The story of how I grew up and got into the music industry has been told a few times over now, however Stormzy's latest offering has forced me to re-open that page. Growing up as a young Christian child has never been easy. My faith, and real life, has never gone hand-in-hand and some might even call me a hypocrite for the way that I live. In every area and aspect of my life, I've always tried to put God first, and for the fact that I'm writing an article, as an editor, when I got an E in my English GCSE's is testament to his grace towards me. But, again, it has not been easy. Similar to most people who grew up in disenfranchised circumstances, I too experienced a lot from an early age. And even when I almost overdosed (twice) and had to stay in A&E—and had a gun pointed in my face for the chain that I was wearing—God was there, right by my side.
But in the words of Stormzy (on track 13): don't cry for me.
There's always been a push-and-pull when it comes to my walk with God. I try my best to go to church every Sunday, but you might just catch me at a rave the night before (and the one before that). I sound like a hypocrite, I know. But the pressures of being a pastor's son adds to this story, too. My dad dreams of me becoming a preacher one day, and taking over the church when he's gone. Pastor JP does have a ring to it but I'm just not sure it's my true calling; if that was the case, I would've been well into my bible studies and tried to preach at least one sermon by now.
So when Stormzy shared the title for his debut album, I knew straight away that I'd be able to relate. And when I actually listened to Gang Signs & Prayer, I connected with it in a way that I hadn't done with album in years—especially a grime album. Mine and Stormzy's stories are actually quite similar; both from strong, Christian backgrounds, both from broken homes, both young black kings trying to navigate through this world. Even in the title—and the Last Supper-inspired artwork with him as Jesus and his disciples as mobsters—it's clear that he too is going through a similar fight, but wants to let God know that he's grateful for the continuous blessings.
"Blinded By Your Grace" (Part 1 & 2), for example, is worthy of any youth choir, and there's a strong gospel influence throughout the album, both in the lyrics and melodies used within production. Bible-fuelled bars spring up randomly, and the prayer from Stormzy's mum on "100 Bags" sounds just like what my own mother would tell me down the phone. Trust: if Chance The Rapper grew up in South London and listened to grime, his Grammy-winning mixtape, Coloring Book, would sound a lot like this.
“Yes, yes, church bwoooy...”
Friends would throw that at me on a regular and I'd always laugh it off. I have never shied away from the fact that my dad's a minister, and that I actually enjoy going to church and hearing The Good Gospel. But not everyone will understand that if they didn't grow up in it or have never been to a Holy Ghost-filled, Pentecostal service. And then there's the thing of people not thinking you're "real" because you believe in Jesus (?). Some of the realest people I know, some of whom have served a lot of jail time for some very real things, are now valued members of God's church. Does that realness end because they now read the bible? Furthermore, having faith in God is one of the realest things that one can do.
On the track "Velvet", Stormzy raps: "The boys wanna tease at my faith, that's just another reason to pray." And I couldn't agree more—I've been there, too. "21 Gun Salute", which features the ever-chilled Wretch 32 on hook duties, is almost half a prayer, half a rebuke for Stormzy's naysayers, aka the "pagans", because he "don't ever wanna be like them." To pray for your enemies isn't something that comes natural to us 20-somethings, but Mikey reminds us of that here and it's refreshing to hear. The MC also touches on the issue of fake friends on the Raleigh Ritchie-assisted "Don't Cry For Me", and how he needs to draw closer to the Lord to fill that void.
There's a lot of people out there like me and Stormzy—young black boys who love God, but also enjoy life's ungodly pleasures. Gang Signs & Prayer is the soundtrack to our lives that we never knew we needed. It reminds us of God's grace towards us—even with our messed up ways—and that we essentially need to put him first in every situation so that he can continue to protect and guide us. So, see you in church on Sunday (after the rave!).