Gang Signs & Prayer, the long awaited debut album from Stormzy was finally released on Friday, February 24 – after the critically acclaimed grime artist was MIA for nearly nine months, deactivating all his social media accounts and cancelling all live performances, apart from 1Xtra Live in October. Despite having said his debut album would be released last August; there was no music. However, this was a comeback worth waiting for.
Last month, Stormzy returned to social media to announce the release of his debut album and release its latest single “Big For Your Boots“. The track had a distinctively different sound to what his fans are used to; this is largely because of producer Fraser T Smith, who has previously worked with artists such as Adele and Sam Smith, but recently worked with similar artists such as Dave and Kano.
“Big For Your Boots” is everything you would want from a lead track on a debut album release. In only a week, the video had over 1 million views on YouTube and 2.5 million streams on Spotify, the single also landed at #8 on the UK singles chart. With its sinister choral loops and hard bassline supporting Stormzy’s bars that flowed at a relentless pace, the single was everything and more of what we expected from Stormzy.
However, Gang Signs & Prayer proves that Stormzy isn’t just a grime MC but also a musician. Ever since the first time he sang “Only One” in public, Stormzy has ever so subtly been showing us his ability to sing. But now with his album featuring as much song as there is rap, Stormzy is showing us the kind of versatile artist he is. Stormzy is not a natural born singer but his singing is shy and extremely personal.
On the song “Blinded By Your Grace” and its sequel featuring MNEK, he is showing us his strong relationship with God and his faith. Part one is more soothing with a gentle piano melody and a female voice singing under Stormzy’s low gravel, raw tones. Part two, shows a more self-confident side, a track that is more joyful and has a hint of rap. This track is where gospel meets grime, which further shows how different Stormzy is as an artist.
The last track on the album is definitely the most personal. It reveals the struggles the hardheaded grime artist has faced and displays his strained relationship with his father, which comes across as resentment in the track. This song is personal for Stormzy but it is also personal for his fans that may have had similar issues to him.
This makes “Lay Me Bare“, possibly one of, if not the, the most important tracks on the album. He reveals his struggles with depression and how hard it was to make the album perfect, which shows a vulnerable side to the ‘cold’ 6’5 grime artist we have grown to know.
Not only are there heartfelt, personal tracks on the album, but there are also plenty of bangers such as “Bad Boys” featuring J Hus and Ghetts, “First Things First“, and “Cold” – all providing the cold gritty grime instrumentals and mad lyricism you expect to emerge from one of the best on the scene right now.
Seminal in many respects, the album features a little bit of everything for every music fan. “Velvet” has a spell of slow sexy R&B rhythms, which sounds very familiar to one of Stormzy’s previous songs, “All That Matters”, while “100 Bags“, which features Stormzy’s mother praying for him is as uplifting and triumphant as it gets, and the menacing “Mr Skeng” sees Stormzy snatching wigs with a hard-hitting and braggadocious grime opus.
Gang Signs & Prayer is due to make history and make Stormzy – and by extension, grime music – even more acclaimed and internationally known, and deservedly so. The record is already receiving love and acclaim from pop icons such as Adele and Ed Sheeran, as well as tastemakers like Guardian Music and NME. Upon release, the album went straight to number one, which is only right for the humble grime artist who has proved with this album, exactly why he shot to fame so quickly.
Stormzy’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer is out now via Merky Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Hiba Hassan