This Is What I Mean by Stormzy review: A triumphant and moving record

Fans have been moved to tears by Stormzy’s new record (Picture: Matthew Baker/Getty Images)

Rap has been in a reflective – indeed, downright introspective – mood lately. Then again, so has most pop music, so why would rap be different?

Perhaps it’s because rap has traditionally been so much about fronting up, proclaiming dominance. But the game has changed.

Nowadays the challenge is to see who can be the most sensitive, the most vulnerable, the most self-aware.

Though he nods to them respectfully on his third album, it would be cynical, and surely untrue, to suggest Stormzy is trying to keep up with the Kendricks or the Daves.

Yes, these are his peers, and the big fish in any sea tend to swim in the same direction. But crucially, This Is What I Mean doesn’t just meet the mood of the moment – it refashions it, with ambition and conviction, successfully harnessing the contributions of numerous guest musicians to Stormzy’s vision.

In fact, it’s hardly a rap record at all, in the familiar sense – it’s more an expansive, rap-infused soul/R&B record, which sounds more like the output of acclaimed British music collective Sault.

The rapper continues to raise the bar (Picture: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Epic opener Fire + Water is quite the statement, touching on neo-soul, trap, trip hop and gospel, while on the grit-and-velvet funk of the title track, Stormzy does the reviewers’ job for us by announcing, ‘I think I’m Kanye mixed with Donny Hathaway’.

We know which Kanye he means – the studio genius, not the virulent anti-Semite – and this is not a misplaced boast.

Even with occasional longueurs in its second half, this is a mightily impressive piece of work: distinctively of its time and place yet unconstrained by them; dense, intricate and above all, moving – a soul, and a reputation, laid on the line, with triumphant results.

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