Stormzy - Gang Signs and Prayer album artwork

Album Review – Stormzy: Gang Signs and Prayer

  • NQ's Will Strickland reviews Stormzy's debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer

Dropping his first EP in 2014 with Not That Deep”, shortly followed by his mixtape that saw Shut Up fly into the charts, Stormzy has clearly been busy with his highly anticipated debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer.

From start to finish the album gives the listener a deeper insight into the struggles that Stormzy has faced being a black male growing up in south London. Typical of grime, music the album is laced with references to gangs, crime, drugs and women.

But it also has another angle of attack and if you follow Stormzy it will be no surprise that religion has a huge part to play in this powerful album. It would be hard to miss the most obvious reference to religion illustrated in the album art. A dark and intimidating version of the Last Supper is re-enacted as Stormzy stands in the centre of the table surrounded by masked disciples.  

The album’s name makes another link to Stormzy’s religious beliefs and is partially explained in the opening track First things First, with the lyrics “we were doing road and doing church”. The influence that religion still plays in gang cultures is undeniable and broken down this meaningful lyric suggests that religion may be a prominent part of their life, but crime has become a way of life.

The introductory track First Things Frist starts with a very fitting sound of a storm that sets a dramatic scene for a track that summaries Stormzy’s crime-ridden lifestyle before becoming a mainstream grime artist.

As the album continues it’s clear to the listener that Stormzy has tried to break free from the shackles of the typical fast-paced, big beat drivel that everyone expects and focuses on more mainstream sounds like other successful grime artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Wiley. Instead, Stormzy has produced a portfolio of work that sees softer tones introduced and even some singing from Stormzy himself. 100 Bags is a slow-paced track towards the end of the album that plucks at the heartstrings of the listener as Stormzy raps about the struggles him and his “mumsy” faced as he was growing up, and is a great example of how diverse this album really is. 

Every successful grime artist has at least one song on their album fleeced which catch phrases that will obviously jump to the top of the charts and in Stormzy’s case, Big For Your Boots is a classic example. With a catchy beat and words the track was destined for the charts and came in at number six in the UK singles charts, until the very recent freak accident in which Ed Sheeran’s new album pretty much took every place in the top 20.

A surprising factor of this album is its lack of big name grime features such as Skepta and Dizzee Rascal, and in a recent interview Stormzy stated that there is plenty of time for him to collaborate with other artists. The album features other big names in the music industry that you may not relate to the grime scene such as MNEK and Raleigh Richie, who help Stormzy create an alternative sound.

Stormzy has clearly taken a more mainstream approach with his first album unlike most other grime artists and has obviously considered his target audience when writing these deeply personal tracks. Stormzy could be considered the new driving force behind the ever-growing popularity or grime and this album will definitely help.