★★★★☆: 'Gang Signs and Prayer' is Stormzy's Cinderella story

On his debut record, the grime MC leaves competitors quivering in their boots

There's few things as exciting as watching an artist reach their full potential, bar perhaps the world copping on to what you always knew to be true.

As Stormzy re-enters the mainstream fold with the release of his first full-length album 'Gang Signs and Prayer', the genre of grime has moved beyond 'having a moment' to finally being held in the same regard as fellow off-shoots hip-hop and rap.

It's something that the 23 year-old South Londoner is keen listeners never forget - commanding respect, demanding to be revered in the same way singer Adele is. 

His authoritative smacks are impressive - lead single Big For Your Boots, interspersed with menacing violin cuts and gospel proves to be ultimate put-down  of his nay-sayers. Cold's beat is equally frantic and evidently aiming for the dancefloor. But it's his cool confidence that keeps the plate spinning.

"I just went to the park with my friends and I charted," he spits, a reference to the video for his ‘Fire in the Park’ performance of Shut Up and very quickly the song entered the Top 10 in the UK Top 40 charts.

"Cold was a turning point for me, because I figured out how to approach grime differently," he told Genius. "It isn’t a political “conscious rap” song — it’s a bubbly, fun, vibrant grime track. But with that one message, it becomes bigger than a song, it becomes bigger than me."

Full of surprises

Probably without even realising, Gang Signs and Prayer is political - a manisfesto which rages against the stigma surrounding mental health, toxic masculinity and the idea that faith is to be demonised, not celebrated.

As a young black man on the cusp of super stardom, Stormzy dismantles assumptions of what MCs can and cannot write about. His frank tackling of his own mental health, his deteriorating relationship with his father and the death of his friend make Lay it Bare a stark, and often overwhelming listen.

'Gang Signs and Prayer's' moments of inward reflection ultimately make for the most enjoyable of listens. Both parts of Blinded By Your Grace respectively give raw accounts of a man secure in his relationship with his faith. Gospel influences continue to creep into these sub-genres - see Chance The Rapper's 'Coloring Book', but the vocals don't come across as trite. (See in particular, MNEK's vocal contribute to Part 2).

Not satisfied with almost single-handedly running a genre, Stormzy sings too - Velvet's slow meander makes it an unassuming romantic gem.

“This album is good, this is incredible, this is heartfelt, this has been put together so well, so strategically, so neatly, so creatively – so respect me the same way you’re going to respect a Frank Ocean or an Adele," Stormzy told the Guardian following the album's release.

On 'Gang Signs and Prayer', Stormzy shows that it's not necessarily those that shout the loudest that have the most to say. He just happens to have a lot to say, and knows just how to say it to command the respect he deserves.

'Gang Signs and Prayer' is out now on Merky Records.