Relentless, unforgiving and brutally honest……
Upon listening to Stormzy’s much anticipated debut release Gang Signs and Prayers, it’s easy to say that he is trying to make a statement that grime music can be versatile, intricate and complex if given the efficient tools to develop. The consensus of mainstream grime tends to be very one sided, with many outlets focusing on the low brow content and minimalistic production. The main agenda for Stormzy’s GSAP is to challenge this perception and through this he has definitely delivered his magnum opus. An emotive and thought provoking body of art dedicated to the genre which has shaped his career.
Teaming up with critically acclaimed producer Fraser T Smith (credits include Adele, Sam Smith and Kano) added more depth to the grime beats on display. Tracks such as “Big for Your Boots”, “Mr Skeng” and “Return of the Rucksack” have an orchestrated aesthetic with hard hitting violin synths , layered drum patterns and bold brass hits . What also makes this album quite unique is how Stormzy has managed to blend a variety of different genres (Gospel, Jazz and Rnb), as well as display his ability to harmonise without coming across as contrived or reluctant (“21 Gun Salute; Blinded by Your Grace PT1 and 2”; Velvet). “Bad Boy’s” acts as a homage to the UK Grime scene as a whole with Stormzy essentially addressing the image of young black males growing up within London and how gang culture has affected them for better or worse. The catchy hook has a nostalgic moment for all of us who grew up within the birth of the grime era, echoing from a clash which Ghetts and Bashy had almost ten years ago (Ask Carlos fam)!
“Cigarettes and Kush” and “Don’t Cry for Me” are moments on the album where Stormzy becomes more vulnerable and introspective which I found highly intriguing from an artist who has predominantly built his image from working class bravado. The production for C and K is intricate, sultry and luminous for a grime track and is weaved with beautiful piano chords and a smoking saxophone addition. DCFM has more of a conceptual feel, with Stormzy showing the negative effects of Gang Culture in London and becoming less of an advocate but more of a narrator describing this harsh environment and surroundings.
On GSAP, Stormzy lyrically shows an emcee who is conflicted and contradictory, let displays this with a burning passion and conviction. One minute he is asking for the lord to guide him and the next he is Mr Wicked Skeng man. This project is very reminiscent of DMX’s Its Dark and Hell is Hot with a lot of mentions of religious beliefs; family; friends and violence. This is delivered with a bold cadence and at times comes across as a person who is using their platform to seek their own catharsis. Overall this album is the perfect narrative and ode to the London grime scene and those who have grown up with it. I was sceptical about this album but glad that it over succeeded my expectations. GSAP is avant garde for the grime scene and Stormzy is definitely leading a new wave and riding on it perfectly for 2017.