Written By: Fletcher Bonin
British rap might sound like an oxymoron to the part time music enthusiast. Or maybe you’re a full time rap die-hard fan that has listened to British rap and thusly written it off as subpar to America’s trap royalty. To a point, both parties are right in these assumptions and conclusions. But that was before you listened to Stormzy’s latest album. This sixteen track release, entitled Gang Signs and Prayer is the artist’s ballad heavy album. In many ways, the fact that it doesn’t sound like America’s mainstream rap scene is its best quality. Stormzy is challenging the game without really having to try. What we have here is a dude rapping with a British accent given further depth by ska-roots influenced vocals over American style beats.
This is not, however, to say that he doesn’t work hard just because his flow appears to come so naturally to him. Rather, upon listening to the album, you’ll realize just how diverse his sound can be. On some tracks he sings and harmonizes like some kind of R&B stalwart. On other tracks he has the tripping, grungy flow that is both all rappers and his alone. Stormzy is undoubtedly the face of British grime and this album is certainly doing its part to push the genre into the country’s mainstream.
My personal favorite track off this latest production is ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ on which Stromzy links up with Kehlani for a heartfelt and repeat worthy song. This song finds him bobbing effortlessly and effectively between harmony and flow, his versatile lyrics slithering then bounding over the minimalist backbeat. His many-flavored voice is transfixing in its texture and complexity on this track especially. And of course Kehlani crushes the solo on this one as well.
Along with ‘Cigarettes and Cush’, the track entitled ‘Big For Your Boots’ was released as a single prior to the album’s release as well. Both are certainly high points on an album replete with highlights. ‘Big For Your Boots’ is peak grime rap. He raps menacingly,
“wanna come round here like a badboy? Do it, bun all the talking, go on then do it, running through the party, bottle of BACARDI.”’
‘Return of the Rucksack’ and ‘Bad Boys’ are fit for heavy rotation as well. Gang Signs and Prayer proves an apt title for the production, as Stormzy finds a powerful and harmonic unity between themes of violence and gentility. Fans of rap, music, poetry and art alike are sure to enjoy the latest out of Stormzy, as well as whatever he comes out with next, I’m sure.