Stormzy, it seems, is the everyman MC. Adored by everyone from Ed Sheeran to Adele, from the disaffected youth who constituted grime’s original, core audience, to the Nandos-munching students hashtagging along to his hits, he has penetrated the mainstream more quickly, and more effectively, than almost any MC before him – save, perhaps, Dizzee Rascal.
Unlike Dizzee, though, he did all this before releasing a full length album. 'Gang Signs & Prayer', then, is the MC’s opportunity to properly explore, define and consolidate his sound, and cement his status as the standard-bearer for a new generation of artists, as well as listeners.
So, does he do it? In some respects, yes. Compared to other albums widely considered landmarks, this is closer in tone to 'Ghetto Gospel' than it is to, for example, 'Boy in da Corner', or Roll Deep’s 'Rules And Regulations'. While it has the anger of that first Dizzee record, it’s shorn of the angst, and the cockney wit of Wiley’s entourage isn’t much in display either. What it is, is earnest, honest, and self-confident.
Whether the quasi-gospel feel of tracks like ‘Blinded By Your Grace Part 2’ appeals, it’s impossible to say that Stormzy isn’t speaking from the heart. And for those who find the treacly ‘Cigarettes And Cush’ a bit too much to stomach, Sir Spyro assisted tracks like ‘Mr Skeng’ and ‘Return Of The Rucksack,’ or the Swifta Beater produced ‘Cold’ will likely satisfy.
As the everyman MC, Stormzy has, unsurprisingly, delivered a lengthy record that contains something for everyone. The fact that a few days after its release, all 16 tracks appear somewhere in Spotify’s Top 50 chart seems to confirm this. In an age when fans can pick and choose which songs they buy, this is undoubtedly a smart move.
In doing so, the album sacrifices some coherency. Occasionally it feels like it veers too suddenly from braggadocio to piety, and it’s questionable whether Stormzy has a sufficiently versatile delivery (he’s no Durrty Goodz) to support this. But by casting his net so wide, the MC is unlikely to disappoint his diverse audience.
Words: Alex McFadyen
– – –
– – –