Konnichiwa. It’s finally here. After years of waiting and a previous release date of March 1st 2015, Skepta has delivered a piece which brings the energy of grime while also touching on his personal experiences, ambitions and the grievances of being a prominent figure in the industry. It is the story of his life since his rise to prominence. Skepta, with this album, is flying the flag for British street culture.
In 2015 Skepta’s rise to the forefront of grime was propelled by smash hits ‘That’s Not Me’ and ‘Shutdown’. These songs transcended popular tastes across the nation, with even Channel 4 reporter Jon Snow spitting the Tottenham emcees lyrics. With those two singles, Skepta indicates a belief in his true self, aligning him with the part of fashion world dispelling high fashion brands in favour of his infamous Tracksuit Mafia. His fashion infused bars caught the attention of kids all over the UK, sparking the rise of the roadman. He’s probably the reason why you see privately educated kids wearing Nike TN’s. Whilst shutting down fashion week, Skepta has been able to draw the attention of people from all walks of life and frankly this is the key to his success.
The singles ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and ‘Ladies Hit Squad’, earning him criticism from many grime purists, are club hits – hinting towards Skepta’s ambition of getting US attention. They indicate the ability of Skepta to cross borders whilst mixing elements of grime with elements of N.W.A and a reference to Lil B the Based God. The root cause of Skepta’s rise in the US is his clearly enunciated bars and delivery, which will be helped with the Drake-like A$AP Nast hook on the latter. Could it be the UK’s version of ‘Hotline Bling’?
‘Numbers’ with Pharrell is a defining moment in Skepta’s career. The song indicates this crossover as the beat displays distinctive qualities of Pharrell’s production. Skepta changes his flow proudly finding new pockets on the instrumental. It is in this moment that you realise Skepta is a bona fide international star. The question is: will it last? The response to this album overseas will tell.
The titular ‘Konnichiwa’ opens the album, and true to its name, it comes in with an eastern-flavoured instrumental. His first lyric sums up a mistrust of the industry, spitting, “right now man are trying to get out the matrix/ far from the agents”. This mistrust of the industry is something that he shares with friend Drake and could be the reason for his recent signing to Boy Better Know. Skepta preaches a DIY philosophy on this track and across the LP, with the majority of the production being in the hands of himself and Ragz Originale AKA Mr Shutdown.
Up until ‘Shutdown’ Skepta didn’t have a manager, and this new addition encouraged him to push back Konnichiwa‘s release date, with the new plan of action being to “go around the world and give out samples”. Skepta has been everywhere, even headlining the infamous Berghain club.
One aspect of the album that I have to give Skepta credit for is how personal he gets when he addresses the death of his friend Lukey, and the miscarriage of his baby in ‘Konnnichiwa’. It seems these tragedies only made Skepta stronger: he was able to deal with the highs and lows and prioritise what he felt was important, his legacy rather than material wealth, spitting “cause when the casket closed/ I’m like really what is the use of these cars and clothes”.
The confidence to speak one’s mind runs through the entire album, saying “them man have got an obsession/ with my style of expression” on ‘Man’. Sampling Queen of the Stone Age song ‘Regular John’, he spits with many memorable phrases that you will probably see all over Instagram about how him and his gang are the new rockstars of London. With this hit Skepta indicates how far he has come and his mistrust of outsiders.
The lack of a verse from Chip on ‘Corn on the Curb’ was disappointing, but the skit did give us an insight into his and Skepta’s relationship: a humbling addition to the record. He looks to address his own problems of being the outsider in the celebrity culture claiming to be “too black”: evidencing his personal battle between stardom and the streets.
Skepta proudly gives back to grime, with this album pushing it’s culture all the way with the skit on ‘Lyrics’, the Pay as you Go crew led by Wiley against the Heartless Crew. Skepta had to give Wiley a spot on the album, in which he spits proudly about being “The Godfather of Grime” who showed you that you could go from the laptop in the backpack, to the studio, to the show and eventually to a record deal. The inclusion of Novelist shows that Skepta wants to pass on this knowledge to kids and prolong the future of grime. Novelist grabs the opportunity and kills it with his fast flow and hard-hitting bars. As a future star Novelist is often keen to express his political message, which bodes well for the future.
“Skepta has been able to draw the attention of people from all walks of life and frankly this is the key to his success”
On Konnichiwa Skepta explores the social impact of his culture and music, shunning politics when saying “man don’t care what colour or gender, nobody’s voting for your corrupted agenda” on the opener. The story of life on the streets is clear in ‘Crime Riddim’, with its 8-bit instrumental reminding of Nintendo 64 days. The song explores a clear problem in UK street culture: trouble with police. Tupac and Biggie Smalls, lyrical influences upon Skepta, also reflected this struggle between being a street icon as well as having a clear and meaningful message. Skepta also tells the story of life on the streets of London – getting searched and harassed by the police.
With the release of his own merchandise displaying his album artwork in which he instils British culture with the postage stamp mixed with hints of the Japanese flag, it is clear to see his creative direction execution is on point. With his face on the stamp he dispels a clear message: he feels like a king. Skepta is keen to display international appeal: from his visuals in the video for ‘Man’ at trendy club Visions in Dalston, which portrayed his rockstar lifestyle and anti-establishment behaviour, to his album release party Boiler Room, in yes you guessed it Tokyo, to his short UK tour from May 8th to May 12th, for which you had to pre-order the album to be able to get tickets.
It is clear to say that Skepta has played the so-called music game well by aligning himself in the right circles and places. Despite some criticisms from many purists, he has changed the game for the betterment of UK urban music. Can it be called the Best Grime Album? Is this album sonically better than Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in Da Corner? Probably not, as the LP was a little short and lacked fresh material – but it’s a great place for urban music to gain mainstream appeal without having to change its core values.
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.