Review: Gang Signs and Prayer

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The grime genre has grown exponentially over the last year. This is not only due to Stormzy, but also artists such as Kano and Skepta whose respective albums Made in the Manor and Konnichiwa both received nominations at this year’s Brit awards; Made in the Manor being an album I have both purchased and listen to very regularly.

Having reached the top 10 singles chart with his hit song ‘Shut Up’, Stormzy has become a very well-known rapper in the grime industry without even having released an album. Even before his nomination for ‘Best Breakthrough Act’ at the Brits my Mum knew who he was. Being a fan of his songs, I was excited to see the announcement of ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’, his debut album, which I am very happy to say is of a very high quality.

While some enjoy grime, others dismiss it due to its apparent promotion of gang violence and hood lifestyle. But while grime can involve boasting about drugs and women and any other form of alpha-male dominance that the rapper can think of, there are also many tracks that cover personal struggles in the lives of the poets behind them. The difficulty of living with depression alongside Stormzy’s religion are common themes of the album. ‘Blinded by Your Grace’ parts 1 and 2 are beautiful songs covering religion and the songs ‘100 Bags’ and ‘Lay me Bare’ tell very personal stories for Stormzy, which some may have thought impossible within the genre. The variety of themes like this is what makes grime artists so special, in an age where there are an abundance of ghost writers in popular music and where most pop songs sound the same, portraying either love or partying.

Those who have listened to previous songs by Stormzy such as ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Know Me From’ that get the listener pumped with high-tempo beats may thus far be disappointed with what I have said, hoping for more songs along these lines. Trust me, there are still these types of tunes on the album, including ‘Big for your Boots’ and a new favourite of mine, ‘Mr Skeng’. It was a good move even to include ‘Shut Up’ on the album—one of my favourite grime songs. Even for those who are not such fans of grime, there are a few songs that play with other genres, such as ‘Blinded by your Grace’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me’, with more use of conventional instruments than the mainly electronic sound throughout the rest of the album.

I have previously refrained from reviews of music and albums because personal preference in music is more subjective than in films. However the opportunity to promote a rapidly growing genre could not be missed. If you enjoy grime or rap music, give it a listen. If you’re asking ‘what is grime?’ give it a listen. Even if you dismiss all rap, give some of the more personal tracks a listen. Gang Signs and Prayer offers everything that was expected from Stormzy, and a few surprises as well.