British rap and grime has gone global over the past few years as acts like Skepta, Stormzy, Dave and others has seen their music spread around the world, ironically at a time when the UK is pulling back from the international community. Stormzy may be the biggest export of all with witty rhymes, a smooth flow and beats that crossover from just the grimiest London venues. His 2017 LP Gang Signs & Prayer earned him a Brit Award that year, in addition to loads of other nominations and award wins. He played a massive Glastonbury headlining set this past summer, the first by a Black British solo artist. With this pressure and expectations as large as the rain clouds over Glasto, he has released his new album Heavy Is The Head.
Like GSAP, the album doesn’t dwell on one type of song, but rather has some softer, personal tracks, R&B, lyrical masterclasses and radio bangers.
He starts out with some unstoppable braggadocio, mentioning his Glastonbury festival slot and the ability to sell out 5,000 cap venues all over the UK on “Audacity.” Other rappers shouldn’t be stepping up to him.
He explores the problems of fame on “Crown.” The rapper chronicles the public scrutiny has faced, like creating a scholarship fund for black kids to go to college and the backlash from simpletons wondering why it isn’t for kids of all races. “I have my reasons and life has its lessons and, I tried to be grateful and count all my blessings, But heavy is the head that wears the crown,” he raps, giving the album its title.
“Handsome” uses a little Slim Shady flow to explain to the world that he is young, black, fly and handsome.
He offers a subdued interlude around the middle with soft singing on “Don’t Forget To Breathe” and then expounds on the ideas of taking care of yourself and your mental health with “Do Better” and “One Second” with the sublime guitar and voice of H.E.R.
Stormzy then switches things up to the banger section of the album. “Pop Boy” features a thumping beat and raps about being the very best in your city. “Ayy, in my city, I'm the top boy, and I didn't even have to be in Top Boy,” he raps. The radio-leading single “Own It” brings together Stormzy’s best work as a hook singer with Burna Boy and his buddy Ed Sheeran for some damn good harmonizing at the end.
Then the album starts to wrap up with a few of the punchy singles “Wiley Flow" & "Vossi Bop,” the final track for one last burst of energy and great rapping. On the booming “Bronze,” he sizes up the competition who don’t have his platinum plaques or can’t ball like the Portuguese footballing great, Figo. The large string section adds some heaviness to the tune.
The album takes on a slightly different feeling after the British election where Boris Johnson and the Conservatives won a their largest majority in decades. Labour, who he campaigned heavily for, had one of its worst outings in many years. What could have been a celebration feels a little tempered for Stormzy and those who support his music. However, HITH can help move people past this and inspire the next fight.
Stormzy approaches this album understanding that his leadership role comes with its burdens and responsibilities, but they are important to bear. The crown is heavy, but it is his to wear and he is not ready to give it up. He must support and make sure others thrive around him and there is a path to success for others. His raps remain as smart, well written and expertly delivered as ever. Heavy Is The Head for Stormzy, but he can put the team on his back. Get your copy here.