Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer: Overrated?

Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer: Overrated?

Yes, this is a music blog now. I still might do the odd non-music related piece but I need to post more regularly and album reviews are probably the best way to do that. If you’re not that into music. Well. Sucks for you.

So anyway, if you haven’t been living on a different planet for the last month, you’ll know that Stormzy’s released his debut album and everyone’s been pretty much going insane. It’s reached number 1 in the UK charts and everyone and their mums have been raving about it and becoming apprentice roadmen.

I was very excited to give this album a listen, as the last grime record that I gave a try was Wiley’s latest album, ‘Godfather’, which was incredible. Seriously. If you’ve got a friend that’s never liked grime and doesn’t get it, tell them to listen to that album. Pretty much every song on it’s a banger.

I was expecting something similar from ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, hence my excitement. However, I came away from it fairly disappointed. And I’ll tell you why.

But first, the good stuff. Now I won’t lie, there are some excellent cuts on here. The first single to be released from the album, ‘Big For Your Boots’, is punchy and aggressive (which, in my opinion, is what Stormzy does best) and also had a great music video which provided an insightful social commentary of modern day Britain (more specifically, London). ‘Cold’ is along the same lines, with a fast paced and catchy instrumental the compliments Stormzy’s style very well. ‘Bad Boys’ is slower in pace, but not anymore laid back. The trap influenced instrumental combined with the holy vibes of the low pitched choral backing really brings out the grittiness of this track. J HUS’ and Ghetts’ features are much appreciated, especially the latter with his very distinct voice and staccato delivery contributing to the overall vibe here. ‘Mr Skeng’ is another banger much along the lines of ‘Cold’, with a slightly less high-strung instrumental. ‘Return of the Rucksack’ is another great tune (the line “Then I blow on the riddim like ISIS” never fails to make me chuckle a bit).

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I don’t know why, but this annotation cracks me up.

Yet the majority of songs on this release leave me wanting for more. Stormzy seems to be going for this more deep and personal vibe, romantic in some cases. However for me, it just doesn’t work. Of course, he can do personal very well, as we see in ‘Big for your Boots’, but in these other cuts, it just sounds corny. The instrumentals are all very slow paced, which in itself is not a bad thing, but they feel lethargic when you know that Stormzy is better suited to going at a fast pace. On tracks like ‘100 Bags’ I keep on expecting him to start speeding up and the beat to actually, y’know, move a bit. Alas that doesn’t happen and subsequently I want to go to sleep. In ’21 Gun Salute’ the instrumental is so minimalist. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing. But here it’s just. So. Boring. On the other hand, ‘Blinded By Your Grace’ has an instrumental that feels so bombastic it’s ridiculous. There’s some sort of soulful vibe going on I think? Yet it just feels silly. Speaking of silly, the song ‘Cigarettes and Cush’ makes me cringe. I’m not sure why. It could be the clash of the subject matter (smoking weed ‘n’ all that) and the saccharine instrumental which would be best suited to a slow dance at some crap bar somewhere. Not a rave, not a club, not anywhere else really.

There’s a soulful vibe going through most of this album. However, it doesn’t work to Stormzy’s strengths. I can understand why people like it, and it is interesting that the big man opens up and gets a bit more emotional, rather than threatening to beat people up all the time. In my opinion however, overall, this album is just a bit boring. It’s definitely a disappointment in my eyes but I also look forward to what Stormzy’s going to get up to in the future. He’s got shedloads of talent and that was evident in some of the songs in this album. Again, like I said before, Stormzy is best suited to punchy, fast, and violent grime that buoys people up, as opposed to this slow, uninteresting stuff that makes up most of this album. The lyrical content is interesting, don’t get me wrong. But the instrumentals? Nah. Not my thing.

Before I finish, I would like to say that I am glad that the album’s reached number 1 in the charts. Unlike pretty much everything else on there (with notable exceptions such as Rag ‘n’ Bone Man), it has personality and character. As opposed to the processed garbage that’s being thrown at us by coked-up millionaire pop stars who couldn’t give less of a fuck about producing quality music. Mini rant over.

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Especially the Chainsmokers. Boring bastards.

FINAL RATING: 6.2/10

Favourite tracks: Big For Your Boots, Mr Skeng, Cold, Bad Boys (ft. Ghetts & J HUS), Return of the Rucksack

Least favourite tracks: Cigarettes and Cush (ft. Kehlani), 21 Gun Salute (ft. Wretch 32), Blinded By Your Grace pt.2 (ft. MNEK), Blinded By Your Grace pt.1, Velvet/Jenny Francis – Interlude

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#JustMoscowThings

#JustMoscowThings

HAVEN’T DONE THIS IN A WHILE.

Let’s just ignore the fact I’ve not written anything for 3 months and get right into it.

One of the reasons I haven’t written anything for a while is because I’ve been busy settling into Russia after I moved here in early September for the academic year.

“And how’s that going?” I hear you ask. Well I don’t hear you actually, because that’d be strange but you catch my drift.

Well, uh, let’s just say there’s been a few…”teething problems”.

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Despite problem, I am now become true Slav, da?

First of all, the original accommodation we were meant to stay in (the main building of Moscow state university) was full, so we were told, 2 days before we set off to Russia, that we would be in a separate university accommodation. That was fine. I could deal with that. A bit short notice but oh well.

However, when we arrived in the Motherland, we found out our accommodation had been changed. Again. And what was this new accommodation?

A bloody hotel. In the middle of pissing nowhere. Complete with terrible Soviet architecture and slightly very suspect clients. Who would get very pissed in the hotel bar whilst we were there and then have a tendency to ask how much the females of our group “cost”. Creepy Russian men were certainly not a positive of living in the hotel.

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This is the very hotel. If you show this picture to a Leeds Russian student, they will scream and run away.

Then the visas. My word, the visas. If you remember, my last post was a whinge about the bureaucracy required to get the initial visa required for Russia.

Then when we arrived, we would have to then acquire a multiple entry visa. The following interactions ensued with the university administration:

“Hey our visas expire on the 10th October and it’s already October, when do we get our new visas?”

“Oh don’t worry they’ll arrive soon enough.”

“Okay.”

 

“Yo it’s the 5th now and we still haven’t got our visas, are they nearly here?”

“Don’t worry about it, you’ll get them.”

“Fine.”

“Eventually.”

“What?”

 

“Um okay it’s the 9th now and our visas expire tomorrow, will we get them tomorrow?”

“Oh yeah probably.”

“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN PROBABLY?”

 

“Right it’s the 10th can we get our visas now?”

“Nope.”

“What!?”

“Don’t have ‘em”

“But you said..!”

“Weeeellllll…we lied.”

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A rare glimpes of one of the administrative staff at Moscow State University

So we lived as illegal immigrants in Russia for one day, and picked up our visas on the 11th. Which didn’t make me paranoid at all. Not one bit. Nope. Wait did you hear that? I think someone’s listening…

Another issue was moving out of the hotel. The novelty of living in a hotel room wore off after approximately 3 days so people started to look for flats to move into ASAP. However, because I am incredibly lazy, it took me and my two prospective flatmates a while to get started on a flat search and it was getting awfully close to having to pay for another month’s rent in the hotel (24 500руб – £300ish? Not sure about exchange rates). Finding a flat in Russia’s really fun. Reaaaaally fun. Lots of cancelled flat viewings, people managing to rent their flat out to someone else even though you only viewed it two hours ago, and general faffing around. Oh and also lots of talking on the phone, which is bad enough in English, let alone in Russian.

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Literally me. Except I’m not bald.

However, we managed it, and are now the proud tenants of a flat that is the definition of the term “Soviet chic”. Everything works though, so all good.

Now for my last whinge today. The deposit. An innocuous word for many people but for me and my coursemates here, it is the definition of bureaucratic hell.

So we had to pay a deposit when we arrived at the hotel, equivalent to one month’s rent. Then when we moved out the hotel, we were meant to get the deposit back. Y’know. Like how a deposit’s meant to work.

However, the hotel seem intent on keeping it. Some of us here have been trying to get it back for basically two months now, and they won’t budge. They just refuse, at the moment, to acknowledge how deposits are meant to work. But we’ve all filled out a form now so hopefully that will sort itself out soon.

And of course, said form was filled out in blue ink, in perfect handwriting, and with no spelling mistakes whatsoever. Because otherwise, according to Russian bureaucracy, if it doesn’t fulfil those criteria, it doesn’t exist.

This isn’t the most detailed list of my complaints, but I doubt anybody wants that, because a) it’d get boring and b) it’d be about 7000 words long.

Now looking at all these problems, you probably get the impression that I’m having a terrible time in Russia.

But that ain’t true.

I love the country, I love the culture, I love (most) of the people, I love the language, and I love Moscow. It is a truly fascinating place, and I am very glad to be here. Also, Moscow is probably the only place where you can go to a club and see someone propped up at the bar, vaping (unironically) and playing Pokemon on his DS, and also in the same club, a man coming in limping on a crutch and then, 10 minutes later, jumping around the dancefloor waving his crutch about like he’s trying to fight off a swarm of angry locust.

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“I love Moscow”. Это правда.

There are many more stories like that, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. I might write about them. Might not. Depends on whether I can be arsed. Big factor that. Arsedness.

Пока пока!

James

 

Thanks Harriet for the couple of photos I’ve nicked off your Facebook, your photography skills are much appreciated fam.

 

“The Greatest Nation on Earth”: Does it exist?

“The Greatest Nation on Earth”: Does it exist?

Good morning/afternoon/evening (circle whichever one applies to you).

As you will know if you are a politically aware resident of the United Kingdom, the Conservative party have recently been having a leadership contest. The remaining contestants are Michael Gove, Theresa May, and Andrea Leadsom. Now, I’ve always known Mr. Gove to be a bit questionable tosser, who (somewhat worryingly) backs up the hypothesis that the government are lizard people.

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As for Ms. May, I have disagreements with parts of her policy but she seems alright otherwise. Well, compared to the other two. At least she seems more like a human being than Gove. However, I don’t really know much about Ms. Leadsom apart from the fact she supported Brexit. Some may say this alone is enough to write her off as anyone who supported Brexit is a freedom-hating fascist, but I would tell these people to kindly go and hide in a ditch for a very long time until they learn to accept that maybe they don’t know everything and that a lot of people who voted for Brexit are not imbeciles. What did write off Ms. Leadsom as a viable candidate in my opinion, is when she was quoted recently as saying “I believe this nation can become the greatest nation on Earth.”.

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“The Greatest Nation on Earth”. Yes, I know you can apply this to literally every country in the world but that’s the point, every country has its shit bits, and thus nationalism is an idiotic concept.

Now this is (hopefully) simply fatuous rhetoric which Ms. Leadsom probably doesn’t believe in herself, unless she is actually mentally unstable. Do I say this because I am an unpatriotic (is that a word? I hope it is) traitor who wants to replace the Union Jack with the red flag of the workers and believes that the USSR was the greatest nation on Earth that was just spoiled by a few bad apples и пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь et cetera et cetera? No, I say this because, put simply, there is no such thing as “the greatest nation on Earth”. It is a ridiculous concept that encourages stupid amounts of nationalism and, subsequently, death and destruction.

There is no doubt that some countries are better than others in terms of living standards, social equality etc. If you can sit there and honestly say you’d rather have been brought up in the Central African Republic (the country with the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) in the world) rather than in the United Kingdom just because you’re a bit disillusioned with it all, then I think it’s time we call the carers to take you back to your padded cell. We should be thankful that we live in a country which is in the minority of those that offer such a high standard of living. Being thankful is good. Being patriotic is fine too, there is nothing wrong with being proud of the good things your nation has achieved over the years. Being nationalistic and claiming that your country has done no wrong ever and that all other countries are shit-tier excuses for nation states that should bow down to the almighty power of your country, is not good. That is called being a jebend.

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But remember, Nationalism and Patriotism are two different things. Patriotism should not be a bad thing. Nationalism is.

No country is perfect. Every country has its flaws which will always prevent the existence of the “greatest nation on Earth”. One nation which seems to claim this title a lot is the United States. I’ve always found this quite funny because the US is probably the only country in the developed world to have as many flaws as it does. Gun control, stupid healthcare, huge amounts of poverty, crippling debt, and massive racial divides (I would provide articles that back these up but I mean come on, do you really need them?). Any American with half a brain would be able to tell you that they are not the greatest country on Earth. Unfortunately, a worrying amount of Americans don’t seem to be in possession of half a brain. Hank from Bumfucknowhereville in Missouri (who owns approximately 1/5th of a brain) may agree that America is not the greatest at the moment, but his raging nationalism will lead to his support for Supreme Overlord Donald Trump, purely because the saggy-faced oligarch promises to “Make America Great Again”.

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It’s like someone held a candle under a waxwork.

Enough ranting about America, let’s talk about another country which seems to be effected by a terrifying amount of nationalism and the belief that they are/will again become the greatest country on Earth. Russia. The reason why Putin is so popular, retaking the Crimea and waging war in Eastern Ukraine, is because nationalist Russians want to see Russia ‘become great again’. Nationalism why a far-right party (which somewhat humorously pretends to be politically centrist) is one of the four main parties in the State Duma (parliament).  Hank’s Russian cousin, Igor from Nesushestvuyushiygrad in Yakutia, will maintain that Putin is doing a stellar job, despite the fact that although Big Vlad may be making Russia look like a big scary bear on the international stage, the economy’s gone to pot, the population is declining, and political freedoms are severely restricted compared to Western nations. And let’s not even get started on civil rights.

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I’ve got to put in nice pictures of Putin otherwise they might not let me into the country.

Now it may sound like I’m trying to put these two nations down. And you’d be right. But I still think they’re awesome countries. I’ve visited both and I loved both of them. Hell, I’m going to be living in Moscow for a year from September and I can’t wait. If anything, I prefer Russia to the USA. Because I’m weird.

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This has been an incredibly rambly (that’s definitely not a word, Microsoft Word’s underlined it) and probably incoherent post, so I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts in brief: There is nothing wrong with liking your own country. There is nothing wrong with liking other countries. There is something wrong with not recognising that your country has been a bellend to other countries in the past. There is something wrong with looking down on other countries and maintaining that no other country can compare to your country.

Got that? Good. I’m probably preaching to the choir here anyway but I felt like talking about this stuff so get stuffed.

Tune in next time to hear me ramble more. Yes. Tune in to my written blog. Makes perfect sense. Don’t argue.

James

Edit 13/11/2016:
I would like to retract my statement that Theresa May “seems alright”, and also would like to say that I have now lumped her in with the lizard people politicians. Because she is a lizard.

The Demographics Debate

The Demographics Debate

Hello again.

So the EU referendum’s been and gone (finally), and I have to say I’m disappointed with the result. However, that is not the main subject of today’s blog, mainly because I can’t be arsed and I feel everyone’s covered that to a good extent (i.e. they won’t stop banging on about it). All that’s left to do now is to get on with it. No, there won’t be a second referendum, no matter how many petitions you sign. We have no choice, so even if you’re angry, just try and calm down. Please.

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The referendum did bring up an interesting issue outside of the matter of the EU though. Many young people felt rather shafted by the oldies voting for leave, as ‘they [the older population] are the ones who will have to live with their decision for the shortest time’ and are apparently all raving racists and general nutters. I do not agree with this. Likewise, I do not agree with the viewpoint that all old people are basically Gandalf and have all knowledge of many things. Old people are people. They are different from each other. All demographics will have their tendencies, such as oldies being more conservative, but that does not mean they are all neo-Nazis. To illustrate my point, I will now write four (entirely fictional) biographies of people who are allowed to vote.

Our first case study is 21-year-old Rob. Rob is a final year English Lit and Politics student at the University of Bristol. He is the first person in his family to go to university. He is an above-average student, predicted to get a high 2:1. Rob takes a great interest in the local politics of the Bristol area, and always goes to the Student Union when a notable political figure is due to give a speech there. However, he avoids student politics, rightly so, because he thinks student politics is bollocks. Rob is correct. Rob usually reads the Guardian, and occasionally the Independent. He voted Labour in the last general election.

Rob voted to remain in the EU.

I am happy that people like Rob are able to vote.

Our second case study is 68-year-old Dave. Dave is a semi-retired van driver. Dave is very angry at the moment, as he has found out his youngest son has started dating an Asian woman. Dave does not want any ‘towelheads’ running about his Britain, let alone his house! He plans on disowning his son as soon as possible. Dave goes to the local Tesco to get the paper. His face drops as he walks in and sees that the woman at the till is of Asian descent. Dave would use the self-service checkout but he doesn’t understand how touchscreens work. He believes they’re an invention by the EU to control us. After doing his best to buy his paper without speaking to or looking at the friendly checkout lady, he scurries out of the shop.

He regularly reads the Daily Mail. This morning, he becomes absolutely infuriated at the news reported in the Mail: 300 MIL. TURBOCHARGED IMMIGRANTS TO COME TO THE UK AND STEAL OUR BAKED BEANS: WATCH OUT BRITS! (ALSO: PICTURES OF A B-LIST CELEB’S ARSE ON PAGE 5). Dave likes his beans. He is enraged that the foreigners are coming over here and stealing everything British. However, he calms down after page 5. Dave likes page 5. He is a simple man. Dave’s hatred of immigrants has not stopped him hiring a Polish plumber to come fix his toilet. However, he only did this because he thought ‘Grzegorz Lewicki’ was a bad misspelling of ‘Gregor Lewis’. Dave goes to check on Grzegorz. You know. Make sure he doesn’t nick anything.

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Don’t read this garbage.

“Y’know, you can stay. I like you. You fix my toilet. But the rest of you Polish vermin need to sod off.”

Boże mój…” Grzegorz thinks to himself.

“Why don’t you just go to Russia anyway? You’re all basically the same thing, y’know, Communists and that.”

Grzegorz resists the urge to cave Dave’s head in with his spanner whilst telling him that Poles and Russians don’t usually…uh…’get on particularly well’, and that the Eastern Bloc collapsed 25 years ago.

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RU:”Ahaha! I drew my gun first, I win!” PL:”Sir please we are engaging in serious political discussion.”

Dave voted for UKIP in the last election. He voted to leave the EU.

I am not happy that people like Dave are able to vote.

Our third case study is 74-year-old widow Sue. Sue is a retired primary school teacher. Since she retired, she’s been taking more of an interest in political matters. She regularly reads the Times and always goes to meet with her local councillor whenever he presents to the public. Her granddaughter taught her how to use her smartphone and now Sue can keep in touch with family and friends and do multiple other useful things. Sue used to be quite wary of immigrants but when an Indian family moved in next door she has become more open. She regularly goes round for a cup of tea and invites them over at least once a month for dinner. Sue is fed up of the bureaucracy that seems to obstruct any process undertaken in government, local or national. She voted Conservative in the last general election.

Sue voted to leave the EU.

I am happy that people like Sue are able to vote.

Our final case study is 20-year-old student Tigerlily O’BangBang. Her original name was Alice Johnson, but she changed her name on the basis that a ‘normal’ name is an example of oppression by an ultra-capitalistic, neo-liberal, fascist government. She added the “O’” due to her 1/98th Irish heritage. Tigerlily studies Marketing at the University of Aberdeen. She regularly attends talks at the student union, much like Rob, but unlike Rob, if the speaker says something she disagrees with, she will shout and scream like a 4 year old. However her questionable facial piercings can sometimes distract people from the racket.

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These have never been a good idea.

In a debate, Tigerlily’s beliefs are often questioned. Instead of offering a valid counter-argument, Tigerlily will instead crawl into her safe space and throw copies of the Communist Manifesto at her opponent whilst screaming about how Marx was right all along, completely ignoring the over 100 years of economic research undertaken since the publication of Das Kapital. She will rage about the worker’s struggle despite being born an only child to an extremely wealthy couple and having never wanted for anything in her life. Tigerlily also believes that Daesh are simply misunderstood freedom-fighters and that we should be understanding of their struggle.

One time in a marketing seminar, Tigerlily proudly ranted on about how she identified as a polymorphous pixie-kin, simultaneously asexual and pansexual, when fellow student Rachel questioned what this had to do with the common market, the topic at hand. At this, Tigerlily screamed, stood up, and threw her chair at Rachel, concussing her. Tigerlily had to be led away by university security. The next time Rachel saw Tigerlily, she slapped her round the face. Good on you, Rachel. Good on you.

Tigerlily voted for the Green party in the last general election, after nearly going for the British Communist Party. She voted to remain in the EU.

I am not happy that people like Tigerlily are able to vote.

I realise that the negative caricatures are much more detailed and exaggerated, but that’s because they’re easier and more fun to write. If I wrote a detailed biography of someone who was sensible, it wouldn’t be as interesting.

Now, as we can see, each demographic has their tossers, and each demographic has their sensible people. Is this a flaw in democracy? That the uninformed have the same say as the informed. I would say so. And the ideal thing would be to have to take a test before you could vote. However, this will never happen, as the backlash would most likely be immense.

So instead, just recognise that all demographics have different people within them. Not all people over the age of 60 will kiss Nigel Farage’s arse, and not all people under the age of 25 will be praying at their shrine to Jeremy Corbyn.

Also, Nigel Farage can piss off. Him and his big, smug, lying face. Git.

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I really want to hit him.

Auf Wiedersehen.

James.

P.S. Please, please, recognise that the negative caricatures are extremely exaggerated and people who match those portrayals are probably not too numerous. They are used to illustrate a point.