Stormzy ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ — Track By Track Album Review
After a period of social media hiatus(a popular trend nowadays before major releases e.g. Future and Meek Mill) and over 2 years since his debut release, the Dreamers Disease EP, Stormzy is back with Gang Signs & Prayer.
The Wicked Skeng Man’s album has been highly anticipated for some time now, with him rapidly growing worldwide recognition via his sheer dominance in freestyle cyphers (e.g Fire In The Booth Cypher 2014 and 2014 Rinse Set) and viral sensations like Shut Up.
His impact is unquestionable, and as with any artist from the grime scene who gains a high level of mainstream exposure, there come tests from other artists (notably J Spades and, Cadell). Stormzy is fully aware of this and has actually indirectly addressed these artists on songs like his One Take Freestyle. This war ready aspect to lyricism isn’t his only side and I think that’s where the title name comes into play.
The factors above and more should make this an interesting listen, with my mind set on whether Stormzy has a grime classic on his hand here we go!..
1.First Things First
This is a statement and a powerful one at that. My favorite recent grime intro was Skepta’s on Konnichiwa but this is a very close second. I really like how he’s giving us a timeline of between present time issues such as an LBC Radio host labeling grime MC’s as the cause of knife crimes, his depression and the general fight against the fake love around him which has come with his success.
“You was fighting with your girl and I was fighting my depression“
This production is absolutely BONKERS! and if you don’t believe me wait for the switch up at 58 seconds. I actually had to pause it up and look up who produced it, man Swifta absolutely smashed this to pieces.
Production aside, Stormzy came out swinging rapidly on this, two tracks in and he’s already got me screwing up face and pulling up the tune. It’s got the standard confidence we’ve come to expect from him with the catchiness which he’s truly mastered in his tracks.
3.Bad Boys(ft Ghetts and J HUS)
Tempo switch up alert.
Haunting production and nice inclusion of the classic snippet from Bashy and Ghetts clash, felt like he actually channeled himself into that mindstate again. I’m not too sure about the J Hus segment of the song yet. Subject matter wise this reminds me of Wiley — Gangsters.
Altogether, a very well executed track conceptually on all fronts; production, lyrics and features.
4.Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 1
Pleasantly surprised by this, I’ve actually never heard Stormzy sing. This is the more gospel, emotionally aware side of the album. He’ giving us a real insight into the true appreciation of the blessings he has and the need for God in his life.
5.Big for Your Boots
7 million views in under a month!, who else can actually do this from the UK? scratch that how many unsigned or signed artists can do this? I’m pretty sure not many. The ability to do songs like Blinded by Your Grace and then this is exactly why Stormzy is having the success he’s having. Also, him shedding light on the females who help to push forward Grime culture in this video is powerful.
6.Velvet / Jenny Francis (Interlude)
This is just a bit too Drake-ish for me to be honest. It’s nice don’t get me wrong but nothing outstanding, nothing that sounds really distinctive or stands out. On the flipside, of that, I do appreciate it does help to keep all aspects of the project in sync.
At this stage I’m starting to think, are these bars really aimed at anybody or is it just to fit alongside the narrative of the album. I can fully understand why Stormzy doesn’t want to address who he is talking about directly, there really isn’t anything in it for him. I really do miss the days of Logan Sama — War Reports.
8.Cigarettes & Cush” (ft Kehlani)*
I like this it’s really smooth, it has a Birthday Girl type of vibe to it. I can imagine a video for this in a park or something in the summer time. This again is an illustration of his versatility and Kehlani’s voice is like hot chocolate on a cold night.
9.21 Gun Salute (Interlude)” (featuring Wretch 32)
Before hearing this I actually thought this would be Wretch going off with mad lyrics like he usually does in Fire in the Booth freestyles. I was wrong, it’s a calming transitional song, I can actually say at this point the project been a very balanced listen.
10.Blinded by Your Grace, Pt. 2″ (featuring MNEK)*
Honestly, I’ve never heard a “Grime Mc” really profess their faith in God so openly on their project. It’s really refreshing to hear, this is a song I could play at home around my family and not feel any way about it. I really like how humble Stormzy has been on songs like this.
11.Return of the Rucksack
W-A-R!! This was like a slap in the face, Stormzy literally just jumped out of my laptop and said what you forgot I had bars??!.
Now, this is what I’m talking about direct bars, this is a Bugzy diss not one doubt about it. “Laughing stock for the year what a laugh“. This is Stormzy clearly highlighting how Bugzy got spun in his back and fourth war dubs with Chip and now wants to come at him despite not being on his level.
Sentimental aspects aside, I think he could’ve stripped this project back a bit in terms of tracks. This acts as a nice personal letter to his mother, which I can really relate to. I think this could have been in place of Velvet / Jenny Francis for example. I don’t really think the flipping between a hard grime song and a sentimental song fully works for a cohesive listen.
13.Don’t Cry for Me” (ft Raleigh Ritchie)
As per my point above, I think Stormzy has tried a bit too hard to make this album a balanced one. At this point of the album, it does feel like I’ve heard this narrative multiple times already. It’s a good song though again showing the awareness he has of the troubles many people face in the tougher surroundings.
14.Crazy Titch (Interlude)
When I saw Crazy Titch’s name on the tracklist instantly I remembered his song She Makes Smile. This song was in heavy circulation on my iPod around the time of finishing college and starting university.
I actually thought he just going to come on this and drop a freestyle from prison as most people do. Again I was surprised, to hear him endorsing Stormzy for full 2 minutes like this is big. Everything he’s saying is true as well about the people not rating Stormzy.
Is there really anything more I can say to big up this song? I don’t think so, I’ll just say if you haven’t heard it you must be living under a rock or something.
16.Lay Me Bare*
This really is a nice roundup song, clear conclusive thoughts on the troubles from the outside we wouldn’t have any insight to(e.g. why he deactivated his social media).
My question before hearing this Stormzy album wasn’t can Stormzy re-create another Shut Up or Big For your Boots. The question was can he create a Grime classic, has he done that? not really as this album is a lot more than that.
Stormzy does a really good job of giving a snapshot into his personal life, war ready mentality and views of those around him. It’s very good album, I’m just think making it more succinct and not trying to capture everything would be even more impactful.
The only reason why Stromzy didn’t make my #UKTop5Top20 was because he didn’t have a project out and now he’s really delivered a great debut. I’m expecting as well as going on tour with this album he will carry on killing features much like he did on Chip — Hear Dis in 2015.
Purchase the album here
Top 3 tracks: Cold, Lay Me Bare and Cigarettes & Cush