Stormzy – Heavy is the Head
- David Pollock
- 20 December 2019
This article is from 2019
British rapper's much-anticipated second studio album is reflective and confident
'When Banksy put the vest on me / it felt like God was testing me,' exhales Stormzy over the closing beats of his track 'Audacity'. It's a tense callback to the hour or two on Glastonbury's main stage over the summer when he was the most important and bitingly relevant artist in the UK, his Banksy-defined Union Jack stab vest making a succinct statement which his music then proceeded to elaborate on in style; although, in pop and in politics, six months appears to be an eternity these days. Almost three years after Gang Signs & Prayer took British music by storm, does the much-anticipated follow-up still have a grasp upon the nation's pulse?
'I'm my country's greatest poet / only right I make them know it,' he raps over the mellow chiptune soul of 'Rachael's Little Brother', an uncharacteristic moment of near-arrogance on a song which is otherwise about managing the burden of expectation brought by fame, and trying to remain rooted in family and reality. The much-trailed 'Crown', the song which contains Heavy is the Head's title lyric, embodies this feeling in tender, soulful fashion; amid his thoughts about trying to balance doing good, maintaining a commercial profile and seeing his mum, he publicly questions and reaffirms his own moves: 'I done a scholarship for the kids, they said its racist / it's not anti-white, it's pro-black.'
This feeling persists throughout, of being in the spotlight in a manner which few stars of such wide appeal will have before – he mentions Twitter more than once ('how's a tweet on Twitter gonna kill me?' he asks on 'Handsome'), which is a subtly different show of pressure to olden-days rock stars' complaints about the media and music press. Yet even as he addresses these doubts, he reaffirms his own commitment; on the light and breezy 'Rainfall', for example, where he wishes to 'let the rain fall on my enemies' alongside a freeing burst of Mary Mary's devotional 'Shackles', or 'Do Better' and 'Don't Forget to Breathe's affirmative anthems to self-care and healthy living.
Although his chirpy guest raps are kept to a relative minimum in 'Own It', the presence of Ed Sheeran serves to remind of the A-list circles which Stormzy moves in these days. There is a theory out there which suggests he's no longer the sound of young Britain – and London in particular – as much as he's now the sound of middle-aged Britain who want a sense of access to a youth culture which is swinging in the direction of drill, of styles which are darker and less hopeful.
Yet amid the lightness of 'Superheroes' and the self-examination of 'Lessons', and the well-buried grit of his first number one 'Vossi Bop', this is an album which aspires to more, which seeks to serve as leadership-by-example to anyone who's listening. The feeling is, it will stand the test of time.
Heavy is the Head is out now. Stormzy plays the Hydro, Glasgow, on Thu 10 Sep.