With grand rap extravaganzas regularly featuring in award ceremonies and at the top of festival bills, hip-hop performance has come a long way from two turntables and a microphone. Yet, with all its sense of scale and impressive, glinting visuals, Stormzy’s Covid-delayed Heavy Is the Head tour was at its most powerful when he commanded the stage on his own, with some serious sub bass for company.
This handsome show was conceived by the designers responsible for his 2019 Glastonbury headline slot, an acclaimed socio-political spectacle which was a game changer for British rap. The big North American hip-hop acts have long mastered the show-and-tell; now Stormzy is charged with delivering that delicate balance between the personal and the political, the raw roots and the glamorous razzmatazz.
The man himself is humble and charismatic, capable of switching from riotous MC, hopping around the runway into the crowd, to council estate chronicler, all in the name of entertainment. His arena audience were ecstatic, looking like bouncing beacons as they moshed with phones aloft.
So far, so Kanye and Kendrick – rappers who don’t share their stage, and sequester their bands in the bowels of the venue. Stormzy is more of a team player than that but when he did open out his set-up, it wasn’t to a hoodie crew but a full revue band with a mini-gospel choir of six backing singers who ushered in the soul sandwich filling of the set, where mellow vocal melodies and devotional testifying provided the hook for mass sing-alongs.
A crown-shaped lighting rig hovered above the ruler for the gospel-infused Crown; later, Stormzy mounted a see-saw rig representing the scales of justice. These set-pieces were simply but immaculately choreographed in a strong symmetrical display. Stormzy’s message: he comes to bring balance – but also fun in the form of his irrepressible anthems Big For Your Boots and Vossi Bop.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions