After a career-defining performance at Glastonbury this summer, British grime artist Stormzy is now confronting his place on the throne—a place often as lonely and dangerous as it is rewarding. On Heavy Is the Head, Stormzy asks himself what kind of leader he wants to be, feeling the pressure of a divine test as he raps on early banger "Audacity. " Will he be a villainous tyrant who flexes his crown with arrogant bravado, or will he use his platform to serve his community? Stormzy often chooses the latter, embracing humility ("Do Better"), forgiveness ("Rainfall"), and dependence on God ("Crown") over boastful narcissism.
Stormzy emerged as one of the most promising talents associated with grime's revival circa 2014, and it didn't take long for him to become one of the U.K.'s biggest pop stars. His widely praised 2017 full-length debut, Gang Signs & Prayer, entered the charts at number one and was eventually certified platinum, in addition to being crowned album of the year by the Brit Awards and MOBO Awards, among others. Leading up to the release of his hotly anticipated second album, Stormzy headlined the Glastonbury Festival, scored his first number one single ("Vossi Bop"), and even appeared on the cover of Time, beaming from the magazine rack in every dentist office in America.
Few can lay claim to the success that Stormzy 's achieved not two years after his BRIT Award-winning debut, Gang Signs & Prayer. There's his own #Merky brand, at once a record label with Warner Music, an imprint of Penguin Books and a scholarship at the University of Cambridge, all dedicated to supporting a new generation of young, black voices. With one tweet, Stormzy did more to mobilise a youth vote than the entire UK government managed in nine years.
Before you even reach for the play button on 'Heavy Is The Head', it goes without saying that Stormzy has a lot to prove. Second albums are difficult at the best of times, but it's a much fiercer beast to tame once stoked with the expectations brought on by a killer headline set at the biggest festival in the world and following up a platinum-selling, Number One debut. The decision to drop the LP on the morning after a critical general election shows Stormzy facing his duty as the voice of his generation head on, a heavy obligation captured on the album's cover as the rapper casts a sorrowful glance down at the Banksy-designed stab vest emblazoned with the Union Jack; our broken Britain.
Without a doubt, from North America, Stormzy is the "it" rapper of the UK. His wearing of the crown, that ever-unattainable aspect of rap popularity, is a foregone conclusion and his latest album Heavy Is the Head delves into the character of the king. Stormzy reflects both on his own rise, literally, and the figurative rise everyone must make on their own path to royalty. Heavy's downside is its Britishness, and if there are any bangers on this album, they have not made it across the pond.
His line from "Audacity," encapsulates the rise ….
Stormzy's second album hit streaming services in the UK just a couple of hours after polls closed in the country's latest general election. The vote was touted as the most important in recent British history, but, honestly, you'd be forgiven for having lost track by now. Besides, this timing wasn't planned: The election was called just a matter of weeks ago.
"H ow's the best spitter in grime so commercial?" wonders Stormzy on Wiley Flow, a standout track off his second studio album, Heavy Is the Head. It is a pointed rhetorical flourish from a man who mostly wears the mantle of street poet-king like a tracksuit made of fine silk. It was, arguably, only a matter of time before grime threw up its true crossover star.
"W hen Banksy put the vest on me," says Stormzy, a matter of minutes in to his second album, "it felt like God was testing me." It's the second time he's mentioned his headlining appearance at this year's Glastonbury in as many tracks, but who can blame him? A risky but ultimately triumphant, even epochal performance, it served to underline Stormzy's unique position among his UK rap peers. Britain is currently teeming with fantastic MCs, but Stormzy is the only one your dad knows the name of. In the two years since the release of his debut album, Gang Signs & Prayer, he has become a boundary-crossing figure in British cultural life.