Album Of The Week: Stormzy –This Is What I Mean

The London rapper's third album is tender and gentle – a far cry from his fierce return earlier this year

Such a huge presence in popular culture is Stormzy, the first black British solo artist to headline Glastonbury and to take a grime album to No.1, that any return after three years away was sure to be a statement. But the surprise release of ‘Mel Made Me Do It’ in September seemed to land with especial force, with both its recalling of a grittier, darker sound and its masterful, and multilayered KLVDR-directed video featuring the likes of Louis Theroux, Jose Mourinho and Usain Bolt.

Most of all, it signalled that Stormzy’s third album was just around the corner (long gone, it seems, are the three month album campaigns). But This Is What I Mean, released today, was not to be an extension of edgy and off-kilter braggadoccio. Far from it.


“Every single day I close my eyes and try to channel you,” he mutters on opener ‘Fire + Water’ as if scribbling in a diary. “Drive through memory lane and then I see you by the avenue.” It sets the candid and confessional tone for the rest of the album, where heartbreak is as enveloping as a house, and its direction aimed at another.

Where before the artist’s softer moments were places to take stock of his faith and gratitude, as on ‘Crown’ or ‘Blinded By Your Grace’, here they blush a heartbroken heart with an almost Boyz II Men smoothness. Interestingly, the title track is the exception with its deep snarl, while ‘Need You’ provides a needed bit of rhythmic oomph, but overall this is stripped-back and piano-based, and its effect is exposing.

The increasingly ubiquitous Sampha lends his characteristic tenderness and twinkle and even gets his own namesake, and there are subtle contributions from an African contingent such as Ayraa Starr and Amaarae. But as it’s name emphasises, This Is What I Mean is Stormzy in the spotlight. In a conversation with Rick Rubin for i-D magazine, the rapper accepts that he should consider his audience last, and that’s exactly what he’s doing here.

There will be some who, after the shimmering final moments of closer ‘Give It To The Water’, will wish for something twisted, heavy or sharp. But this isn’t for them. Instead, This Is What I Mean is the sigh of a conclusion, of writing everything you meant to say but didn’t, enveloping it for good and letting it fall through a door to be found, or not, and walking on toward whatever next is to come.

Stormzy brings a whole day of This Is What I Mean to All Points East next summer – tickets are available here.