The top boy behind Boy Better Know, co-founded with brother and fellow grime artist Jme, Skepta has been making his rounds since his humble beginnings in 2003. At the time, he was an integral element as a DJ of Meridian Crew, a Broughton-based grime collective. They released a few underground tracks and some singles, later disbanding in 2005. After dropping a few mixtapes, Skepta self-released the single, "Rolex Sweep" from his debut full-length, Microphone Champion. His third, Doin' It Again, put him on the map as an enterprising grime artist, with the Guardian praising his "distinctive, authentic voice and a sharp sense of humour." NME called it "the sound of grime destroying itself." Which brings us to Konnichiwa - evidence of grime's growth and international reach, and perhaps the feared term, hype.
Grime music's demeanour is serious. Its fierce. No joke. Not for the weak. It speaks to struggle. Adversity. The immigrant experience. Gang culture - one kind "friendship," the other violence. Grime lives up to its name; a greyish sonic aesthetic - it's the sound of an aerosol spray can tagging a wall in the projects. The sound of glasses breaking. A group starting a riot... a rabid fan base at a venue, at 3 am, caught in a mosh.
Konnichiwa greets all of this with confidence, like a firm, assertive handshake. Skepta is the storyteller, tells it like it is. The album's title track begins with the sound of a samurai sword being drawn - the start of Skepta's battle and a testament of who he is.
At the sound of the Kill Bill-esque intro, you know Skepta is out for blood. In a recent interview with DJ Semtex on BBC Radio 1 Xtra, he said, "I come into this ting pure-hearted, loving music and people try to take me for an idiot. When I spit now, people are gonna hear a madman, they're gonna hear a monster. They're gonna hear revenge... and I'm out for revenge."
"Lyrics" featuring Novelist is a catchy, bouncy tune with electronic production and trap tempo. "Hear me on the radio, wha gwan. See me on the TV, hi mom/ Merk MCs with the mic to my palm, lyrics for lyrics, calm" - the lyrics form their own cypher.
Skepta brings in original Eskimo don Wiley (the reason I first got into grime music) for "Corn On The Curb," which speaks to Skepta's views on luxury's lacklusture and DIY lifestyle. Things get heavy on hood track "Crime Riddim," which sits on a techno-tinged, Mario Kart dancehall beat and a witty hook:
(The feds wanna shift man / Wanna put me in the van, wanna strip a man
/ Fuck that, I ain't a chippendale / Wanna strip a male)
before "It Ain't Safe" feat. Young Lord, which had all of Danforth Music Hall chanting its chorus in unison - Fuck The Po Po.
Things get a little soft, as Skepta doesn't forget to throw in a couple tracks that speak to romance and relationships. "Ladies Hit Squad" featuring the fun D Double E is a smooth club banger that could pass as a Grime ballad, while closer "Text Me Back" narrates Skepta's long-distance courtship, as he strives to prove that he cares about his woman, but has to keep his eyes on the prize, focused on the grind.
What's a hot record without a few hot name drops? Skepta teamed up with Pharrell on "Numbers" for an anti-industry, show and prove piece. What's a gang without family? Hand it to the album's single, and perhaps most well-known song, Skepta calls on his little bro JME for his self-assured, loud and proud modus operandi.
Nah, that's not me
Act like a wasteman? That's not me
Sex any girl? Nah that's not me
Lips any girl? Nah that's not me (Skepta has standards)
Yeah, I used to wear LV
I put it all in the bin cause that's not me (don't need no designer labels)
Skepta is playing the contrast card by expressing how he fares against the stereotypical MC for his unique identity. Similarly, "Shutdown" (made popular worldwide through a sample from recent BBK signee Drake - IMO) is another ode to Skepta's non-confirmist vibe, and demand of his art and defense of the community.
Much like Skepta's live performance, executed with both poise and ferocity, you might need a "Detox" after wilding out to the non-stop jams on Konnichiwa. Going back on the premise of "revenge" and apologetically proclaiming what you stand for, maybe this detox applies to so many things: cutting off stale connections, pursuing meaningful work, being truthful to yourself and others - simply doing what you gotta do, while doing you.
Konnichiwa embodies the beauty of Grime, and contrast to the genre's name and its global definition, this album is a squeaky clean and honest listen.
Stream or buy Konnichiwa here.