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Review: Stormzy's 'Gang Signs & Prayer' Defy All Expectations

The 23-year-old gets more personal than ever.
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The highly anticipated album by Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer, recently emerged to life on February 24th. Stormzy’s album is the first Grime album ever to reach no.1 on the U.K. music charts, and he's been touted as the next possible artist to break into the rest of the world (and the US) since Skepta last year and a half ago. Previous tracks such as ‘Know Me From’, ‘Shut up,’ and ‘WickedSkengMan 4’ heightened Stormzy’s name in mainstream charts and got the streets talking and  defiantly got his name buzzing. His 2014 EP Dreamers Disease, featured seven tracks, and included his single ‘Not That Deep’. The Croydon-born 23-year old has paved his way through the charts and has given us some serious bangers, but what else has he brought to this new album?

With 16 tracks on the record, the project received help from singers such as Kehlani, Raleigh Ritchie and MNEK, while rappers, Ghetts, JHus, and Wretch 32 helped blend gospel vibes in. Tracks "Blinded by your grace pt.1 & pt.2," contain singing work by Stormzy himself and it helped prove why the artist has gotten to the level he has. 

The introductory track on Gang Signs & Prayer: ‘First things first’. Stormzy raps, ‘We were doing road and doing Church’, shows his willingness to go pray to God, whilst being seduced by the road life. ‘I was fighting my depression’… another striking bar, where Stormzy talks about mental health. ‘I don’t use a shank I got money in the bank, man i'd rather do a drive by’, He then says ‘Had to starting praying man I had to get my mind right’. Throughout this album there are tracks that give into the social stereotype of black males, being violent, dealing drugs, and being deviant, hence the title ‘gang signs’, but contrasted with his talks about God, Church, and changes in his life, the title of the project quickly begins to take shape. He blends through his appreciation of church that gets taken away when he's turning into the gang life, and his admission of depression is brutally honest in nature.  

He throws shots at a nightclub later on in this track ‘First Things First’, ‘but if it weren't me you would never let my n***** in the club’… ‘f*** all these nightclubs’, and ‘f*** giving money to people who don’t like us’. Putting the club on blast showcases the discrimination he both feels and sees towards minorities and women. ‘Theres riots in the city just tell me where to sign up’ shows his anger. The track ends with ‘before we said our prayers there were gang signs’.

‘Cold’ showcases a fearless flow, and is a great standout for those looking for something to party to. ‘Do the road and do wifey’ he says cheekily, referencing his girlfriend Maya Jama, Radio host, presenter (she also featured on his single ‘Birthday girl’ released August 2016).

‘Bad Boys’ [track three from the album] featuring JHus and Ghetts, has Ghetts with Bashy [another Grime MC]. The record puts several talents together, and the result is sheer magic. 

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Stormzy tells The Fader: 

I’ve been a Ghetts fan since I can remember. I’m very uptempo; I don’t really like slow beats, so every time I went to write to this one, it was like I’d got this Ghetts attitude in my head — like I was carrying Ghetts’s spirit. I’d use my voice to be more high-pitched and more sharp. I was thinking, Nah, I’ve got to get the actual Ghetts on this! I wanted a legendary, old-school Ghetts verse to just come and fuck this up. J Hus is one of the greatest musicians in the country. Hus is an artist who, like myself, is comfortable outside of his comfort zone, and sometimes he performs even better outside of his comfort zone. “Bad Boys” ain’t no normal Hus party banger, this is dark — more in Ghetts’s lane. But I knew — that’s gonna be the reason Hus sounds sick on it. I just added up the ingredients for a mad recipe’.

Track four, ‘Blinded by your grace, pt.1’, features Stormzy singing, and setting a calmer tone, but that doesn’t last for long as the next track, ‘Big for your boots’ brings the record back to a classic grime beat. 

Both ‘21 Gun Salute’ and ‘Blinded By Your Grace, pt 2 ft. MNEK showcase Stormzy's relationship with God, featuring Wretch32, it’s a calm, mellow, chilled track, with a slow tempo, while track thirteen ‘Don’t Cry For Me Ft. Raleigh Ritchie', continues the good-natured feel of the album. 

The rest of the record amps up the energy and it includes ‘Shut up’, also known as fire in the park, a legendary Stormzy track and video with 49 million plays. 

The final track is a highly emotional track, produced by E.Y beats, and Fraser T Smith. Stormzy expresses his thoughts and feelings… ‘this some s*** I hate to share, escape this life or pay the fare, grab this gun and aim it there, shoot my pain and slay my fear, before I die, I say my prayer don't worry about the mess, just lay me there. This is all I got so lay me bare’. Leaving the project on an emotional note, the record overall is an emotional roller-coaster of an album. At the same time, it still brings classic grime into the focus. Simultaneously discussing important topics while keeping the energy alive, this album exceeded all expectations. This is a home grown album,with grime tracks, yes, but with a lot more than you would expect from the Grime Artist MOBO winner. 

Written by Nadia Hanif. 

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