Over the course of his expansive, heartfelt and defiantly sprawling new album, the BRIT and Ivor Novello award-winning Stormzy has delivered an undeniable classic; effortlessly condensing any number of disparate styles and genres into music which bravely broaches any gap between modern Black British music, soul and hip-hop.
Executively Produced by British producer PRGRSHN, the album includes the top 10 single ‘Hide & Seek’; an emotive, soulful and ethereal offering and his latest release ‘Firebabe’; a beautifully delicate and deeply touching sound. An array of incredible musicians are also scattered throughout the record including vocal appearances from the likes of Sampha, Jacob Collier, Debbie and more, all of which are listed here.
A bold and courageous leap forward from his critically acclaimed previous two #1 records, ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ and ‘Heavy Is The Head’, this isn’t music simply for the pop charts but rather, an intimate and sincere love letter to music. He speaks on forgiving his absent father on the mellifluous ‘Please’ and refers to his challenges with paranoia, depression and self-doubt on penultimate track, ‘I Got My Smile Back’ – which also features a guest vocal from the incomparable India.Arie. It’s a record which showcases intensely personal and lyrical themes which in turn lay bare the vulnerabilities, regret, frailties, healing, joy and triumph in a manner and to an extent that reframes the notion of what rap artists traditionally might do and be.
In a letter posted to his social media pages last night, Stormzy wrote:
“When Tyler, The Creator released the masterpiece that is ‘IGOR’ he shared a message with it and I wanted to do the same but I was hesitant. Mainly because I would love for my music to do all the talking but I thought I’d share this message anyway.
I do a lot of interviews and I forget that everything I say will be shared far and wide, which is probably naive of me. Things that I say in real life don’t feel the same when I see it in text. I feel like I overshare, which makes me feel naked at times. But I do it so that you guys can understand me a bit better and to give the art that I make some context. I’m never ever purposely trying to defy genres or go against the grain. I’m never tryna do what is unexpected of me or what is expected of me. If I rap for 7 minutes it’s because in my spirit, in that moment, I just really wanted to fucking rap. If I sing my heart out then it’s because my soul just absolutely had to. I love music. I love, love loveeeee music. I will rap for the rest of my life, I will sing for the rest of my life, I will make art for the rest of my life. And at no point will I ever do any of those things for any other reason than I JUST WANTED TO AND IT JUST FELT GOOD. I am not a calculated mastermind with the ability to gauge what kind of music to make and when I’ll make it, I literally just feel and then let it out. People been tryna box me in for years but I hope this chapter at least makes my biggest critic say “hey, he’s shit but he loves music and I guess he’s gonna do whatever he likes” lol
I pray you listen to this album in your own time, whenever you can. Listen to it properly with no distractions. I pray you listen to this album with an open heart and if you hate it after I promise to God I’m perfectly fine with that, I’m just grateful that you listened with openness. I pray that it moves you and captures your imagination. And I pray that someone, somewhere, feels it.
This Is What I Mean.
And it’s what I’ve always meant. 🙏🏿
God bless. Stormz x”
The confidence which drove the album stemmed from a deeper and far more spiritual place than we have seen from Stormzy previously. For all the success and awards that he has accrued during his brief, meteoric career, the lockdown that ensued from the coronavirus pandemic gave him one commodity he’d long lacked: time. And thanks to his sense of accomplishment following Glastonbury he was, for the first time, in a position to make the most of it.
Much of the creative energy that shaped the album emerged from a Stormzy music camp in Osea Island – a remote island in the Essex estuary that’s only accessible via a Roman Causeway for four hours a day at low tide. Surrounded by leading-edge producers and musicians each and every morning they would eat and pray together and then spend the rest of the time driven to creative heights by each other’s talents.
“When you hear about music camps they always sound intense and sombre,” says Stormzy. ““People saying: “We need to make an album.” “We need to make some hit records.” But this felt beautifully free. We’re all musicians but we weren’t always doing music. Some days we played football or walked around taking pictures. And the bi-product to that was very beautiful music. Because when you marry that ethos with world class musicians and the best producers, writers and artists in the world, and we’re in one space, that’s a recipe for something that no one can really imagine. You can’t even calculate what that’s going to come up with. And it came up with a big chunk of this album.”
The net result is that while ‘This Is What I Mean’ sounds very much like Stormzy, it sounds like no Stormzy album you have ever heard before.