2017, Music

Gang Signs & Prayer (2017) by Stormzy

I have no idea what Grime is, I’ve never heard of it. But I don’t think I need to know.

For whatever reason, I often fine UK hip hop easier to get into to American hip hop. I have a long history of feeling this way about British artists who appropriate American genres (the blues, American folk, country, jazz, hip hop) but I’m not alone, so that’s something, I guess. Despite not liking hip hop, I do like trip hop, which has meant that I accidentally listened to some UK hip hop before I ever bothered to actively listen to American hip hop. There’s something about UK accents, I guess, that makes UK hip hop sound even more foreign to me than American hip hop, which adds some distance for me, I guess. Who knows?

Anyway, the moment this record started I was like “ohhhh.” It has a an immediacy and urgency (on many tracks) that is lacking from a lot of the contemporary American hip hop I’ve heard. (That’s more to do with the subgenres or particular rappers I’ve listened to, I’m sure.) And that’s despite containing some R&B on this record, and using many of the same devices, like this weird chimpmunk thing that I feel like is stalking me right now.

Some of this is just sequencing, I think. Many if not most rock artists know to lead their records with some of their most immediate material, at least before they really break. But, so many hip hop records have the tracks most likely to impact the listener buried somewhere deep in the record, often after at least one skit. (It’s possible I feel this way in part because I’m mostly listened to albums by established rappers, not new rappers.) The sequencing of this record really helps because you’ve got a few really intense tracks early on, even if there are a couple of R&B ballads mixed in.

To me, there has long been a close relationship between R&B and hip hop and that has only become closer (and harder to disentangle) in the 21st century. It doesn’t seem remotely weird to me that hip hop artists sing now. I guess people are put off here because of the extreme stylistic differences between the “grime” and the R&B. For some reason – maybe it’s my greater comfort level with UK hip hop and related genres – it doesn’t bug me. I think it’s partly because it’s clear to me that Stormzy can at least sing a little. One thing you’ll notice about a lot of rappers who sing in the 21st century is not only can they not sing well, they seem, um, proud of it. Anyway, that’s all to say that I don’t think the ballads undermine the rest of the record, even though everyone else seems to.

This really good, as far as I know.


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