Growing up in London can be tough. In any big city, there’s wealth, there’s poverty, and an abundance of culture. If you’ve ever visited London, you know it’s a maze of brickwork and metal, a multi-dimensional city; each borough has their own identity, a sort of inner-culture and vibe. Whether it’s Shoreditch or Kensington, there’s a distinct separation in place.
In the centre of London, at the city’s core, people work and commute, it’s the business side. From the inside, spreading outwards, it changes, with each place revolving around a landmark, or centre-piece. London has a high-rate of crime, specifically gang related crime, and its become a big problem in the last few years. Now, what people have learned from areas of high-crime, is that they hold some of the most talented individuals of this world, yet they’re caught and trapped in a lifestyle that seems inescapable, and for some, it sadly is.
However, crime may breed fear but it can also breed positivity and success. Across the globe, people who are now some of the most successful artists have come from hardship, difficult upbringings and tough cultures to where they are now. It’s a message that regardless of your surroundings, you can achieve. Grime MC, Skepta is proof of that.
Skepta’s new album has such an importance to the Grime scene. It’s a monumental moment of another MC becoming larger than their roots, and bigger than their influences. Konnichiwa is important for both Skepta’s career, in terms of popularity and creativity.
This year so far, the albums that have been released have held a level of importance, whether it’s for the artist, society, or culture. From Beyonce’s Lemonade to the more recent Views, they both represent different aspects of humanity in their own ways; the significance to their captive audience is different, and their impact on culture is too. This era of being more ‘personal’ and sharing perspectives, begins to become a battle of importance.
That’s how its been the last few years, especially in Hip-Hop. The genre has always been about story-telling, a way of expressing life, however there’s been an influx of deep, conscious Hip-Hop, and it goes beyond that one box. Each artist has their own way of delivering that perspective, and Skepta approaches his music with a level of honesty unknown to most. There’s transparency, arrogance and somewhere among it all, there is vulnerability. Behind the beats, the lyrics, is a man expressing himself.
Konnichiwa is an accurate representation of Skepta’s career over the last fear years, and more importantly the meteoric rise he experienced after “Shutdown”. Skepta has never seemed lacking in confidence, and throughout the album, he seems even more confident.
However, his confidence is a required element. It’s needed to survive, and in order to break through. His perceived arrogance is a positive attribute, adding a bravado to his music, allowing others to feed off of that. It’s hard not to listen to a Skepta track and feel that you could take ten men on, knocking down walls in the process. He possesses a unique quality of sounding invincible, reflecting it onto the listener.
The journey of Konnichiwa embodies his invincibility and dominance, it’s twelve tracks of “you can’t f**k with me because of X, Y and Z”, both a warning and an expression of pride.
The nature of the record is backboned by instrumentals that are high-pressured. The synths and usage of horns scattered on the record are intense. The scope instrumentally is an example of creativity within a specific umbrella of sound. Musically, Konnichiwadoesn’t deter from Skepta’s core sound. Instead it flourishes, being expansive within his sound.
There are moments of breaking his comfort zone, with more notably American Hip-Hop flavoured moments. This captures Skepta’s experiences, and the influence of where he’s been the last few years. If you listen to “Crime Riddim”, a filthy, horn-ladden banger, which oozes a London vibe. It stays true to Grime.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have “Numbers” – the Pharrell assisted track is an outlier, it’s the poster child for the American sound. Pharrell’s vocals are sampled, distorted with a stuttering affect, buried beneath exotic drums and a brooding bass line. It’s one of the best songs on the album, again, capturing the sound perfectly.
As the track progresses, it builds with the instrumental overflowing into Pharrell taking centre-stage, delivering a stellar verse. Talking about strong lyricism, Konnichiwa is full of it and it’s easily Skepta’s best work both lyrically and musically. An example of his lyrical prowess would be on “Lyrics” which features Novelist, here’s an excerpt:
“Them man are fake, them man are sus // I’m the boss these pagans wanna touch // I’m the kind of boss that the opps gotta rush // Cause I make it ring something like bells on the bus // 1 on 1, fair and square, man are fucked // Swinging out my sword, swinging out my nunchuks // Running out of corn? Man’ll get a gun buck // Tell a pussyhole look sharp, fix up”
Skepta delivers his verses on “Lyrics” with such confidence, he borderlines hyper aggressive. Each line is a bodyblow, bolstered by an effortless flow. Again, “Lyrics” surges thanks to its beat, echoing the soul of a games console, with the buzzing and beeping. Konnichiwa is a combination of catchy hooks, strong lyricism and vast musical soundscapes, from walls of sound to minimalistic affairs.
However, there are some issues, although they’re minor. Firstly, “Ladies Hit Squad” should have been replaced, it’s the weakest track. Coming in the middle of the album, it acts as a segue between both halves, except it’s distracting and lacklustre by Skepta’s standards. You can see the vision, the purpose of the track, unfortunately it doesn’t really work.
Thankfully, the album picks up again, continuing the pace it began with. It features the smashes, “That’s Not Me” and “Shutdown”. People are slightly disappointed they’re on the album due to their previous exposure, but can you blame Skepta for putting two of his biggest tracks on an album with such a high importance?
The run of tracks after “Ladies Hit Squad” is flawless, yet Konnichiwa doesn’t end the way I’d expect it to. “Text Me Back” is a slow paced groovy affair over a murky beat, with insight into Skepta’s intimate side. Secondly, the ending of some tracks feature some vocal skits, affecting the tempo, which can be slightly jarring. An example being “Corn On The Curb”, which includes a phone conversation with fellow Grime MC Chip.
On the other hand, the breaks in pace portray heart and humanity. Showing that Skepta is a human just like us, he isn’t just some MC from North London. Although “Corn On The Curb” interrupts the romp taking place, it helps expose his calling. It’s emotionally affective, and an artist’s double-edged sword.
Finally, the whole Japanese theme is absent from the album, which is strange. Fifi Rong’s vocals combined with swords sound-effects and overall Japanese influence shines through in the title track. It’s the only real, obvious trace of anything Asian influenced. Raising a few questions, one being, why was it called Konnichiwa when it’s mainly an ode to London and Skepta’s lifestyle?
Skepta’s Konnichiwa is a blistering example of Grime, it’s a constant demonstration of Skepta’s talent and ear for music. There’s no one quite like him and Konnichiwa solidifies his position in the UK music scene. It’s a steamroller of Grime and Hip-Hop. It’s bombastic and energetic. It’s dark and comparable to Drake’s Views, I feel it embodies where Skepta is from and Skepta’s representation of his London.
He’s a modern Grime icon carrying the torch for London, and Britain with pride. Konnichiwa isn’t for the faint of heart, and many fans will wonder what’s happened to Skepta’s broadened sound. However, regardless of scope, influence and change, this album is a knock-out piece of work that holds no punches and captures where Skepta is, currently both in his personal life and career.
Skepta’s Konnichiwa is out now via Boy Better Know, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Jake Gould