Music

Stormzy Lays Claim To Grime’s Crown With The Dense, Spiritual ‘Heavy Is The Head’

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The most surprising thing about British grime MC Stormzy’s breakout debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer, was the graceful way the rapper combined the brashness and the tenderness of its opposing titular themes. Up until that point, Stormzy had been mostly known for the boastful tendencies native to the grime genre, with a forceful delivery that established his roadman persona, but didn’t do much to reveal the softness inside his intimidating 6’5 frame.

So hearing him crooning on the hymnal “Blinded By Your Grace” and confessing on the moody “Lay Me Bare,” fans were introduced to a much more well-rounded artist than they initially knew from his street-centric freestyles and mixtapes. The groundwork was laid for Heavy Is The Head, Stormzy’s dense followup to Gang Signs, which dials up the spirituality and vulnerability without losing the gritty menace that made him a fan favorite to begin with.

Invoking the oft-misquoted Shakespeare quote from Henry IV Part 2, Stormzy does more than lay claim to the highest title in the grime landscape — he asserts that his reign is already assured, that he’s been sovereign all along. On Heavy Is The Head, he’s not boasting about future accomplishments or nostalgizing about the tribulations of his come-up. Instead, he laments the audacity of challengers, deigning to display lyrical shows of force to cow potential enemies and pausing for brief moments of respite to reflect on how far he’s come.

Stormzy’s self-assured king status is the first thing he asserts on the album, with tracks like the “Big Michael” intro and its immediate follow-up, “Audacity.” On the latter, he growls, “Rude boy, I came and shook my whole era / No cosigns for me and no carers,” reminding the pretenders to the throne what he’s accomplished and how — it was no easy feat to build himself to this level, where he’s changed the game and become one of the top names in a genre that barely received recognition in 2015 when he dropped his viral “Shut Up” freestyle and sparked renewed interest in grime across the pond.

“Rainfall” is where the increased spiritualism comes out, with a spiteful prayer that nonetheless belies Stormzy’s weariness at constantly fending off criticism and the traumas of being a targeted minority. While he shouts out Trayvon Martin, guest vocalist Tiana Major9 invokes the chorus from Mary Mary’s 2000 urban gospel anthem, “Shackles,” another example of Stormzy turning to faith as the antidote for his troubles. It’s a natural progression from “Blinded By Grace,” offering gratitude and praise for his elevated stature after wondering at the grace of his continued survival on the earlier song.

On “Rachael’s Little Brother,” Stormzy implores further grace as he alternates between more boasts and introspective reflection, stripping away the armor for a moment as he identifies not as the king with the “heart of a lion,” but as “Rachael’s little brother.” He wants to remain grounded, remembering where he came from even as he strains to hold his weighted head high. As he reels off all of the alternate paths he could have taken, he reveals his sense of pride but also acknowledges the providence that kept him on his current path.

Elsewhere on the album, Stormzy pays homage to a grime legend on “Wiley Flow,” while asserting his dominance of the dancehall on the chest-thumping anthem “Pop Boy” and the Afropop ballad “Own It,” displaying his expanding versatility. Where the pop-leaning songs on Gang Signs betrayed a reluctance to undermine his tough-guy image, on Heavy Is The Head, Stormzy finds ways to reconcile his many facets. Keeping the roadman talk every bit as rough on the dance floor shots and sprinkling moments of humility and sincerity in the more boastful tracks, Stormzy’s growth culminates on “Vossi Bop,” the boisterous, ambidextrous single and album closer which highlights his iron-fisted command of both the clubs and the streets.

While the head that wears the crown lies uneasy in Shakespeare’s original quote, Stormzy sounds utterly comfortable in his new role as ruler, even despite the nuisances and bothers of his seat on the throne. The crown suits him, both belying and reaffirming the lyrics of the song “Crown”: Stormzy acknowledges life’s lessons, tries to be grateful, and counts his blessings, no matter how heavy the crown gets. He wears it well.

Heavy Is The Head is out now on Hashtag Merky Music and Atlantic Records UK. Get it here.

Stormzy is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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