Right, immediate disclaimer: this review is not written by a Grime connoisseur. My knowledge of Grime music is that it's a British rap genre. That's about it. I may have heard Dizzee Rascal (whom I believe is an early Grime artist) on FIFA Street back in my PS2 days as a child. Apart from that, and a vague idea of some artist names (Skepta?), there's very little Grime knowledge in this white head. Despite this, and having seen the reception Stormzy was given at Glastonbury this year, my interest was piqued by the release of his second album last week.
Well, I may have nothing similar to compare it to, but it sounded pretty bloody good to me. Heavy Is The Head is a smart and confident album from a man at the top of his game. There's a strength and a self-assurance that comes through with every beat, every rhyme, every lyric. Each track is performed with flair and there's more than an ounce of arrogance too, but that's not a bad thing. It's proof that Stormzy knows where he stands - at the top of the UK music game.
Lyrically, and like many rap artists, Stormzy isn't one to mince his words. The most prominent example of this, of course, is the line "f*** the Government, f*** Boris", which was shouted back at him by legions of fans at Glastonbury festival earlier this year. Some of his lyrics almost read like challenges to others, in the style of "come at me if you think you're good enough", and though that may sound cocky, it's a joy to listen to. You'll find that some lines put a sly smile on your face, one of adoration for Stormzy's pure confidence. This is a man who started at the bottom and built himself up, and knows he has earnt his place - unlike some.
This album has a number of collaborators, most of whom fit in without adding too much to the tracks. More than anything, it's just good to hear people working together and enjoying themselves on these songs; there's a unity between these artists. Ed Sheeran, however, does stick out a little bit. The other artists, though well-known, aren't really household artists yet, whereas Ed Sheeran has an instantly recognisable voice and style that jolts the brain when his part begins. And his part is good, once you settle into it, and it does fit the song - but there's an initial shock to the system that takes you out of the song just for a second, as you re-adjust to hearing the man who did 'Thinking Out Loud' and 'Shape of You' on this Stormzy record.
Whilst the quality remains high throughout the record, there are a few standout tracks. Lead single 'Vossi Bop', oddly placed at the end of the record, and 'Do Better' are both brilliant tracks, but 'Crown' has to be the best one on this album. It's well-structured, heartfully performed, and is one of a number of examples that showcase Stormzy's ability to mix and transcend genres beyond Grime.
If there are any Americans out there who are still trying to claim that the British have no rap game, I'm afraid that you have been royally proven wrong. It may not be the hip-hop they're used to hearing, as British rap comes from a slightly different place, but this is an album chock full of hard-hitting and powerful music. The second album is always difficult if you had a lot of success with the first one, as it will either consolidate your status at the top or expose you as a one-album wonder. With Heavy Is The Head, Stormzy has consolidated, and with it, may have taken the crown from Ed Sheeran as the spearhead of the UK music scene.