Music for the Sole! Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer
It's Monday, it's mild, Michael Stormz just released his debut album, lets tune in to MerkyFM.
Grime's massive shift from niche sub culture to universally recognised rap genre has coincided heavily with the tireless efforts of Skepta and Stormzy. I'll be the first to admit that after the initial releases of songs like 'That's not me' and 'Shut Up' between the pair I didn't see a longevity in the Genre. Too many times had subgenred music stumbled on to a winning formal and bastardized it until every drop of relevancy was squeezed out of it. Konnichiwa had me worried. Gang Signs & Prayer has me confident.
Straight away from album opener 'First Things First' Stormzy comes back with a bang. Moody production from Mura Masa gives Stormzy a canvas to get a number of issues off his chest. It's a masterclass in putting everyone on blast from Stormzy, who challenges anyone who wrote him off as a one hit wonder.
From one strength to another, Track 2 and 3 'Cold' and 'Bad Boys' are classic Grime tracks that would find themselves on any Wiley or Kano release. 'Cold' finds the album picking up some pace with a classic grime beat courtesy of Swifta Beater. 'Bad Boys' takes more of a dramatic air with it's slow orchestral backing, a beat that could find itself off that latest A$AP Mob tape. Both Ghetts and J Hus who feature on the track provide the ampble accompaniment to convey a menacing story.
The truly standout curve ball of the album is Blinded By Your Grace, Pt.1, a Lo-Fi Motown-esque piano ballad that beautifully breaks up the initial run of pounding production with a heartfelt touch. It's an unexpected precursor to the album's lead single 'Big For Your Boots', and one that comes straight from the likes of Chance the Rapper, and Frank Ocean.
When we do get to the lead single, it's one of the first faltering moments in the album. Allthough It does everything that is needed of it, it still feels lackluster compared to the tracks surrounding it. The beat is a sub par Brighton pier knock off, with Stormzy rapping about a particular member of the grime scene who's pretending to be someone they're not. Various threats and wise cracks are made.
Out of that, we have the 3 track run of 'Velvet / Jenny Francis - Interlude'(#MerkyFM), 'Mr Skeng' and 'Cigarette's and Cush' featuring the great Kehlani. The latter track is refreshing ballad, again displaying Stormzy's ability to take a step away from the raps and make great track, with his hers harmonies ringing out the choruses.
A fair critique of the album has been its run time, as it clocks in at just shy of an hour, with 16 tracks. Songs like 'Return of the Rucksack' and '100 bags' don't tread any new ground, and are rehashed ideas from a lot of the initial part of the album. Another gripe is the inclusion of 'Shut Up' as the penultimate track. The whole album is a big step musically for Stormzy, reinventing himself and shedding the notion of him being a one hit wonder, so why did they deem it essential to include a near 2 year old single, and non of the singles from in between that time. It's a pedantic gripe, but one that would have felt right.
All in all, majorly impressed by the intention from Stormzy. He's made a project that again demands his biggest detractors sit up and take notice. It's only a matter of time before we regard him as the biggest British urban artist around.