All the tracks on Stormzy’s ‘This Is What I Mean’ as ranked by us
Soho House’s official album ranking wizard, David Levesley, works his magic on the hip-hop superstar’s third studio album. Spotify subscriptions at the ready…
Friday 25 November 2022 By David Levesley
‘The second one was stressful, but it’s simple for my third,’ Stormzy raps on this, the third album by one of Britain’s greatest musical talents. It might have been simpler to make, but it’s a complex record that reminds anyone of just how good he is.
All the strands that make up his particular style are here, but on This Is What I Mean Stormzy goes more R&B than ever before, creating something both sadder and more joyful than ever before.
It deserves to be consumed as a whole but, if you want to cherry pick some of the choicest morsels, here’s a ranking of the track listings from least favourite to most.
12. ‘Bad Blood’
A beautifully produced and performed track, but while others left me with too much to say, this one – even after a couple of listens – just didn’t hit for me.
11. ‘This Is What I Mean’
A non-sequitur that doesn’t quite gel with the tracks around it, this is undeniably still a perfect slice of opulence. There’s a lot of vocal textures here that fit fantastically well, between the different meters of Stormzy’s flow to the other voices interwoven, though the drama of the production sometimes goes from operatic into feeling a bit like a Eurovision entry.
10. ‘Fire + Water’
A beautifully sparse opening track – I didn’t expect a prominent flute solo to ever be central to a Stormzy song – full of simple and introspective lyrics, it comes alive as it builds in its second half, without ever losing its jazzy roots.
9. ‘Holy Spirit’
Stormzy the hymn writer? We love to see it. He is no stranger to blending rapped soliloquy with gospel – either in his wider career or even on This Is What I Mean – this is a beautiful late-album track, though there’s something a little over-produced about the way the (clearly very talented) backing vocals are mixed.
8. ‘Hide & Seek’
I prefer the slightly more uptempo vibe of the equally Afrobeat-inspired ‘Need You’, but Hide & Seek remains as chill and rich an album track as it was a single. Astonishing to see Tems appear on another major album in 2022 – the woman simply cannot be stopped.
7. ‘Give It To The Water’
Just as the album starts slow and meditative, it ends in a similarly beautiful place in this stunning duet. There’s something very Alicia Keys about the way the piano is being played underneath, and Debbie Ehirim’s vocals – and a reprise of Sampha it seems beneath that too – give the song an added hope and beauty that perfectly sends off the album.
The blend of the backing vocals and Stormzy’s tormented flow on ‘Please’ are absolutely perfect, some of the most affecting verses he’s written for the album.
5. ‘Sampha’s Plea’
Sampha’s velveteen lamentations are a perfect addition to the soundscape of this album – a chaser to the bombast of ‘My Presidents Are Black’ without losing the poignancy.
4. ‘I Got My Smile Back’
A pretty perfect wrap-up of what makes the rest of the album sing: a mix of close harmonies, optimism and braggadocio in Stormzy’s flow, and rich production.
A beautiful single, where Jacob Collier’s use of close harmony fits perfectly with the soulful lament of Stormzy’s song. There’s something very Sampha or Serpentwithfeet about the two coming together, and I for one continue to be obsessed.
2. ‘My Presidents Are Black’
Nobody can still the failures of the state when it comes to Black Britons quite the way Stormzy can, and part of that is because he doesn’t just perfectly distil the moment – he’s played such an active role in trying to make the world a better place that he brings a lot of hope and swagger into what could otherwise feel bleak.
1. ‘Need You’
Whereas ‘This Is What I Mean’ ups the tempo at the expense of consistency, ‘Need You’ is an ideal icebreaker after the songs before it: a perfect mixing of modern Afrobeats sexiness and the retro bossa nova energy the album has had up until this point.