A royal return? Stormzy’s Heavy Is The Head reviewed

Stormzy performs on stage during day one of Capital's Jingle Bell Ball with Seat at London's O2 Arena.
Stormzy performs on stage during day one of Capital's Jingle Bell Ball with Seat at London's O2 Arena.

If Gang Signs And Prayer was an enigmatic walking tour through Stormzy’s spirituality, Heavy Is The Head is his blueprint for the mortal world.

Within minutes, the 26-year-old has referenced his ever-growing list of accolades: headlining Glastonbury, his handful of Brit Awards, a publishing imprint and numerous magazine covers.

Stormzy, real name Michael Omari, has come a long way since he uploaded a freestyle titled Shut Up to YouTube in 2015.

Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball 2019 – Day One – O2 Arena – London
Stormzy on stage (Isabel Infantes/PA)

His long-awaited second album is a snapshot of an artist plagued by ravenous doubts but ready to accept the burden – and responsibilities – of fame.

“I am not the poster boy for mental health / I need peace of mind, I need to centre self,” he raps on One Second, a soaring trap-infused collaboration with Californian singer H.E.R.

It’s impossible to deny the towering worth of tracks like Superheroes, his tribute to the “young black kings” and “immaculate” black queens of British culture.

The song encapsulates the essence of the black is beautiful movement, which celebrates black bodies, creativity and expression in its purest form.

Stormzy is aware of the intense scrutiny with which this album will be received.

Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Awards 2019 – London
Collaborator Ed Sheeran (Ian West/PA)

He nods to it in album opener Big Michael’s introduction, where a voice asks “I beg you, G, release music, fam” before the track’s bombastic horn section kicks in.

And on Bronze he tackles the topic head on.

“These gatekeepers are pricks / And you old guys make me sick / They just take the P, take the mick / So, in other words, suck my dick,” he intones.

Manchester rapper Aitch contributes a dash of colour to Pop Boy, his accent clashing lazily with Stormzy’s south London drawl.

Other artists are used less carefully. American neo-soul singer Yebba is one casualty.

Her vocals on the ill-judged interlude Don’t Forget To Breathe feel tacked on, and the track superfluous.

It’s just one of a number of songs that could have been cut outright.

HITH sounds like Stormzy stretching out in the studio and experimenting with new musical forms.

This doesn’t always come off.

Do Better and Rachael’s Little Brother pack in lyrical story-telling but feel directionless placed in the 16-song album’s sagging middle section.

BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards 2019 – London
Maya Jama (Scott Garfitt/PA)

The one-two gut punch that closes the album (Lessons and Vossi Bop) will certainly satisfy any feverish interest in Stormzy’s private life.

On Lessons, Stormzy addresses his very public split from radio presenter Maya Jama.

A late addition to the album, the rapper is begging for forgiveness. But for what?

The track could be a less-than-subtle nod to the accusations of infidelity levelled at him this year.

“To be honest if I were you / Then I’d be unforgiving too,” he croons.

Right after comes the album’s first single (and Stormzy’s first number one) Vossi Bop, where he describes Jama as a “goddess” – a throwback from their four-year relationship.

Placed as the album’s last song, Vossi Bop feels like a victory lap, a celebration of what a young man with the odds stacked against him has achieved through talent and hard work.

But it’s also a bittersweet reflection of how Stormzy’s life has changed irreversibly since 2015.

Rating: 7/10

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