In anticipation of the one-year anniversary of rapper Stormzy’s debut solo album “Gang Signs and Prayer,” I thought I’d talk about why the record is so unique and important.
Stormzy is a musician that has helped introduce the world to grime and paved his own path as one of the U.K.’s most innovative artists. At 24, he’s already accomplished an impressive variety of feats. His debut solo album, released almost exactly one year ago, just went platinum in the U.K., and he received two awards at the Brit Awards 2018 last night for Best British Album and Best Male Artist. The man doesn’t fuck around, and he’s gradually gaining the acclaim he deserves.
A charismatic MC with a towering demeanor at 6’ 5” and a charming smile, Stormzy is a rapper who blends genres, spits rapid-fire verses and knows how to create powerful music videos. Following the stylings of grime aficionados like Skepta and Wiley, Stormzy goes hard and appeals to the youth of U.K. (and hopefully more and more American rap fans). He reps his roots of South London, stands up to injustice and always celebrates black excellence. He also delivered one of the best albums of 2017, “Gang Signs and Prayer.”
The album, like the title, is full of juxtapositions. It also has vocal performances that proves Stormzy is not just another grime artist. One minute he’s putting down lesser MC’s with cold-as-ice disses, the next he’s crooning gentle gospel lines that could rock a baby to sleep.
The album is deeply personal. The MC discusses growing up around gang violence, dealing with depression, being brought up by a single mother and relying on his faith in God to get through life’s challenges. He even starts out “100 Bags” with a voicemail left by his mother, with reassuring him that “God will bless you, my son. He will take care of everything, okay?”
Stormzy is unique in so many ways. His best performances are authentic to what he does best: rapping with his crew of friends cheering him on. Take the opening lines of standout track “Shut Up,” where a member of his crew says, “State your cuz,” and he replies “Stormzy, init.” His friend follows with the question “What we doing today?” where Stormzy says with that infectious laugh and British slang, “Reppin init? Yea fucking repping, init.”
The dude goes from joking with his buds to rapping line after line at neck breaking speed. On this album, he’s not afraid to be vulnerable. Gospel influences can be heard on “Blinded by your Grace Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2.” On “Pt. 1,” the listener is treated to gentle crooning and relaxing piano, while “Pt. 2” feels like a celebration of everything Stormzy accomplished thus far. It’s pure and joyous and leaves me beaming everytime I hear it. It makes me feel like even after difficult times and feeling broken, life still goes on, so why not be grateful for who you are and what you’ve become.
“Gang Signs and Prayer” is a fantastic album, and it’s got a little something for everybody. Stormzy’s reign is just beginning, and I’m excited to see his career will continue to flourish. Check out the album. It’s good shit, init?