What Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ Taught Us About Grime Culture
A month ago, we asked whether America was ready for Britain’s grime music invasion, and the answer seems to be a definite “yes.” Now we’re grappling with an entire album’s worth of grime goodness on Skepta‘s new and extremely long-awaited album, Konnichiwa. After a slow IV drip of singles led up to last Friday’s release of the rapper’s fiery fifth album, America is in the epicenter of what may be the most prolific crossover grime album since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner was released in 2003.
How long have people been waiting to hear what Skepta has to offer? The first single from the album, “That’s Not Me,” came out a full two years ago in April 2014, and since then, we’ve seen the release of “It Ain’t Safe,” “Shutdown,” “Ladies Hit Squad,” and “Man.” Alongside those five singles, the album stretches across seven additional tracks to create forty-four minutes of unfiltered access inside the mind of the grime genius whose been in the genre since Dizzee dropped his iconic album thirteen years ago. To commemorate what may finally be the album to bring grime to American pop culture for good, we dove into Konnichiwa to learn about Britain’s underground rap genre, one track at a time.
Including Pharrell Williams Doesn’t Take Away from the Grime
When we think of Pharrell, we don’t exactly think of grime. In the years since his banging work with The Neptunes, the master producer has dropped it like it’s hot with Snoop Dogg, worn ridiculously oversized Arby’s hats, and sung about how “Happy” he is. So it was kind of shocking to see that the rapper and producer was not only brought into the studio to produce some tracks, but was even featured in one of the songs, called “Numbers.” What’s even more shocking is how well it works, which we can probably attribute to the vibe in the studio. “Man, Pharrell was so easy to work with,” he explained to TimeOut. “It’s an ego-less room. I was in the studio in my SOCKS.”
It’s Britain’s Protest Music for the Country’s Youth
In both the political and social sense of the word, Skepta is the embodiment of youth protest. When he laments that he’s “too black” for mainstream success on “Corn on the Curb,” Skepta speaks to a very real issue facing a genre that has long been associated with criminal youth. On “Crime Ridden,” he raps about life on the streets and the harassment he deals with from police, an unfortunate reality facing grime artists ever since Crazy Titch’s 2006 murder conviction for shooting a producer in a row over lyrics. That incident led to police using Form 696 to shut down the few grime nights that existed over the years, or following grime artists out of raves and arbitrarily searching them. For Skepta, his new album has become a vengeful “fuck you” to the oppression he’s faced throughout his life–set to a killer beat.
It’s Unapologetically British in Its Embrace of Slang
If you listen to the album without an Urban Dictionary tab open, we wish you luck. Skepta and his guest vocalists go full force into the UK slang game. When phrases like “spending pennies in a pissing well” or “I’ve got bars like Camden Town” were thrown around, we felt more lost than Dorothy in a tornado–but we’re not British, and it’s awesome for Skepta to honor his roots. Grime is unapologetically British, and despite the Skepta transitioning into a more internationally-friendly sound for the album, his language remains true to his roots. If you need us, we’ll be counting down to the Supreme crowd injecting “mandem” into their vernacular.
It’s as Much About Family as It Is About Music
Grime thrives on a scrappy, DIY attitude that has made it a powerhouse in Britain’s underground music scene. Despite pressure, Skepta has never signed with a major label, instead opting to create Boy Better Know in 2005. BBK is both a familial collective founded by Skepta and his brother (and fellow grime artist) JME, and a record label, which has been responsible for the release of Skepta’s entire discography and recently signed that little-known Canadian rapper Drake. On Konnichiwa, Skepta feels as much like a hardened rapper as he does like a dad to the grime fam he’s gathered under his wing.
When he raps about his mom calling him asking when he’s coming home on “Text Me Back,” he explains that he’s got to keep doing shows because, as he explains, “I had this vision of all the fam living in better conditions.”
Skepta is Grime’s Bridge into Mainstream Acceptance
“I knew I had an obligation to represent the country when I did this album. Not just different MCs, but sonically. I know what is on my back with this album and I’ve got every element from London needed,” he told Zane Lowe. The pressures of being grime music’s Sisyphus wasn’t lost on him. At the end of the track “Corn on the Curb,” he includes a pep talk from fellow Grime rapper Chip, who says: “You got the call from God to do something deeper, bro. Like, go got the call to go and make everyone look at everything else that is happening over here, fam.” Luckily for Chip and every other grime rapper keeping their eye on Skepta’s new album, the call to God has been answered because Konnichiwa looks destined to be the classic that elevates the genre to a new level.
Images via The Fader and Hypebeast.
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