Rating: 4/5 stars
Gang Signs and Prayer, the much-anticipated debut album from Stormzy, one of the UK’s most decorated rappers, is finally out.
Kicking off with ‘First Things First’, Stormzy seems frustrated, particularly with the way he and the grime scene as a whole are perceived in the media. He hits out at LBC radio for purportedly blaming his music for glamourising knife crime.
In the second track ‘Cold’, Stormzy revs up the engine, confident in his ability, giving off a similar vibe in ‘Big For Your Boots’. Then comes ‘Bad Boys’, with allusions to gang life, contributions from Ghetts, and the distinctive voice of J Hus on the hook. Stormzy realises that people in gangs are often just products of their environments as he exemplifies in ‘Don’t Cry For Me’. This precedes an interlude from Crazy Titch, a grime MC who is currently in prison for murder but whom Stormzy admired when he was growing up.
Woven between are calmer love songs such as ‘Velvet’ and ‘Cigarettes and Cush’: perhaps an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. As if to preempt any criticism for this more mellow approach, Stormzy fires out with ‘Mr. Skeng’, making it clear that – regardless of whether he sings or raps – he is still going to be a success.
Having spent the first half of the album intermittently getting worked up, Stormzy turns to a more introspective voice with ‘21 Gun Salute’, aided by the older, more experienced voice of Wretch 32. This sets up the next song ‘Blinded by your Grace’ quite well: a moving, religious song where Stormzy humbles himself, alongside the strong, soulful voice of MNEK. But Stormzy can’t get away from that head-spinning, braggadocious, adrenaline pumping flow for too long, and comes back with razor sharp punchlines in ‘Return of the Rucksack’.
There is even time for an appearance from his mumzy, whom he calls his “Ghanaian queen”, on ‘100 Bags’: a Tupac-esque ‘Dear Mama’ type song. His most iconic track ‘Shut Up’, coming in just after Crazy Titch’s appraisal of Stormzy, is a further assertion of Stormzy’s rise in stature. The sombre closure to the album, with the song ‘Lay Me Bare’, reiterates how he wants to be remembered “before I die”: a legend no doubt.