UK artist Stormzy recently reached number one in the charts with his debut album Gangs Signs & Prayer in what may have been the most eagerly anticipated urban release in some time. Stormzy has become the poster boy for a new generation of UK rappers, and many feel that he is the trendsetter for the genre. So with Stormzy being open to talking about his faith, what does this mean for the rest of the UK urban music scene?
Many will say that this is nothing new. There are a number rappers who have openly rapped about their faith. The majority of these would be classed as Christian rappers and include the likes of Guvna B and S.O to name a few. Despite this, it is a rare approach to take in the mainstream scene.
In the US last year we saw Chance the Rapper receive critical claim and eventually a Grammy for his album Colouring Book, where he was also unafraid to talk about his faith on a number of his songs. Stormzy is probably the first mainstream artist to translate this over to the UK market. What's most similar about Chance the Rapper and Stormzy is that they are both independent artists. Neither of them have record labels telling them how to shape their music, so they are free to explore religious themes without having to worry about censorship.
On GSAP, Stormzy faith is most openly displayed on two songs, 'Blinded By Your Grace', part 1 and 2. For any person who’s been to a black majority church, the chords for Blinded By Your Grace Pt.1 will be extremely familiar. It’s the type of thing you’d expect to hear at a Sunday morning service and features a stripped down musical arrangement. Blinded by Your Grace Pt. 2 is a bit more upbeat and reminded me of something you would have heard on a Christian rap album circa 2006. The song has an uplifting feel good sound and brings the conversation of God's grace to a new audience. It's not all like this though, as other songs on the album are in keeping with what you're likely to hear on any other mainstream rap project, with plenty of bad language and other unsavoury subject matters.
Just a few days after the release, I heard the song being blasted out on a rival football team's speakers in their changing room. To say I was shocked was an understatement as it was a massive departure from the type of music I'm used to hearing in that environment. Though the rest of the albums themes are not always in keeping with the themes explored on 'Blinded By Your Grace', hopefully it will make people think about God's goodness in their lives.
The amount of transparency that artists are showing in their music is refreshing. When it comes to artists exploring Christian themes, we often now talk about ‘journeys’, ultimately knowing that change does not come overnight. The Christian life is a process, one which is started by the gospel becoming central to all aspects of your life. For that reason, change is one of the most important components. It’s impossible to meet with Jesus and stay the same. Let’s hope and pray that as these artists continue to be open with their faith, they are also open to the change that we are all in need of.
Blog by Nathan Jones