skeptaBoy Better Know – May 6th

Inevitably comparisons will be made between Konnichiwa and Kano’s fifth album Made In The Manor – two major LPs in a year which has been hyped as the possible apex of a grime revival that began two summers ago following Skepta’s guest verse on Meridian Dan’s ‘German Whip’. The genre has often been deemed unsuited to the long player format, which is perhaps odd considering it smashed its way into mainstream ubiquity. Crowned with the establishment’s laurel wreath (the Mercury Award) for Dizzee Rascal’s coming-of-age album Boy in da Corner, but those were the halcyon days of 2003 – a time when grime music was made almost exclusively by school kids living in E3 or the neighbouring E14.

The grime of today is a different beast entirely. North and south Londoners are in on the action, the pubescent minimalism that was once there is gone, and in its place a wealth of foreign influences have seeped into the sound thanks in large part to a parallel stateside trap revival at the beginning of this decade. Skepta’s allegiances over yonder, through friendships with Drake and A$AP Bari, manifest themselves all over this album. Make no mistake, this is a grime album manufactured to be palatable to our friends across the pond.

In this respect, Skepta trumps Kano. Kano is the better storyteller and technician. By comparison, Skepta’s flow is slow and more predictably buoyant, but he enunciates better. The advantages are clear: Skepta makes grime music not just less impenetrable to the americans but to everyone that doesn’t have a playlist of Lethal B deep cuts knocking around somewhere in a LimeWire downloads folder. The eponymous album opener slides in with its full bodied bass – worlds away from grime’s 16-bit origins and closer to recent blockbuster american trap records. Though to anyone concerned that the pomp of yankee hip hop will have rubbed off on Skepta, he’s quick to assure us otherwise: “Nothing ain’t changed, boy better know man went to the BRITs on a train / Think it’s a game? Man shut down wireless then walked back in the rain”.

Konnichiwa doesn’t need to be a masterpiece to be one of grime’s best albums

From such a powerful opening onwards, Skepta treats us to a feast that’s delightfully fun and cosmopolitan. On ‘Numbers’ “Quit talkin’ numbers, calculator” Pharrell leers to the opportunistic A&R sharks (yes, Pharrell!). A$AP Nast does his best Drake impression on the hook to the phenomenal ‘Ladies Hit Squad’. If that sounds a little dated or tasteless, his lisp and general looseness (not auto-tuning himself into self-mockery as Drake would) give it more character than anything Toronto’s finest has done recently. Elsewhere Skepta revives the dying art of the hip hop skit to provide some comic relief. The best of these appear at the end of ‘Crime Riddim’ when an american online gamer becomes irate at one of Skepta’s homies beating him: ‘Bruv you’re a little gamer man, I really do this bro’ comes the retort as in-game gunshots sound out. If you thought Skepta would suck up to America like a grime Alex Turner there are little comedic moments in the lyrics and in the skits that so perfectly capture the quiddity of our little island.

In short Skepta may have made the best grime album this year. Konnichiwa doesn’t need to be a masterpiece to be one of grime’s best albums, and it’s a lot more fun than Made In The Manor. Skepta isn’t the best rapper in the UK. His flow is way too loose and rudimentary and his lyrics are very navel-gazing, like almost anyone right now: Stormzy, Little Simz, Kanye West et al. Skepta’s strength is his feeling, and it’s something his american alliances have no doubt taught him to perfect. Through its vibes, through its production and collaborations, through its lightness of touch, wittiness and Britishness, and even through its imperfections, Konnichiwa will stand tall as a monolith of grime music. We just hope the Americans are ready.

Buy: Skepta – Konnichiwa

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