In many ways Skepta epitomizes the grime scene, from the humble beginnings on North London pirate radio, to the rise and fall of the genre in the mainstream, Skepta has been present for the large majority of it. The shortcomings of the meteoric rise to success around 2012 were a result of conformity to industry standards of a genre that Skepta had helped to pioneer, this resulted in a 2 year hiatus from music to reflect on what grime had become and where it was going. 2014 saw the release of “That’s Not Me” the first single from Konnichiwa, and with that reaffirmed his status within the grime scene: a combination of snarling bravado and earnest self directed criticism, a stylish but brutal ode to a former life. With the release of “That’s Not Me” came widespread acclaim and hope for a sudden resurgence of grime in the spotlight, both in the UK and in the US, with co-signs from the likes of Drake and Kanye, Skepta has a lot of pressure riding on him, evidenced on many tracks throughout the album. However it appears this time Skepta is making grime on his own terms, doing what comes most naturally to him instead of making pop-rap singles of varying degrees of cheesiness, and varying degrees of success.
The album opener “Konnichiwa” evidences Skepta affection for Japanese culture, oriental flutes and sounds of samurai swords ring through before the vocals of Fifi Rong eponymously harmonize and make way for the inevitable, Skepta balances the track well between hard hitting lyrics and gritty instrumentals that fade out into ever present piano keys. “Lyrics” starts with a sample of a 2001 showdown between Heartless Crew and Pay As You Go Cartel, which sets the tone of the track, harking back to classic grime clashes à la Lord of the Mics and Sidewinder, and features deep cut vocals from Novelist. “Corn on the Curb” is a classic grime banger with its dark bassline and witty one liners as well as a much welcomed feature from Wiley, the track finishes with a phone conversation between Skepta and Chip as they discuss; the pressures of the industry, the shortcomings of their ambition and what Skepta is doing for the grime scene on a larger scale.
Despite being grounded in what is quintessentially British at its core, the American influence on the album is starkly evident; “Ladies Hit Squad” heavily samples classic R&B in its instrumental, which complements A$AP Nast’s hazy singing style, however leads to Skepta and D Double E sounding out of place, similarly with “Numbers” Pharrell pairs well with his own production however leaves Skepta sounding awkward and disjointed. The most obvious inclination of US influence comes in the form of “It Aint Safe” the two styles of raw urban grime and gritty tenacious hip hop come together incredibly well and showcases the combination of both UK and US sound.
“Man” “Shutdown” and “That’s Not Me” are all shining examples of what Skepta is about on this album, however if you’re British you’ll know these songs (particularly the latter two) have been overplayed to death. “Detox” is a much needed cypher from members of Boy Better Know and reaffirms the direction in which the crew is going, faithful to their grime roots but with a much more distinctive modern sound. “Text Me Back” is the albums closer and is more romantically charged song, a definite switch up from the previous tracks tones, however remains poignant in amongst the chaos.
Konnichiwa in its entirety is not perfect; however neither is grime, nor Skepta himself. What this album is, is a statement of what grime is, and what grime could be. Skepta’s achieved the heights before, only now is he doing it on his own terms.