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Monday, 27 February 2017

Stormzy’s Stunning Debut Album – A Review of Gang Signs and Prayer

 Image Source: www.stormzy.com

Michael Omari a.k.a Stormzy a.k.a The Problem a.k.a Wicked Skengman, dropped his much-anticipated debut studio album “Gang Signs and Prayer” this past Friday to the excitement of grime fans everywhere. After a surprise performance with Ed Sheeran at the Brit Awards earlier in the week, there was a great buzz around Stormzy and this new album does not disappoint. “Gang Signs and Prayer” not only excellently captures the South London youth experience, but also takes the listener on a compelling journey as the album tackles issues of love, race, religion and urban culture at large.

The song 100 Bags neatly encapsulates the titular theme of urban swagger and spirituality, and was one of the first to begin trending on Twitter, Friday morning. It honestly and succinctly outlines the emotional struggle for success felt by most children of immigrants, single parents and/or those raised in poverty. There is a recognition of the sacrifices the parents made and the desire these children now feel to give them a better life.

As Stormzy states:
“All the times that you worked on the late shift, just to see you come up short on your pay slip. Always in and out of beef with the bailiffs. Now I’m on The Playlist. Yeah, where I come from is bad. Same old shit, just mums no dads, and we all know growing up in London’s mad.”

“South of the Thames, where I come from is mad…Tough luck, just mums no dads and we all know growing up in London’s mad...So, let them all know that my mumzy is bad. Shit, I bought mumzy a pad! Shit, like mumzy you bad; Ghanaian Queen, let ‘em know that you bad…Be right here when you need me, I need you to know that your son has got your back. Like mum I owe you everything, can you believe that? Everything, imma repeat that.”

Given the harsh socioeconomic reality of many communities in London it is unsurprising that this song resonated with so many, so quickly after the album release.

100 Bags opens with an early morning prayer Stormzy’s mum leaves on his phone for his daily protection and guidance. An experience to which many children of African and Caribbean descent can relate. The ubiquity of religion in African and Caribbean immigrant households is something that is well known, but rarely discussed in contemporary grime music. As such, the element of faith seen in “Gang Signs and Prayer” not only grounds the album in reality, but is also a breath of fresh air that demonstrates Stormzy’s versatility as an artist. This versatility is apparent in the fluid transition between the piety depicted in Blinded by Your Grace part 1. and the brashness heard subsequently in Big for Your Boots.


The fact that Blinded by Your Grace part. 2 is a stronger, louder sound than Part 1 was no doubt intentional; as Part 1 demonstrates a vulnerability and necessity for divine guidance. Part 2 however, illustrates Stormzy’s firm and fervent commitment to faith. It is safe to say that Blinded by Your Grace part 2 could play on any contemporary gospel station right now. That one of the best contemporary gospel songs I’ve heard in a long time is on a grime album, expertly delineates the extent of Stormzy’s skill and range.

On Don’t Cry for Me (ft. Raleigh Ritchie), Stormzy directly address the impact of urban life and gang violence on his own life and the pain of losing a friend. Underlying the song is a desperate hope for a brighter future for himself and those he loves. This discussion is immediately followed by a phone call with incarcerated grime MC, Crazy Titch, serving as interlude. Despite Crazy Titch’s circumstances, the conversation is upbeat as the grime veteran supports Stormzy; advising him to ignore the haters and highlights the younger MC’s positive influence on the genre:

“I don’t wanna hear man say ‘I’m too gangsta to listen to Stormzy.’ Shut up, that’s a lie. You ain’t…real talk it just means you’re a hater…don’t pay them man there no mind brother!”

 “You see, anyone from my era of grime needs to recognize that if you cannot fathom that this guy is about to take it from a second-rate genre to a first-rate genre, then you need to look at yourself and be ashamed. Seriously.”

Despite the religious elements of Blinded by Your Grace and the gentler nature of Don’t Cry for Me; this is still a vicious grime album. The edge and grit of which, is on full display in bangers like Bad Boys (ft. Ghetts and J Hus), Return of the Rucksack and First Things First. The entire project comes to powerful and poignant conclusion with Lay Me Bare, a commanding and candid outline of Stormzy’s struggle with depression and the estranged relationship with his father.

Below are some of my favourite tracks from “Gang Signs and Prayer”:
  •         First Things First
  •         Cold
  •         Big for Your Boots
  •         Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 2 (ft. MNEK)
  •         Return of the Rucksack

These tracks were my personal favourites, but every song on “Gang Signs and Prayer” brings something truly innovative to the table. A formidable and exciting addition to the grime scene, you talk about this album you better #excellence.

Image Source: www.stormzy.com

2 comments:

  1. I didn't know who Stormzy was until his performance with Ed Sheeran at the BRITs. I'll give a listen to his debut album today. Thank you for sharing! X

    Jeff. | NAMELESSJEFF

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    1. Thanks for your comment Jeff, I really appreciate it! :D I'm glad you like the post, if you like the album or you're just interested in hearing more Stormzy songs, these two below are probably the most popular:

      Shut Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqQGUJK7Na4
      Know Me From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxbzujA69DA

      Thanks again for popping by the blog :) - Mwahaki x

      Mwahaki King || It's a King Thing
      www.itisakingthing.com

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