London rapper takes hip hop by storm

Stormzy reveals the potential to become one of rap’s big names should he continue with the precedence set by his debut studio album “Gang Signs & Prayer.”


by Mackenzie O'Guin, Managing Editor of Copy

Before listening to Stormzy’s “Gang Signs & Prayer,” I had never heard of the young British grime rapper, but now I don’t think I’ll be able to keep his name out of my mouth.

There’s something special about an album when you press play on the first track and within a few seconds, you know. From the get go, one thing was clear – this album is intentional. The first sound audible is the ominous crackling of a storm rolling in, and it becomes clear Stormzy is not just a persona – he’s a force of nature. Through a thick London accent, the rapper’s lacerating lyrics are compelling and, more importantly, convincing. The blatant gangster that attracted me to the album also made me wary, because many young contemporary rappers are fronting – young gangbanger wannabes that forget that originally gangster rap was a lament of thug life, not an advertisement for it. The only bars a lot of new-schoolers would risk seeing are those fabricated in the confines of their music. Stormzy taps into the old school art of creating an unglorified exposé of hood life.

The employment of religious symbolism was also surprisingly purposeful. I was instantly interested by the title’s juxtaposition of faith and organized crime, a concept many mafia movies (e.g. “The Godfather”) and rappers (e.g. Tupac’s “Hail Mary”) alike have explored. The album’s cover even presents a ghettoized rendition of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, the table laden in all black, “disciples” clad in balaclavas, and in Jesus’ place, Stormzy himself. Ordinarily, while I appreciate religious allusions in music, I am not a fan of religious music. Thus, imagine my surprise when definitively spiritual twin tracks “Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 1” and “Blinded By Your Grace, Pt. 2” shone as standalones and even more so as evidence of Stormzy’s varied skillset. The album’s intertwined coverage of faith and thuggishness made me respect Stormzy for naming his album “Gang Signs & Prayer” not because it sounded like the G thing to say, but because that’s actually the story he tells and the content he discusses.

By the time I finished “Lay Me Bare,” the haunting final track, I was thoroughly impressed by and obsessed with Stormzy. “Gang Signs & Prayer” is only his first studio album, and I’m already fantasizing about what’s next, wondering what could happen should Stormzy ever partner with American producer Thundercat or Compton’s own Kendrick Lamar, to name just a couple dream collabs. I can’t imagine what Stormzy could do in the genres of underground horrorcore and gangsta rap I was brought up on.

In the end, I wholeheartedly endorse this up-and-comer. Working for a rap label, I’ve developed an eye for which artists are a storm brewing and which will fizzle out. In regards to Stormzy? The name speaks for itself.