I think GSAP would have been a top 10 album, maybe top 5 of the year. The moves he has made with this project are scary and I cant wait to see where he goes next on his journey. There’s not a weak track on this thing and it’s so important for not only the genre of grime, but the country as a whole. So Stormzy, thank you so much for the greatness.