Skepta Konnichiwa Boy Better Know
Grime loyalists have been reluctant to celebrate the genre’s revival for fear of discrediting those who kept the torch burning when the media lost interest. That said, it’s pretty much impossible to not feel inspired by Skepta’s glorious comeback.
Following a toxic concoction of industry bullshit and bad decisions, by 2012 Skepta’s spirits were dampened after a string of undignified, often unsuccessful attempts at mainstream success. To see the Tottenham producer and MC rewarded for returning to his roots, regaining his integrity and raising a middle-finger to the major label snakes has been exhilarating. And it’s this era that Konnichiwa encapsulates.
Having been teased for years, it was a little disappointing to find that a third of the album’s tracks have already been in heavy rotation. Who actually wants to to keep hearing That’s Not Me or Shutdown at this point? There’s an owl face – the logo of Drake’s label OVO Sound – scribbled inside the “o” in Shutdown on the artwork, and you could suspect that the album has been marketed towards his legions of new fans – many of whom are on the other side of the Atlantic.
The good news is that Konnichiwa is front-loaded with four new bass-heavy, back-to-basics tracks that summon the raw energy of grime’s formative years. Lyrics features a dextrous verse from Novelist, the passionate Lewisham MC to whom Skepta plays a big brother role, and a hook that’ll hopefully be blared from London’s car stereos for the entire duration of the summer. The murky Crime Riddim sees Skepta play roadman raconteur, and the anti-authoritarian resentment of its chorus is delivered with precision: “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 / Put me in a prison cell / Got me biting all my fingernails”. Konnichiwa’s least inspiring track has got to be Numbers, which includes a goofy guest appearance from Pharrell that’s so lazy it’s hard to believe he was properly informed of how many people might end up streaming it.
There’s a wider music-listening public, one that Skepta has won the hearts of, that still measures an artist’s career by their retail albums, and the music industry is still largely geared around this culture. Grime rarely flourishes with the LP format – its spontaneous magic is best captured via sketchy footage and radio broadcasts. But Konnichiwa is the sound of an artist winning after his genre has been ditched by the industry and stigmatised by the media. And despite the album’s flaws, it tells a story in which you’ll find yourself firmly on the protagonist’s side.