Grime culture is constantly growing.
It’s always been there, fighting its way in, but until recently, regardless of the exposure courtesy of worldwide artists like Drake, it has still felt like quite an underground, specialist genre. Enter Stormzy.
The guy is not the first and he won’t be the last to have an explosion of popularity on the grime scene, but right now he is the latest poster-boy for the genre – perhaps its most popular yet. Take his diss track Shut Up; the video went viral, and attracted such popularity by the end of 2015 that a Christmas number one campaign helped it to enter the charts at #8, one place higher than the X Factor winner Louisa Johnson’s entry.
Last year was particularly notable for grime. Skepta’s fourth studio album, Konnichiwa, set a precedent by winning the 2016 Mercury Prize, ultimately being praised for helping to bring about a ‘resurgence’ in the genre and attracting a new army of listeners and critics alike. For uneducated listeners, on the surface, grime sounds like very angry rap. Of course, it’s far more than that, and with Stormzy’s debut Gang Signs and Prayer, this is proven a thousand times over. His debut is more than ‘just a grime album’.
The LP spans a range of genres, mixing grime and rap with gospel, hip-hop, R&B, demonstrating a great deal of openness and creativity on Stormzy’s part. The collaborations on the record – a key feature of the grime genre – are ingenious: Kehlani, Lily Allen, MNEK, Wretch 32 and Raleigh Ritchie all lend their vocals to GSAP, but the most interesting is a cameo by Jenny Francis.
Best known for her late night wind down radio shows on Choice and Heart FM, Francis appears at the end of lusciously romantic R&B track Velvet to introduce the next, Mr Skeng, proving that Stormzy knows how best to transcend into the mainstream spotlight. It helps that Francis is a long-time advocate of the grime movement, featuring artists like Crazy Titch on her shows before they made names for themselves, but her feature is proof that Stormzy knows what he’s doing and how to engage with listeners who would otherwise never even think to click play on his tracks.
With GSAP being an album tinged with love, emotion and religious devotion, it showcases that Stormzy is not afraid to embrace his emotions. Particular highlights of this are the aforementioned Velvet, alongside Blinded By Your Grace, a track that features in two parts on the album with an MNEK and gospel choir feature. This blend and fusion of genres and featured artists elevates the entire album to something far greater than many people would just dismiss as another grime album.
Hell, we even found out on GSAP that Stormzy can actually sing too. It’s a revelation.
It may have only been released a week ago but the album is already so popular, beating Rag N’ Bone Man to become the first grime album to reach #1 in the charts. Not only that, but every single track from the album has charted within the top 100 on the UK Singles Chart, and this success is helped by Stormzy himself. His outspoken love for Adele, Ed Sheeran, the way he talks about his mother and family in interviews, as well as the way he openly discusses personal issues such as his struggles with depression – it all makes for a much more likeable and down-to-earth MC that people feel they can relate to no matter their age, race, sex or situation.
Stormzy is making grime truly accessible for everyone, retaining its edge but bringing it to the masses. If there’s one guy you’d want to write a diss track about your ex but also be best mates with your nan, Stormzy is the guy for you. And for me, that’s the coolest person you can be in 2017.
Order Volume #17 here.
Words by Kirstie Sutherland