Stormzy - This Is What I Mean Music Album Reviews

Stormzy - This Is What I Mean Music Album Reviews
The UK rapper’s third album is pitched as both a pious expression of worship and an earnest message of self-affirmation—but with plenty of opportunities for flexing along the way.

It’s time to add “singer” to the centipede of slashes that defines Stormzy’s career, because singing is what the rapper/publisher/philanthropist/awkward dancer mostly does on his third album, This Is What I Mean. There are soft coos, choral harmonies, pattering Sprechgesang, and even spirited shots at some lung-busting R&B. He also raps, of course, but he’s already shown that he’s good at that—September’s “Mel Made Me Do It,” a teaser for this album, proved his talent undeniable. It’s true that he’s eked out a few strained choruses before—most notably on 2017’s choir-assisted “Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2”—but, since then, he’s been having lessons. Now he sings with the palpable freedom of someone hitting high notes in the shower, folding into the collective roars of the soccer terraces, or, more pointedly in Stormzy’s case, tuning harmonies with fellow church worshippers. He spent much of the past 18 months catching up on COVID-cancelled tour dates, bouncing from arena to festival field. But far from reflected adulation and sweaty mosh pits, this record feels imbued with the stillness of the monthly worship meetings that he attends in South London. “I heard Sunday’s the new Saturday,” he offers, offhandedly, on the title track.

The bulk of This Is What I Mean was recorded on Osea Island, a private slab of land that sits in the Blackwater Estuary, off the coast of Essex. For just a few hours each day, a single road connects the island to the mainland before the tarmac is swallowed up by brackish waters. Stormzy needed to isolate himself—from the world, from expectations, and from his inner doubts and demons—to remind himself what freedom feels like. In a setting that was part writing camp and part religious retreat, the sprawling cast of musicians hand-picked to work on the record would wake, eat, pray, and then create. Even with this collective approach, for much of the time, Stormzy is performing for an audience of one: God. Songs like the spare “Holy Spirit,” where he offloads the burdens he wrestled on Heavy Is the Head, are prayers shared. On “Please”—which will stir tabloid headlines for its gentle show of solidarity with Meghan Markle, a fellow lightning rod for the UK’s racist press—he addresses his Creator directly over simple, undulating piano; as his voice slips away to silence, the choir swells to embrace him, like a congregation laying hands on a penitent.

Not that he doesn’t make room for a flex or two amid all the Christian humility. He shrugs off 50-grand charges for sleeping through private jet departure times and blows through luxury watch brands with an ease that would make Switzerland’s toniest dealers blush. It’s wildly entertaining. On the luxurious kick-back rap of “My Presidents Are Black,” he takes potshots at the UK government, offering Cabinet member Michael Gove “something for your nose,” and pokes once more at his old foil Wiley, demurring, “I can’t war with no broken man.” And if he’s not flexing or exploring his faith, then he’s, well, fucking. He delivers “orgasms, more than you can fathom” on “Fire + Water,” and barely winking references to what’s in his pants on “Need You” (whose awkward amapiano log drums exhibit a rare instance of trend-hopping). He has a habit of falling for the corny when he’s pining, and his singing voice is a little too thin to carry off the clichés that pepper “Firebabe” about dancing on tables and “how she lights up a room” being “something to behold.” Sometimes he overshares, but Stormzy’s appeal has long been in his candidness.

The album’s cover depicts an envelope on a doormat. It’s ambiguous enough to hold broad, loaded meanings—just as possibly a letter from an apologetic lover as a demand left at 10 Downing Street’s famous black door. Mostly, though, the album scans as Stormzy’s note to himself, whether he’s writing through paranoia and suicidal thoughts on the lilting “I Got My Smile Back” or letting deep, healing breaths coat the mic on “Please.” Most striking is the clarity of the production. This Is What I Mean is an ensemble affair, but every note, every snare clack and hi-hat, has space to luxuriate. “Ahh, this is clean, this is clean,” Stormzy marvels on the title track. It’s a long way from freestyles in the park. But more than just a feat of engineering, it’s analogous to Stormzy’s clarity of vision and mission on this record. He famously bumped his hero JAY-Z off a song in 2019, and the same considered sense of curation bleeds through at every turn.

If Stormzy’s last album, and the pressure to speak for a generation, weighed heavily, then This Is What I Mean feels lighter, freer. “The second one was stressful but it’s simple for my third/Holy Spirit guide me to the things that you prefer,” he purrs on “My Presidents Are Black,” the album’s thematic anchor. Unburdened, Stormzy is able to open his lungs, not just to scream and shout, but to breathe, and sing. The payoff for the listener is hearing an artist—set aside the slashes—at the height of his powers, both creative and otherwise, and letting his instincts lead.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Stormzy - This Is What I Mean Music Album Reviews Stormzy - This Is What I Mean Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 08, 2022 Rating: 5


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