UK Grime has had a great run recently
Stormzy’s “Shut Up” climbed close to the top spot on the UK Billboard Hot 100 charts back around Christmas time of 2015, and the genre’s stars became more and more mainstream.
Skepta’s Konnichiwa continued that trend to great effect when he dropped his album on May 6, 2016. With lyrical bombardments as well as pop crossover bangers, Skepta’s first album in four years was able to reach all sorts of hip-hop fans.
One main subtlety of the LP that is necessary to point out is the fact that Skepta did not give his good friend Drake a feature on it, which shows that Skepta does not want to ride the superstar’s coattails to mainstream fame, but that he would rather make it by himself.
Skepta did just fine without the Canadian rapper, though. Pop-style songs like “Ladies Hit Squad” featuring D Double E and A$AP Nast and “Numbers” featuring Pharrell Williams are hugely successful songs in both the UK and USA. Basically, when you are as good as Skepta is, who needs the Drake Effect?
Other than those two mainstream songs, Skepta keeps the rest of his album completely Grime. The hit single “Shutdown” has a catchy chorus but also stays true to the controversial statements that have made Grime so popular, and “It Ain’t Safe” does the same while painting a picture of the gang-infested parts of London, which many people rarely hear about in English music, if they ever hear of it.”Man (Gang)” and “That’s Not Me” featuring Skepta’s brother JME are insightful raps about how fame has made people the 33-year-old MC has not seen in years try and make their way back into his life, while “Lyrics” featuring Novelist shows how worse, lesser-known Grime artists want Skepta to get on a track of theirs not to improve the quality of their song, but to get more views and become famous. In essence, these three songs show that Skepta is not a fan of greedy, fake friends and bougie struggle rappers.
The key bars in the album are the first few from Skepta’s first verse in “Numbers”:
“See me on the front cover of the magazine / Winning, Sheen / Slept on me when I had a dream / I was singing “What you mean, what you mean?”
Those four lines show how quickly the Grime superstar has gone from being barely known in his own country and being snubbed by the biggest record labels to being, quite literally, on the cover of magazines which give him global recognition, and because of that he is now chased by these labels. Konnichiwa‘s essence is mostly close to home, and even on the mainstream songs, Skepta still spits classic Grime verses.
The main issue with this album is the fact that there are too many forgettable tracks, too many for a 12-song album. Skepta tries and fails to go Pop by himself on “Text Me Back”, and “Detox”, which features his entire label, Boy Better Know, was pretty forgettable as well. “Corn on the Curb” featuring Wiley and Chip is also below average and out of its depth compared to the best songs on the LP.
This will almost certainly go down as the album that pushed Grime from being just a London thing to being a globally respected genre of music. Skepta touches all the bases within a concise 12 tracks, and save three or four blemishes, all of the songs are strong. Skepta did not let his post-“Shutdown” fame get to his head in the making of this album, and even though he is benefitting from Drake’s cosign on him, he still made it to the top of the Grime game by himself and earned the praise he has gotten since this album dropped. It’s an album that has beats that are good for playing in your car at irresponsibly loud levels, and it has lyrics that are appropriate for sitting in a dark room with just your headphones, and those are the best types of albums.