After flexing his GOAT status on the seven-minute epic “Mel Made Me Do It” back in September, Stormzy has returned with his long-awaited third album This Is What I Mean. The album is the British rapper’s first release since Heavy Is the Head, the monumental 2019 album that propelled him to superstardom, scoring him his first number-one single “Vossi Bop” and become the first UK grime star to headline Glastonbury, which he performed in the now-infamous Banksy vest.
Even at the height of his fame, Stromzy isn’t compromising his roots. Having so far managed to balance his street credentials with mainstream success, This Is What I Mean doesn’t feature big-stage crowd pleasers, but rather his focus remains rooted in celebrating British Blackness, with arguably more modest vocal appearances from the likes of Sampha, Jacob Collier, and Debbie. There’s impeccable flows and hard-hitting beats, even a few classical interludes. But it’s Stormzy’s pen that steals the show. From forgiving his absent father on “Please” to grappling with depression on the gospel-tinged “I Got My Smile Back” (“Me and suicide reports, we haven’t spoke for years”), the album is intensely personal and reveals a vulnerability that is rarely seen in British rap. “I feel like I overshare, which makes me feel naked at times. But I do it so that you guys can understand me a bit better and to give the art that I make some context.” he wrote in an accompanying statement.
Listening to This Is What I Mean feels like a momentous occasion. The rapper born Michael Omari is a generational talent whose music caters to everyone from kids to critics to the local guy at the corner shop. With this, his book imprint #Merky Books and his scholarship scheme for Black British students at the University of Cambridge, his influence can be felt all across British culture. “I pray you listen to this album in your own time, whenever you can. Listen to it properly with no distractions,” he concluded. “I pray you listen to this album with an open heart and if you hate it after I promise to God I’m perfectly fine with that, I’m just grateful that you listened with openness.”
Elsewhere, Marcel Dettmann unveils his first record in ten years, Björk-collaborator Rabit releases a collaborative concept album featuring the likes of Eartheater, SALEM, Baby Blue, and Lauren Auder, and legendary Detroit producer Waajeed’s Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz is a celebration of Black joy.