Across all facets of urban folklore there have been many incarnations of “The Chosen One”. Those of us old enough to remember will recall championing the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Kano, and more recently Chipmunk as juggernauts of the Grime scene with prospects of transitioning at a commercially mainstream level. How far each managed to crossover (and at what cost) has been the topic of endless debate since; but whilst we’ve been talking amongst ourselves over the last few years, the mass majority of the Grime scene and beyond have collectively witnessed the ascent of a few new names; Big Stormz, Stiff Chocolate and Wicked Skengman; all in reference as aliases to Grime’s most recent golden child, Stormzy, and I must say it’s not without good reason.
Last week finally saw the release of the South Londoner’s eagerly anticipated debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer; a project that has seemingly galvanised the hopes and dreams of a new generation of Grime listeners. Marrying the high-octane and harsh quintessential sounds of the genre with at times a softer nature, the album is a rollercoaster ride that explores paradoxes.
We’re greeted from the jump with, First things First, a punch in the face opening which sees Stormzy take aim at the naysayers as he casually raps over an eerie piano riff; and as the second track, Cold kicks off and the tempo increases we’re reminded that Grime is a UK Genre with gears. With a flow that’s reminiscent of early Dizzee Rascal, it’s easy to draw comparisons with his predecessor.
A major highlight of the record sees Stormzy call on collaborator Ghetts (who incidentally drops a verse to die for) on Bad Boys. The two continue the eerie feel, trading verses following a soundbite from the historic Grime battle between Bashy & Ghetts. Assisted by new blood, J-Hus, this feels like a triumphant moment for the scene and goes down a treat for any of its fans.
One of the remarkable things about Stormzy is his ability to unapologetically embody the belligerent whilst at the same time expressing a vulnerability that’s endearing. As soon as, Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 1 starts and sees the emcee get his vocal on, underpinned by some delicate and lush rhodes keys; its obvious that as much as this is an album to prove points and give his supporters all that they’re expecting; its also a voyage of discovery and a young man’s self expression. An emcee shamelessly singing? Why not!
Those vulnerable moments begin to come thick and fast, intermingled between the boastful and the brash, which approach with similar frequency. Soon to become sing-a-long anthems like, Velvet and the Kehlani and Lilly Allen assisted, Cigarettes and Kush smartly located next to a, Mr Skeng, which sees Stormzy on a full frontal, rapid fire assault against his doubters.
One of the more touching moments comes in the shape of the young emcee’s dedication to his mother, 100 Bags. A heartfelt rendition that sees him thanking her for all of her love and influence; and sees her solidify the undertones of faith, which frequent the album throughout. I mean there are full blown Gospel tracks on this record in the shape of Fraser T Smith produced, Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2.
A valiant and well produced album, Gang Signs and Prayers lives up to the expectations of the young emcee and undoubtedly will see history made this weekend as he races towards the UK albums number 1 slot, with a full wave of the scene supporting the album across social media. This album will serve as a triumphant moment in the history of Grime’s ascent and could set a new standard for commercial success that we’ve not seen in a while.
This is definitely a watershed moment to have it come from an independent artist makes it all the better.