Music Reviews

“The King of Grime” | Album Review: Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

Phenomenal. I didn’t think Stormzy would let me down or anything, but I didn’t expect this level of excellence.

Gang Signs & Prayer is a masterpiece, possibly the best UK album I’ve heard in the past 5 years, I haven’t felt this strong about an album since To Pimp A Butterfly. I’m struggling to put my opinions into words because I don’t think I’ve developed the vocabulary to express how much I love this album and how happy I am that Stormzy delivered when he needed to. This is usually the point where I introduce the artist but the Wicked Skeng Man needs no introduction.

“[Stormzy] lets listeners know that he is the King on tracks like ‘Mr Skeng’”

Gang Signs & Prayer is just under one hour long and is jam-packed with quality from the jump. It has bangers such as ‘Big For Your Boots’ and ‘Cold’, made for the energy crew mosh pit gang at the festivals. Then there’s girl tunes and zoners like ‘Velvet’ and ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ that you can vibe to on a Saturday morning or on a long car journey.

Stormzy manages to express the many sides of himself on this album. He lets listeners know that he is the King on tracks like ‘Mr Skeng’ with lines like “they said Stormzy can’t be the king of Grime cuh he can’t do radio sets, let’s be real, rudeboy I would light up a radio set”. He shows people how his faith has allowed him to succeed in songs like ‘Blinded By Your Grace’; he also lets you know the pain he’s experienced growing up in South London on the track with ‘Don’t Cry for Me’, which also has my second favourite feature on the album, with Raleigh Ritchie adding unbelievable levels of musicality to the song.

“the softer cuts on this album are just as exceptional as the hard-hitting grime and hip hop tracks”

This album is full of highlights, for example ‘Bad Boys’, which begins with an extract from the legendary Bashy vs Ghetts clash, where Ghetts (or Ghetto as was known back then) absolutely switches and reminds Bashy that “he was a real bad boy in jail”. This is followed by the wickedest verses from Stormzy and Ghetts and the coldest chorus from J Hus.

The softer cuts on this album are just as exceptional as the hard-hitting grime and hip hop tracks on this project. ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ is definitely one of my favourite songs off of this project. Side note, Lily Allen, can we have another album please? ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ hits you in the feels. Its sweet chord progression and soulful light harmonies, combined with the doubled effect of Lily Allen and Stormzy singing the hook, create such a beautiful sound.

Live music also adds another aspect of brilliance to the song. The live bass is simple, but adds so much to the song. Kehlani’s verse is well suited and fits snugly into the song. At the same time, it doesn’t add much to the song and overall is quite forgettable. However, whoever’s idea it was to chuck a saxophone at the end of the song is a bloody genius.

The B-side of the song is also both beautiful and so unexpected. The simple piano and bass and wood block pattern with backing vocals and samples in the background takes me back to 2010 and perfectly fits the change in subject matter, as Stormzy reflects on the relationship that ended seemingly as a result of his messing up.  

“When I hear those keys followed by Wretch 32 singing “woke up on my crucifix again” I get taken to another realm…”

But, without a doubt my favourite moment on the album is the ‘21 Gun Salute Interlude’ featuring Wretch 32. I always forget that it’s my favourite moment, but upon every listen when I hear those keys followed by Wretch 32 singing “woke up on my crucifix again” I get taken to another realm. It’s simply astounding. I also love this track because it’s two artists showcasing why they need to be seen as just that. This track perfectly showcases their level of musicianship.

Even lyrically, this song is amazing. While it may not be packed with deep metaphors and crazy double entendres, it’s filled with real lines that provoke thought and make you smile like “and I can’t wait til I say ‘I Do’ and the bros say BRAP gun-shots at my wedding.” It’s a perfect piece of music. Short and pleasing to the ear, leaving you wanting more.

Another of my favourite moments (which I suspect is also a favourite moment for Stormzy), is ‘100 Bags’. Here, Stormzy is able to the make the song that I’m sure a lot of rappers wish they could make. On this track, Stormzy apologises to his mum for the bad kid he was, and explains why he did what he did and how he did the best he could. He also celebrates the strong woman his mum is and the fact he can now take care of her. You can hear Stormzy smile when he’s rapping on this track, you can feel the emotion he’s trying to convey. It’s a very touching moment.

“He’s stood out and said ‘I am the best, I am the king of Grime’”

The album is everything it needed to be. Stormzy let everyone know that he is not an overrated rapper that got lucky (Crazy Titch says he is “Neo” seeing the game in “1s and 0s”). In terms of what the songs are about Stormzy ticks a lot of boxes that I felt needed to be ticked. He’s stood out and said ‘I am the best, I am the king of Grime’.

He’s credited God, he’s expressed his love and admiration for his girl. He’s also expressed his insecurities and the reasons for past decisions, for example on ‘Don’t Cry for Me’ where he says “see I love my hood but the hood shit bugs me, cuh’ man ah put the chrome to my mum then they see me and spud me, and plus I got childhood friends that are schemin’ to rush me, so if I just pack my bags and I leave this fuckery look nobody judge me”.

I could write 5 different articles about this album, but I also have a degree to do, so I’ll leave you with this. Please do not underestimate Stormzy, he is not just a MC, he’s a creative genius with an excellent team behind him and may be responsible for a massive shake up in the game. I wish him and his new label #Merky Records all the success going forward.

Joshua Ogunmokun

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