Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer
Gang Signs & Prayer
There is quite the buzz around this debut album from UK grime rapper Stormzy. Many claim it is a signal that UK Hip Hop has come into it's own and is ready to make a statement. That might be true, and in terms of his other countrymen Stormzy may be one of the best, but when put up against the rest of the world of Hip Hop this record just isn't there. Many of Stormzy rhymes are the first thing you would think of; Sure he has the occasional solid clap back or makes a good point, but for the most part it seems like he is chasing an ideal of Hip Hop rather than being in it. There is definitely a very European style to this record with its grand almost baroque sounding tracks. "Bad Boys" sounds like it should take place at the Vatican rather than in the streets, but the lyrics attempt to be so hard that the duality works against each other. This happens often on the record with one half being aggressive and boastful while the other is subtle and humbled. It is of course totally fine for someone to hold these opposing views in their head, but on Gang Signs & Prayer the shifts are so jarring you can't quite follow along. "Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1" is a love song, or a praise song I'm not really sure, but it doesn't fit on this record at all. Another issue is that it seems like Stormzy goes for the first rhyme he comes across rather than trying to find something clever. We know that "MAC-10" rhymes with "then" yet Stormzy goes for it more than once.
It just further proves UK Hip Hop, even the best of it, has not scratched the surface. Even Nao can't save the "Velvet/Jenny Francis" track which sounds like a very basic R&B love song with some skitter thrown in to make it "trappy". His rapping speed is impressive, but pace is important to so few Hip Hop fans these days it doesn't really make that much of a difference. "Cigarettes & Cush" which features Kehlani is so laughably bad, it seriously sounds like two teens who tried weed and a cigarette for the fist time and are now going to extol the wisdom they discovered from that experience. You help but think Chance the Rapper and Kanye have inspired the albums somewhat more soulful tracks, but it feels more like a poor imitation than anything else. "Blinded By Your Grace" featuring the surging MNEK begins like it will be a soulful banger, but an electric guitar line makes it sound incredibly cheesy. The ideas on Gang Signs & Prayers are good on the surface, but digging in just a little reveals that the depth simply is not there. As an introduction to Grime, or UK Hip Hop in general, this record serves it's purpose but, Stormzy has a long way to go before He is challenging his United States contemporaries. We still got the throne fam.
6.7 out of 10