Skepta Konnichiwa

[Boy Better Know; 2016]

Styles: grime
Others: Jme, Wiley, Chip, Stormzy

“The purists might debate the name, but while they do that, crews around the world are uniting in this strong and fresh dance movement.”
– liner notes, Grime (Rephlex; 2004)

Practically every time a new grime artist touches down here in the States, critical discussion will often tend to one of the following sides: this isn’t really a grime album, and/or this will totally blow up in America. After sometime, however, nobody — no matter how right or wrong — will even remember what the initial conversation was about and statements will be inevitably rebuked or reversed. Konnichiwa, the highly-anticipated album by Skepta — the longtime bubbling, though severely overlooked, representative of the UK grime scene — has effectively slipped under the radar when it comes to journalistic traps, instead tending toward the huge, buzzing bass slabs and graffiti-dense riot of slanguage that made grime, well… grime in the first place. But just like previous high-profile exports Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, Skepta clearly isn’t only thinking in East or North London terms anymore, nor should he be. Konnichiwa, then, acts as both a love letter to OG grime and an introduction to higher marketability potential for the genre.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Skepta’s contemporary brand of grime differs from the classic grime of a decade ago. The chief difference between, say, the East London grime scene — made and popularized by the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Kano and N.A.S.T.Y. crew — and the South London scene lies in the role of the emcee. East London’s grime template, even in its instrumental tracks, has been virtually designed and produced for use with ruff ‘n’ ready vocals. In contrast, South London largely focused on a richer, less brutalistic quality in grime, which was showcased through the austere, mechanoid Rephlex sound. Even to this day, there are fans and purists within the scene debating whether or not the role of the emcee has hurt or benefited the grime scene, taking a genre with roots in UK garage and drum & bass from the dance floor to the darkness on the edge of town. Still, there’s certainly no question that, a decade after grime first hit the mainstream with acts like Lady Sovereign inking a deal with Def Jam, this once humble scene from the Ends has become something of a footnote of a footnote.

But quibbles about genre categorization shouldn’t distract from the fact that Skepta’s latest release on Boy Better Know is an overall exciting album and a quality addition to the grime canon. Moreover, whichever side of the fence you’re on in the grime debate shouldn’t even matter, seeing as how Skepta, a North Londoner, combines the best of East and South’s respective stylistic elements. For starters, Skepta’s flow and vocal delivery are a lot easier on the ears than most of his peers, rapping with a brash Brit urgency and chanting in a singsongy, catchy Jamaican patois reminiscent of dancehall greats. Additionally, he takes most of the production bylines throughout Konnichiwa. Unlike Wiley in his prime, who was obviously a more sufficient emcee than producer, Skepta’s groovy 10-ton bass lines, eerie open-ended synth lines, and hard-hitting snares crush anything Metro Boomin could come up with on FL Studio. This is grime suitable for both late night hooliganism with the gang and drunkenly stomping it out in the club.

Konnichiwa might just be the most talked about grime release since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner, which turns 13 later in the year and is warmly embraced by Skepta throughout the album. This, of course, is with good reason, as Skepta’s album arrives as a breath of fresh air in the scene, finding the perfect balance in retaining the trademark grime sound and seemingly higher marketability across the Atlantic and elsewhere. Like the best, most colorful rappers in the States, Konnichiwa confidently struts and showcases the emcee’s vibrant, exciting personality traits perhaps more than pretty much anyone else in Britain, grime or otherwise. Skepta’s music inhabits the good, evil, and the delightful grey areas in between; he can be at once playful (“I don’t know why man’s callin’ me family all of a sudden/ Like hmm, my mum don’t know your mum/ Stop telling man you’re my cousin”), overtly brash (“I bet I make you respect me/ When you see the mandem are selling out Wembley/ Roll deep in a blacked out Bentley/ Pull up outside like ‘wagwan sexy’”), and even emotionally resonant (“Ex girl said that I’m never at home/ So she found a replacement/ Said, ‘You was on the road but I never seen you when I was out on the pavement’”). There’s no question about it, Skepta has enough personality to more than fill Konnichiwa all by himself, and lord knows he needs all the room he can get. I wouldn’t recommend crowding him.

Links: Skepta - Boy Better Know

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