2019 has been a year to remember for one of British youth’s brightest voices Stormzy. From a Time magazine cover star to becoming the first Black British artist to headline arguably the biggest festival in the world; Glastonbury, donning a Banksy designed stab-proof vest with a washed-out Union Jack painted on. Mix in his first number-one single with smash hit “Vossi Bop” and the meteoric rise of the 26-year-old MC is unquestionable. Gone are the days of grime clashes and self-recorded music videos on a soccer pitch, Stormzy is undisputedly a star and as it’s often rather humorously stated the only grime MC a British dad might know the name of. Stormzy is big. Stormzy is brash but above all else, Stormzy is unapologetic about who he is while navigating the problems that come with being a Black person in the UK. Sophomore project Heavy is The Head (H.I.T.H) sonically follows a similar aesthetic to what we heard on the artists’ debut project Gang Signs & Prayer, with a mixture of RnB styled crooning mixed together with aggressive and abrasive London Grime. It is within the sonically rich cauldron that Stormzy has found much of his success.
The album starts off with the anthemic “Big Michael” which has opening lines sampled from a voice message Stormzy got dm’d by a fan which was later made public when Stormzy posted the message on his Instagram feed. A frankly larger than life horn instrumental makes up the base of a song in which Stormzy effortlessly boasts about his come up, his Glastonbury set and his philanthropy. The lines: “Big Mike, I’m standin’ with the greats; One week it’s ‘Blinded By Your Grace’; Next week it’s bang you in your face” a self-aware reflection on the dualistic nature of his artistic expression as he name drops his gospel-esque cut of Gang Signs & Prayer. Following this, we hear “Audacity” featuring Uk Drill royalty Headie One which is one of the most in your face cuts the album has to offer. We hear the artist pass of verses with an almost endless list of quotable lines such as Stormzy’s boastful “Rudeboy, I came and shook my whole era; No cosigns for me and no carers; 2019 and I swear I’m goin’ clearer; Draw from the dead MC’s like Paul Bearer”. This span of a mere four lines; enough for him to reference his come up, Scientology and legendary manager of WWE’s The Undertaker, Paul Bearer. Not to be outshone, Headie One hits us with a signature verse in his seemingly disinterested tone all while mixing in reference to footballers, Ali G and even Gandhi.
“Crown“ is up next and is our first taste- and a good one at that -of the softer Rnb crooning that is present throughout a host of tracks on the album but those will be bundled together later. “Rainfall” has a slight dancehall-inspired feel to it with a chorus that calls back to Stormzy’s 2018 BRIT Awards performance and near the end of the song we hear an interlope of Mary Mary’s RnB gospel mega hit “Shackles (Praise You)“. Moments that standout from a lyrical point of view for me on H.I.T.H, are made manifest in the form of “Handsome“, “Wiley Flow” and “Bronze“. “Handsome” has Stormzy spitting at a machine-gun rate all while maintaining a chorus vocal effect that is reminiscent of Saturation era Brockhampton. “Wiley Flow” doesn’t just reference the legendary Grime MC but is so full of quotables, in true Wiley fashion form, all while Stormzy spits in a brash and boastful manner. “Bronze” sees Stormzy reference a line from Grime scene legend Jammer with “I’m a big man but I’m not 40” which was also a reference in Chip’s legendary second Fire in the Booth on BBC Radio One. The most interesting line for me from this song, however, comes in the form of “When you hit the stage, you get booed; If I punch your face, I get sued; You ain’t bad, you’re just rude” which I really hope is a dig at Drake and when he got booed off the stage as a surprise headliner at Camp Flog Gnaw.
The Drake discussion actually plays in well with my feelings surrounding the crooner RnB cuts on the album. Although I think these softer cuts on Stormzy’s record carry far more emotional weight than a large portion of the soft RnB in Drake’s catalogue, we can’t deny that for one the beat of “Rachel’s Little Brother” sounds an awful lot like a Views era Drake song. And just like much of what Drake has produced post maybe “Take Care”, a lot of the softer cuts on H.I.T.H will undoubtedly be majorly successful with enormous amounts of airtime on radio, where I personally find them to be rather bland. The subject matter isn’t awful but it’s the delivery and production choices that leave me wanting more. Songs like “Do Better” and “Lessons” are forgettable. “Superheroes” carries a really important message, however, the delivery is in no way as impactful as that of “Dave’s Black“. Blandest of all, however, in my opinion goes to “Own it” featuring Burna Boy and Ed Sheeran, which seems so out of place where the rest of the album is concerned. Honestly, it sounds far more like an Ed Sheeran cut than something meant for H.I.T.H and Burna Boy’s contribution is minimal at best.
However, there are some crooner style cuts which actually work really well on the album. The interlude “Don’t Forget to Breathe” is an angelic more sonically nostalgic RnB cut that serves as an incredibly beautiful pallet cleanser. This angelic interlude is also followed by a beautiful collaborative cut “One Second” featuring American Grammy winner H.E.R. This song strikes an almost perfect balance between RnB crooning while never dipping into dullness and is a glimpse of how good a Stormzy project could be if the balance between the harsher and softer cuts hits that sweet spot. In my personal opinion, H.I.T.H is full of ups and downs and even though I find some of the softer cuts to not really contribute much to the release as whole objectively they aren’t bad songs. Fortunately, the album also has a list of highlights and the cuts that shine, shine unbelievably bright. It’s more than enough of an impressive project that his already been announced as the headline set at Rocking the Daisies in 2020, which I dare say is unmissable.