After nearly a decade in the game, London-born grime heavyweight Stormzy has returned with third studio album ‘This Is What I Mean’. He has described the record himself as an ‘intimate love letter to music’ – and that is clear throughout the project.
‘This Is What I Mean’ departs from the sounds Stormzy has been previously known for and instead taps into the gospel elements he has dabbled with in the past, most notably on 2017’s ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt. 1’. Opener ‘Fire + Water’ is a behemoth, coming in at just over eight minutes in length. Stormzy sings throughout the whole opener, over its gospel-infused afrobeat instrumentation. The length makes it a fairly puzzling opener as there isn’t too much movement sonically throughout, though it does end in a more jam-style instrumental passage.
The title track on the record opens with a Succession-type piano intro, before dabbling in Travis Scott-esque production and a stunning strings arrangement. Stormzy comes in hard with a verse, over reverb-soaked vocal chops, his flow becoming more bitter and aggressive throughout the section. The beat, when it comes in, is distorted and reminiscent of older Stormzy, clearly some fan service here. ‘This Is What I Mean’ is arguably the best track on the record, covering many bases with production and lyrics.
Sampha also pops up on the record, on ‘Sampha’s Plea’. The Mercury Prize-winning artist has had a busy collaborative year, with a feature also on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mr Morale and the Big Steppers’. ‘Holy Spirit’ leans heavily into the worship sound Stormzy is playing with more, and it is executed beautifully. As an artist known for his rapping, hearing so much singing from him is an interesting change, and a welcomed one due to the rich, deep timbre of his voice and his expressive performances. Closer ‘Give It To The Water’ boasts credits from musical virtuoso Jacob Collier, his signature vocal harmonies popping up aplenty.
Long-time fans of Stormzy expected a grime-tinted in-your-face project may be disappointed, but for any ‘music’ fan, there is something on this project for everyone. Stormzy’s ability to bend genres at will, all while never losing any of his heart or integrity, is incredibly rare in the current mainstream music climate. ‘This Is What I Mean’ is a low-key affair, downbeat and introspective. The tracks are intimate in theme as well as production, and it might just be Stormzy’s cohesive and coherent project to date.
Words: James Mellen