Stormzy’s long-awaited second album looks likely to become one of the most streamed British albums of the year only hours after its release.
Heavy is the Head was No 1 in the Apple Music album chart on Friday and several tracks were in the top 40 singles chart.
Apple said: “Stormzy’s Heavy is the Head is the fastest-ever pre-added album on Apple Music in the UK to date, as well as the most pre-added album week one on Apple Music in the UK to date.”
Critics have said the album established Stormzy, real name Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, as a peerless “boundary-crossing figure in British cultural life” and praised his “confessional” and “assertive” second LP.
On the album, Stormzy addresses the reaction to his Glastonbury performance – where he wore a stab-proof vest designed by Banksy and struggled with technical issues – and the disintegration of his relationship with the TV presenter Maya Jama.
On the first track, he raps: “When Banksy put the vest on me, it felt like God was testing me”, and the reference is the first of several mentions of the Glastonbury set, which the Guardian’s pop critic, Alexis Petridis, says was an “epochal performance” that served to underline Stormzy’s “unique position among his UK rap peers”.
The release comes a few weeks after he backed Jeremy Corbyn in the general election when he, along with other prominent cultural figures, signed an open letter supporting the Labour party’s socially progressive agenda and manifesto.
After the letter was released, Stormzy tweeted: “Don’t sit there and think ‘my little vote ain’t gonna do anything’ – your vote is CRUCIAL. Your ‘one little vote’ can quite literally tip the scale for what will be the most important election of our generation.”
He was also involved in a Twitter dispute after Michael Gove quoted his lyrics and criticised the rapper’s decision to back Labour. Some said a white, middle-class politician imitating a young black grime MC on social media was the equivalent of “Twitter blackface”.
Official streaming figures for Heavy is the Head have not yet been released but his latest single, Audacity, which was released this week, has had 1.5m YouTube views in two days. The rapper’s popularity was summed up by Petridis, who wrote: “Britain is currently teeming with fantastic MCs, but Stormzy is the only one your dad knows the name of.”
Stormzy is the guest editor of this Sunday’s Observer Magazine. There will be an interview with him by Miranda Sawyer; a piece on racism in football and how it moved from the stands to online; a profile of his Merky Books imprint; a lunch date with Jay Rayner; and an explanation by Dina Asher-Smith on what it takes to be a gold medal superstar. The takeover is being billed as a celebration of British talent.
The album also features several collaborations with British acts, including the Manchester rapper Aitch, Ed Sheeran and J Hus. There are some literary references as well. The track Superheroes samples the Tracy Beaker soundtrack and references the children’s author Malorie Blackman, who Stormzy will work with when Merky Books publishes her forthcoming autobiography.