With two number one albums already under his belt, grime artist Stormzy showcases a softer, more mellow style on his latest album This Is What I Mean, compared to his previous heavy chart toppers like Shutup and Vossi Bop. Stormzy takes listeners on a musical journey through his past relationships, heartbreak, mental health struggles and faith on the new album, which he recorded at a writing camp on Osea Island, Essex, with the help of a variety of musicians and collaborators.
Stormzy opens the album on a simplistic note with Fire + Water, an eight-minute intimate ballad which showcases his vocal abilities as a singer, backed by a piano. The stripped-down track tells an emotional tale of a failed relationship and features religious imagery; ‘If your love is my Holy Water / Girl, just let me drown’. Religion seems to be a running theme throughout the album, with references made on other tracks including Firebabe, where Stormzy compares his lover to ‘lookin’ like an angel’, as well as rapping about the ‘blood of Christ’ on I Got My Smile Back, having a song called Holy Spirit and the overall use of gospel choir backing vocals throughout the record.
The experimentation continues throughout the album with Need You, a cool, upbeat jazz inspired afro-beat track, featuring melodic vocals from musician Tendai. However, fans will be pleased to learn Stormzy does fall back into his old grime ways on the title track song This Is What I Mean, bursting full of energy and lyricism, with many mentions of his fellow contemporaries including Harry Styles, Giggs and Ed Sheeran.
Stormzy’s calmer tone on This Is What I Mean reflects his open vulnerability to share his highs and lows with his listeners. He really bares all throughout the album and leaves no stone unturned, especially on the track I Got My Smile Back, where he discusses his previous mental health struggles with depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. Despite the dark topics, the song has an optimistic feel, showing fans that there is light at the end of the tunnel; a positive message to be sending to fans.
One thing to love about Stormzy is that he has always been a big supporter of other creatives in the industry. On This Is What I Mean, Stormzy champions other black artists by featuring them on the album. Debbie Ehirim’s soft vocals are featured on Firebabe and Give It To The Water, Sampha gets his own song – Sampha’s Plea, and there are many other great features from upcoming artists including Tems, Amaarae and Ayra Starr. It was also recently announced that Stormzy will be headlining All Points East for one day next year for a special ‘This Is What We Mean Day’, which he will no doubt be bringing some of these talented artists along.
Although This Is What I mean is a move away from the grime scene, it’s hard not to love and appreciate Stormzy’s creativity and talent. Despite the calmer melodies, his lyrical ability keeps listeners interested in the twelve tracks, whilst his vulnerability on taboo subjects gives others a role model to look up to.