Stormzy, real name Michael Omari, has been in the public eye now for the best part of two years, he’s dominated the scene consistently, – releasing banger after banger. This week has seen Stormzy jump on stage with none other than Ed Sheeran at the BRITs, meeting Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams and of course releasing his eagerly-awaited debut album. 2015 saw Big Mike ‘Shut Up’ the X Factor and beat them to Christmas number one, as well as dropping the first ever freestyle to make the Top 20 with ‘WickedSkengMan4‘ and taking the MOBO Awards by storm but the Londoner is only just getting started.
The 23 year old grime king pin continues to climb his way even higher up the ladder with ‘Gang Signs & Prayers’, an instant grime classic. This is Stormzy’s ‘Boy in Da Corner’ moment, this is Stormzy changing the game just like Dizzee did back in 2003. We see Stormzy in a very different light throughout several moments on this album, he may be a monstrous performer and lyricist but he does have feelings you know…
After more than ten years of rapping, the London don knows how to get his word across boldly, with confidence, and album opener ‘First Things First‘ does exactly that. His opening declaration of intent sets the whole atmosphere of the album from the get-go: “First things first, I’ve been putting in the work, I’m a rebel with a cause” he proclaims. Here he is telling the world, he is back, he is proving his worth and fighting with every inch of his entire being. This is an independent artist, authorising himself in the industry while also creating a brand new movement, inspiring a generation. It’s the humour of the Omari’s bars that really resonate with people, in conjunction with both the reality he brings to the fore with his gritty logic and values.
It’s the British lack of pretension that drives this album, with moments such as “I was in the O2 singing my lungs out, rude boy you’re never too big for Adele” on ‘Big For Your Boots‘ and “think they’re bad cos of Narcos, they’re some Netflix bad boys” on ‘Bad Boys‘ with Ghetts and J Hus that make this record something extraordinary.
The album takes a delightful turn with delicate offerings ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt.1′, ‘Cigarettes & Cush ft. Kehlani‘ and ‘21 Gun Salute ft. Wretch 32‘ being the culminations. Stormzy takes an unexpected direction on these tracks, drawing influence from Frank Ocean, I mean ‘Blonde‘ was EVERYONE’S album of 2016, right?
‘Mr Skeng‘ sees Stormzy in his fashion that we all know and love: with it’s aggressive and fiery bars “Call me gunshot Michael, Mr. Skeng“, the title being an obvious ode to his four parts of ‘WickedSkengMan‘ that blew up over the past few years.
Stormz gives no fraction of ease to radio play; the albums most lucrative efforts (Shut Up and Big For Your Boots) are already out there besides Raleigh Ritchie featuring ‘Don’t Cry For Me‘ which is sure to be a hit that will be heard for months on end by the masses. Nothing is lightened, there’s even a phonecall skit with a convicted murder in there, reminiscent of those early almost psychotic Eminem skits.
Omari takes to singing on ‘Cigarettes & Cush‘ showcasing the sheer variety of talent he possesses, alongside a Lily Allen sounding Kehlani and some sultry sounding trumpets. The album then slides gracefully into another gentle number with Wretch 32, an oxymoronic one as Stormzy upholds his usual British grit (“Please can I bun my zoot in peace?“) while bringing gospel to the table in a similar manner to Kanye’s ‘The Life of Pablo‘ – it’s again obvious who Stormzy spent his 2016 listening to.
‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2 ft. MNEK‘, is yet another beautiful gospel number sounding very Chance The Rapper-esque, transitions impeccably into the whirlwind of ‘Return Of The Rucksack‘ a banger with a similar beat and flow to Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa‘ showcasing the grime prince fighting for the crown. “You’re just a waste man looking for a breakthrough” blasts Stormzy.
‘Gang Signs & Prayers’ is an instant classic for me, with well placed calm marks throughout and equally booming numbers to get you pumped. The record already feels like one of the year’s most emotionally enthralling and enthusiastic records, it’s going to be hard to beat that’s for sure.
David M. Benett, Getty Images courtesy of XXL Magazine
Today also saw the release of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ remix, featuring none other than Big Mike, wrap your ears around it here.
Words by Ben Davies