Review: Stormzy breaks the mould with ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’
After a nine-month social media absence and months of teasing fans with billboards around London, Grime MC Stormzy has returned to reclaim his throne at the top of the UK scene.
Grime’s meteoric rise to the top of UK music has been unprecedented. The genre has now infiltrated the mainstream with a number of grime MC’s becoming household names. With the release of ‘Gang Signs and Prayers’, Stormzy has elevated grime to a new level.
The album is both a scathing attack on those who doubt him and at the same time a heartfelt, inward reflection on Stormzy’s life. Tracks such as the albums opener ‘First Things First’ show the MC’s ability to calmly deconstruct those who have questioned his abilities. ‘Cold’ on the other hand comes with the frantic pace that the genre is known for and reflects on his quick ascension to the pinnacle of the grime scene. “I just went to the park with my friends and I charted” is a reference to his ‘Wicked Skengman 4’ freestyle, which became the first freestyle ever to chart in the UK.
‘Return of the Rucksack’ is an obliteration of the newcomers to the grime scene who are trying to cash in on the genre’s new fame. ‘Bad Boys’ which features Ghetts and J Hus, is one of the strongest songs on the album and goes after the number of fake ‘bad boys’ that have come along as the scene has grown in popularity.
The album also offers a side to Stormzy that many of his fans have ever seen, he actually sings. ‘Blinded By Your Grace, Pt.1’ is a welcome pause to the frantic and aggressive start to the record. Stormzy’s singing is shy and tentative as you would expect, but it is a calming surprise that helps highlight that he is not just an MC, but a musician as well. He actually refers to it in a later track, ‘Velvet / Jenny Francis (Interlude)’, highlighting his humour as he chuckles “Man thought that Stormzy couldn’t sing”.
The self-reflection continues throughout ‘100 bags’, reminiscent of an early Drake track, the song is a heartfelt paean to his mother who he puts a lot of his success down to. On the other hand the album’s finale ‘Lay Me Bare’ addresses the relationship between him and his father, as well as the death of his friend, and is the most open, honest track on the record.
‘Gang Signs & Prayers’ not only elevates Stormzy to the top of grime but once again elevates a scene that is still in its infancy. The album redefines grime once again and has put every grime MC on notice.