At the start of 2019, Stormzy was largely quiet. The year before, he only delivered one feature, contributing to Jorja Smith’s Let You Down, and the last single of his came more than a year before. The break was fair. His debut album Gang Signs & Prayer was a gigantic success. It went number one in his home country eventually winning British Album of The Year at the Brit Awards. He was also nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.
In just a couple of years, Stormzy transformed himself from a DIY rapper throwing freestyles on YouTube to grime’s most successful commercial MC. While his 2018 silence was noted, there was a feeling that a storm was brewing and that’s exactly what was happening. He launched back onto the scene in April with Vossi Bop - one of his largest flexes and most immediate cuts yet.
“I think it just embodies everything that I’m about,” he told Beats1 when the song dropped.
“The confidence, the humor, the style, the flair, the anarchy, the chaos, just the vibe.”
The public agreed too. The song shot straight to number one in the UK, awarding him his first pole position on the chart. What made it an even bigger victory was that it beat Taylor Swift’s comeback single ME! and also knocked chart behemoth Lil Nas X off number one. It was very clear at that point that Stormzy was not about to mess around this year. In 2018, he was announced as the headliner of Glastonbury 2019 and he had something to prove. He’d be the first grime rapper to headline and, with just one album under his belt, the second youngest artist to ever do it. Vossi Bop’s popularity proved that he was more than ready to take on the job.
The week before Glastonbury, while Vossi Bop was still storming the charts, he came out with Crown. A far more demure cut than its predecessor, Crown contemplated the doubt that comes with fame. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” Stormzy raps on the song, bolstered by a soulful chorus.
Like Gang Signs & Prayer showed, Stormzy is a versatile rapper capable of holding down a monstrous beat while also appearing emotionally bare. He’d already made history by the time he stepped on the Glasto stage but the performance only solidified his place. It was a fast-moving, relentless set that celebrated grime, pulling Dave on stage, and also British music in general with an appearance from Chris Martin. It was also a political one with Stormzy leading a 10,000 strong singalong of “Fuck Boris”.
Vossi Bop started the set while he brought it home with the menacing Big For Your Boots. By the time he stepped off the stage, the praise was flying. Adele called the performance “monumental”, while Jeremy Corbyn praised it for being “political” and “iconic”. As much as the set was a breakthrough moment for Stormzy and grime, he was also using the platform to shine a light on racial and economic injustice in Britain. For a country going through one of its most turbulent political periods, it was poignant.
By mid-year, Stormzy had already earned the right to take his foot off the gas but he’s just kept going. He hooked up with his buddy Ed Sheeran once again on Take Me Back To London, flexing his pop chops and claiming another number one record in the process. While the song was still sizzling, he unleashed Sounds Of The Skeng, a Sound Of Music-referencing banger that retained none of the enchantment from the classical music. It was another braggadocious cut that made him look like a giant. And just in case you thought he wouldn’t be able to keep them coming, he flicked back into freestyle mode with surprise drop Wiley Flow. It’s been a controversial year for grime don Wiley as he’s called out Drake for being a grime “culture vulture” but Stormzy paid respect to the OG, saluting him with this urgent track.
Now, we're totally enthralled with his latest album, Heavy Is The Head. Boasting the singles we've already heard like Crown and Vossi Bop, he also rides in on a fiery chariot on songs like Audacity.
“I’ve been in with different producers, proper focusing on being the most incredible artist that I can be,” he said.
“Sometimes people make an album of 15 tracks with singles and some filler songs. There’s no way I’m making a body of work with filler songs. Every song is gonna serve such a purpose. I’ve tried to do the epitome of every single part of my DNA. Every feel that I want the listener to feel.”
It’s a big statement but if he’s proved anything with the year that he’s had it’s that he’s not about falling short of any expectations with this new record. He’s had one of the most profound years in British music and with Heavy Is The Head now here, he's only getting started.