If you know anything at all about the grime scene, one name you know is Skepta. The Tottenham MC has been a heavy weight in the scene since pretty near the genre’s naissance, switching from DJing to rapping after the police seized all of his records in the wake of a shooting in his council estate. This might seem like a crude start to a career but it is emblematic of a generation of artists who grew up with not much besides boredom, alienation and a burgeoning new style that would go on to reshape the face of British music.
Grime is perhaps the most innovative and exciting music scene currently. No song better exemplifies this than 2015’s Shutdown: it is belligerent, relentless and indomitably confident. This is a vibe that permeates Skepta’s fourth studio album, Konnichiwa. Yet the album is much more than a repetition of Shutdown times fifteen. It is carefully sewn together, coherent yet diverse.
Konnichiwa is Skepta’s first studio album since 2011’s Doin’ It Again, which saw the MC veer towards awkward pop songs such as 2010’s Rescue Me (which is somehow his highest charting single yet… there’s no accounting for taste). This album is therefore a huge step forward for Skepta as well as a return to a more authentic approach to music.
One of the most interesting aspects of the album is its non-musical aspects. The songs are woven together with snippets of conversation, lending the record a concept-album feel and highlighting the major themes of the album, in a manner reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s seminal 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly. For instance Lyrics begins with a snippet of Wiley pleading for the audience to remain calm at a rowdy club night, which leads into a snarky take-down of inferior MCs over a sizzling bass line. Corn On The Curb features a phone conversation between Skepta and Chip where Skepta confesses the pressures he feels as a successful artist from a disadvantaged background. This shows a far more vulnerable side to Skepta than fans have seen before and highlights some of the tensions the album deals with.
The album is wildly anti-authoritarian, as seen on It Ain’t Safe. One of the best songs on the record, the track is heavy both musically and lyrically, telling of Skepta’s life on the roads before his musical success. It retains a grime feel from its deep, pulsing bass but also draws on an old school hip hop vibe through Young Lord’s refrain. The verse is snarling and emphatic with the chorus providing pulsing relief through its rhythmic repetition.
Other highlights include the R&B-infused Ladies Hit Squad. The track features A$AP Nast and a suave-sounding D Double E and is as close as Skepta gets to pop on this record. Meanwhile Numbers fuses Pharell’s funky production with Skepta’s critique of label executives and Man’s incendiary beat underscores spitting repudiation of fake fans and social climbers.
It would, of course, be impossible not to mention the track that acts as Konnichiwa’s mission statement: That’s Not Me. The first track released from the record, the tune represents Skepta’s renunciation of mainstream consumerism and return to his roots and to pushing the boundaries of grime. This is what the album achieves. It is vulnerable, emphatic, organic yet fully fleshed. Altogether, this album is a huge step forward for both Skepta and grime at large.