Stormzy is a name that many have had no option but to get familiar with over the past year or two. Preceding this debut album he has won awards, toured the world and won over pretty much everyone in his path. The level of anticipation for Gang Signs and Prayer was astronomically high, putting a huge amount of pressure on to the 23 year old’s shoulders. The path that he choose to go down on this album may have surprised many but looking ahead to the height of fame that awaits him after this, it feels like the only path that makes sense.
On a large portion of his previous singles releases, he took classic grime beats and bullied then into submission with a barrage of angry threats and unrivalled confidence. Anyone expecting a whole album of tracks like those may be slightly disappointed. However, he has managed to set a new bar for himself in the versatility of his songwriting.
Tracks like ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ and ‘100 Bags’ portray the softer side of an artist, who at one time, didn’t seem like he had one at all. His harmonies with Kehlani on the former are blissful and masterfully delivered. ‘Blinded By Your Grace Pt’ 1 and ‘2’ are more comparable to Frank Ocean than most of Stormzy’s previous work, asserting than there is far more than bars and 140 BPM at play here.
Gang Signs & Prayer is full of ups and downs. For every smooth track such as those mentioned above, there’s a ‘Big For Your Boots’, ‘Cold’ or ‘Mr. Skeng’. These moments breathe energy and life into the project when it is needed. If the album had of been full of these anthems, as many had expected, it would have been likely to receive acclaim amongst the grime crowd but might not have travelled as far as this album most certainly will.
Raw emotion is on display in every form. Whether it’s anger, regret, shame or pride on show, Stormzy has a great ability in capturing moods and not only conveys them to the listener, but gives them no option but to be swallowed into the same mindset, if only briefly. While this results in an accurate representation of the young artist, as it should for his debut, the project as a whole lacks a consistent energy. Each track individually is flawless but when placed back to back it doesn’t retain any overall tone. Obviously, the contradiction in the album title itself must correlate with these varied feelings on display, but with even just a different track layout Gang Signs & Prayer could feel more consistent.