Stormzy, All Points East review — London rapper delights with singalongs and soul-searching

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“I set trends dem man copy,” tweeted Michael Gove in 2019, quoting Stormzy’s 2015 freestyle “Shut Up”. Sardonic though it was, the reference by the Conservative MP spoke to the south London rapper’s cultural impact, which has only prospered since then (unlike the #Grime4Corbyn campaign). Stormzy has headlined Glastonbury, scored three UK number-one albums and conquered both the middle-class mainstream and the underground music scene.

At Stormzy’s This Is What We Mean day, part of the All Points East festival in east London and named after his latest album, the 30-year-old celebrated his #Merky community. His second album, Heavy Is The Head, weighed joy and bemusement at making “a milli from grime”, the spiky, fast-paced brand of UK rap. As the heavens opened on cue during “Rainfall”, the atmosphere was far removed from his rain-soaked performance at the 2018 Brit Awards, fuelled by fury over the Grenfell Tower fire. “You lot are family — I appreciate you spending your hard-earned money on a ticket,” he told the crowd on Friday, an infectious smile on his face. “As long as I have a career, I will never stop saying thank you.” 

Stormzy is a true big-tent Londoner: he may be nicknamed “Stiff Chocolate” and “The Problem”, but he’s also “coming like a young Chris Martin”, “the black Kate Bush” or “a young black Biden”. With backing from a band and choir, he led a multicultural, all-ages crowd through singalongs and soul-searching newer material, mixing worship music with the blunt lyrics and bittersweet modal instrumentals of grime. Melodically it worked, the catchy yet pensive choruses of “Crown” and “Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2” given a congregational feel. Lyrically, results were more mixed, with breakup anthem “Fire + Water” jumping from “holy water” to “giving you orgasms”, and “Please” containing a request to “get off my phone . . . [and] leave Meghan alone”.

Yet it was this taste for candid statements that cemented Stormzy in late-2010s youth culture. As “Sampha’s Prayer” died away, DJ Tiiny appeared on stage and the stabbing breakbeats of “Big for Your Boots” rolled across Victoria Park. “Man know that I kick up the yout,” shouted mums, dads and teenagers as one, sprinting back from the Truffle Burger stand. Stormzy’s older hits are studded with nuggets of London life, shared experiences for the crowd to roar out in delight, from “the irony of trapping on a Boris bike” to the expletive-laden line directed at Johnson in “Vossi Bop”. “Know Me From” was dated by its homage to Wiley, the embattled godfather of grime later savaged in “Wiley Flow”. “If you can’t do 10K first week, then I don’t wanna hear no chat about numbers,” Stormzy chided, leaping sock-footed and shirtless through the downpour.

Having given the people what they wanted — restarting “Vossi Bop” to sing the best-known line again — he wound down in a mellower spirit of community, closing on a note of “Bible studies at the crib” and another worshipful singalong. “This is God’s plan, they can never stop this,” he rapped. As the rain tailed off in eerie synchronicity with his departure, it was hard to argue.


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