Gang Signs & Prayer - Stormzy
After gaining recognition within the London urban music scene in 2014 via his Wicked Skengman successions of freestyles over classic grime beats, Stormzy, AKA Michael Omari, released his first independently released EP, Dreamers Disease. Off the success of his first major EP, Stormzy would continue his rise of domination, releasing tracks such as “Know Me From” and off course the viral hit “Shut Up”, propelling Stormzy into realms thought to be non-existent in the UK urban music scene – amounting to almost 50 million views (and counting).
Image Credit: Genius
Photography: John Ross
Art Direction: Mark Farrow
After almost two years since standing on stage at the 2015 Brit Awards amongst the likes of Skepta, Novelist and Krept & Konan (to name a few) shadowing Kanye West amid a sea of dazed white faces in tuxedos and cocktail dresses, Stomzy released his immensely anticipated album debut, Gang Signs & Prayer.
First and foremost, the album displays strong bipolar tendencies, jumping from hard-hitting grime infused gold to far softer melodic tracks with gospel propensities. Sticking to his roots, the album opener, "First Things First", produced by Mura Masa, comes in with a vigorous grime rhythm, accompanied by Omari addressing exactly where he’s been the past few months. The track digresses and becomes unapologetic and raw. Intended to be a ‘punch in the face’, Stormzy addresses those who have tried to clash him in the past as well as proclaiming his fight with depression. "First Things First" thus poses as an immediate indication to the realms of Stomzy’s psyche Gang Sings is willing to delve into.
"Big For Your Boots" video
Directed by: Daps
Hyped up grime rippers like "Cold" and the albums lead single "Big for Your Boots" pose as further warnings to lesser MCs that may try and attempt to challenge his intellect and supremacy. Notorious grime producers such as Swifta Beater and Sir Spyro also jump aboard these tracks, adding their signature touches to what will incontestably become flagship tracks in Stormzy’s discography in years to come.
When we first caught a glimpse of the album artwork and title, it became blatantly clear that Gang Signs & Prayer was going to delve into a previously concealed and unexplored side of Stormzy. The dark and sublime artwork is a clear nod to da Vinci’s religious depiction of Jesus and his disciples in "The Last Supper", immediately affirming the fact that religion will play an integral function throughout the record and the fact that the album is currently charting on the gospel billboard says it all. Tracks such as "Blinded by Your Grace, Pt.1" and "Pt.2" as well as "21 Guns Salute" place a heavy emphasis on Omari’s relationship with God, a concept we have never seen Stormzy, or even the grime genre as a whole, dive into previously with this level of intimacy. A heavy emphasis on religion within an album can be risky. However, the religious undertones on Gang Signs seems genuine and sincere, rather than preachy, a sincerity similar to that seen on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book.
"Shut Up" video
As well as Gospel, strong elements of R&B become apparent on tracks such as "Velvet", featuring samples from NAO, and "Cigarettes & Cush", borrowing vocals from Kehlani. Despite some components of cringe worthy moments on these tracks, its hard not notice the painful and emotional characteristics of Stormzy’s psyche as he presents a tender recollection of troubled relationships, leading to moments that feel necessary to the ethos of Gang Signs.
Both rigid and soft, unapologetic and spiritual, Gang Signs and Prayer is the daring debut that every artist strives for. With the dread presence of a major industry producer, including Adele’s Fraser T Smith, its hard to conceive how much of a pure grime album Gang Signs actually is. However, this project goes just to show that Stomzy is not just a grime MC, he’s a diversified multi-layered musician with copious surprises up his sleeve