Stormzy’s album design: “We wanted it to feel like a Renaissance painting”

For the south London rapper’s second album, design studio Hales Curtis looked to create an image that was “of its time and timeless”.

The cover for Stormzy’s latest album, Heavy is the Head, represents the “responsibility he feels” according to the studio behind the design, Hales Curtis.

According to its co-founder, Richard Hales, the studio sought to “create a compelling image that represents the raw emotion of the album title”.

Heavy is the Head is the rapper’s second album following 2016’s Gang Signs & Prayer, which debuted at number 1.

As well as unveiling the album cover last week, Stormzy released a 16-song track list and lead single, Own It, featuring Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy.

“Of its time and timeless”

Hales Curtis was approached by the creative director of Atlantic Records, Annabelle Scott Curry, to work on the album cover. The studio has previously worked on covers for pop star Rita Ora and R&B singer JNR Williams.

Heavy is the Head features a shot of Stormzy with his head turned down, holding a stab vest emblazoned with a Union Jack. The initials of the album’s title are wrapped around the Croydon-born rapper’s head in a crown shape.

“Stormzy wanted a cover design that was a play on words from the album’s title,” Hales says. “It represents wanting the crown so much, then getting it and the weight that it bears.”

Another inspiration was satirical political cartoons, according to Hales.

“The biggest gig of his life”

The image is also a reference to a recent career highlight for Stormzy. At this year’s Glastonbury festival, the rapper performed the headline set on the Pyramid stage wearing the same stab vest, designed by British street artist Banksy.

Stormzy — who criticised the prime minister Boris Johnson and condemned police brutality during the set — was widely celebrated for the performance.

“Stormzy felt it was important to include the Banksy vest on the cover as it represents a pivotal point in his life, as well as a reality of the times we live in,” Hales adds. “The vest has cultural significance and he wore it for the biggest gig of his life.”

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“We wanted it to feel like a Renaissance painting”

The studio commissioned and art directed photographer Mark Mattock for the cover image.

“We wanted a like-minded creative who would understand Stormzy and what he wanted to say,” Hales says. The “emotional image” relies on its “dramatic use of lighting” and “gritty realism”, he adds.

Hales says: “We also wanted the final image to feel like a Renaissance painting.”

An “authentic” piece of artwork

The studio used Cloister Black as the font for the album title’s initials and the letters have an embossed gold finish.

This illustrative style was chosen because a “digital approach would have stripped away the emotive image of Stormzy,” Hales says.

Creating the gold initials

He adds: “Hand painting the crown adds to the overall scene and works with the hand-applied Union Jack art on the front of the infamous stab vest.

“The ornate letter forms create an abstract crown that adds to the authenticity of the final artwork.”

Heavy is the Head is released 13 December 2019.

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  • George November 27, 2019 at 1:14 am

    Personally I think the photograph is strong enough without the typographic crown but of course I don’t know the exact creative process the studio went along with Stormzy and the record label.

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