In many ways, the next phase in the growth of the grime scene began when Skepta dropped ‘Konnichiwa’ on May 6th. A landmark moment which can be seen as the culmination of the so-called resurgence of the genre, all eyes were on Joseph Junior Adenuga to deliver a project that would not only stay true to the sound that made him and countless others, but also retain the attention of overseas fans who gravitated towards hits like ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’. No pressure there, then.
But Skepta has always been an artist comfortable enough in himself to take risks and divulge into various sounds – from the hardcore grime of his early days to his crossover attempts a few years ago, returning full swing into the present day, and he has never compromised this aspect of his artistry. Nor his fiercely independent DIY attitude. ‘Konnichiwa’ sticks to this winning formula whilst maintaining a background heavily dipped in grime, but in ways which can appeal to all.
Undoubtedly, the best cuts on this 12-track affair are the ones in which the Boy Better Know don hops over tunes that stick to grime’s lineage. ‘Lyrics’, featuring Viper’s SS16 cover star, Novelist, is a perfect example, with classic icy synths and a fire bassline, as Skeppy shells every emcee in the building before passing the torch to Lewisham don Novelist, who more than holds his own. Album highlight ‘Detox’ featuring Shorty, Frisco and Jammer, could easily find itself at an Eskimo Dance or any of the early raves in which grime’s raw energy and intensity was at its finest.
The Pharrell Williams-assisted ‘Numbers’ blends both artists’ styles impressively, sounding exotic while maintaining a somewhat underground edge, making it a tune which Skepta’s American fans, in particular, can get behind. But uncovering the album more, you get a glance of an individual who is adjusting to his newfound fame, with ‘Corn on the Curb’ the shining example. Despite a bemusing phone conversation with Chip, Skepta sounds vulnerable, seemingly unable or unwilling to navigate through the industry whilst remaining true to himself and the scene.
It is effective though in its own way, as it displays the Tottenham emcee as human, with the same fears of life and the industry as most. Also, with cuts like ‘Ladies Hit Squad’ and ‘Text Me Back’, Junior shows a tenderness which makes the album that little bit more well-rounded.
At the album’s core is Skepta himself, who takes no prisoners with incisive, introspective and piercing bars, maintaining grime’s authentic tempo and rhythmic patterns. He’s fully focused on his objective – outshining every emcee in the game and showing why he is one of the best out, anywhere you look. He shows this countlessly on aforementioned bangers ‘Shutdown’, ‘That’s Not Me’ and ‘Lyrics’, as well as personal favourites ‘Man’ and ‘Detox’.
The only drawback is the fact that only seven of the 12 tracks are unreleased, which admittedly is a selfish plea for more music. But it is clear that Skepta isn’t trying to oversaturate his product, which is probably best in the long run.
All in all, ‘Konnichiwa’ is a solid body of work that showcases all of Skepta’s musical sides; it doesn’t overly rely on the grime foundation, instead building on it to expand the parameters of what the genre can sound like. The album’s significance to the genre, and music in general, is likely to supersede the album itself however, purely due to the enormous fan hype surrounding the project, Skepta’s unique position in the game and his newfound influence on pop culture at the moment, through his movements and strides into fashion.
The red-hot anticipation for the drop already propelled the album to legendary status and it will be talked about in the same vein as ‘Boy In Da Corner’, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Treddin’ On Thin Ice’ before it. Whether or not this is fair, and whether or not the project is on the same level as these seminal classics will forever be up for debate.
Personally, I believe it is too early to judge what impact the album will make due to the short period of time it has been out but the early signs are good, as inferred from its entry at number two on the UK Albums Chart, but ‘Konnichiwa’ will certainly gain the same reputation as a ‘Boy In Da Corner’ for what it means to the scene.
In some ways the album carries on the work of Dizzee’s or Kano’s first album, giving a quintessentially British experience to the world and showcasing the talent that is prevalent within grime. People will remember the album for being the breakout project that made the industry stand up and take real notice of grime after its so-called resurgence, and how this was achieved independently.
Grime artists will respect themselves enough to stay true to their art, mash up raves and release quality music, and the rewards will be reaped sooner rather than later. Skepta has given a generation the confidence to do this, more so now than ever before and the limits to whom grime can reach is no longer limited to its country of birth.
Ultimately though, this debate doesn’t really matter in the end. ‘Konnichiwa’ is a celebration of the UK’s most authentic sound and one of its flag bearers, and with it, Skepta has opened grime up the world even more, on his own terms, and displayed the limitless potential of where grime and its disciples can go. That will be the album’s lasting legacy.
Words by Yemi Abiade.