Skepta, a British Grime artist who has transformed the perception and success of the genre, is, quite simply, a lyrical genius. His rapping is fast-paced, emotive, yet his lyrics can be heard with a clarity that most rappers fail to achieve. He has some of the best hooks in any current British music, not just Grime. He has not only ignited a musical genre, but a way of life too. Skepta says in his song ‘Shutdown’, ‘This ain’t a culture, it’s my religion.’ Now I understand that this way of life, this musical genre, and this man are all a representation of inner-city London, but what Skepta fails to do is to accept that the success of his music, and thus, by extension, himself, have gone far beyond this realm. Skepta wants to keep this image of a gangster from London, but that’s all it is now, an image. I love hearing about this image in his songs and gaining an understanding of what inner-city London lifestyle can be like, but Skepta is no longer a part of that life in a way that he used to be. This makes me ask the question, why does he not want to accept the fact that his listeners, his fans, are not just from a few areas of one city, but from an entire nation, and beyond. We are an eclectic range of fans. Celebrate that Skepta, celebrate how far your music has gone, how many people have reveled in its frenetic, dance-like qualities. Don’t tell me that you ‘Only socialise with the crew and the gang.’ (An exert from his song Man). Accept who you are. Make the same superb music, keep it true to its garage roots, but enjoy the success you are having! Stop pretending you don’t enjoy the success and the money it bestows upon you. Stay modest, but don’t lie.
I, a middle-class university student from the South of England, feel like I cannot listen to Grime and Skepta without being judged. This is because I am not from London and am not a proper ‘roadman’. The fact that that is the case is truly ridiculous. Do I have to be gay to listen to Elton John? Black to listen to Marvin Gaye? An idiot to listen to Zayn Malik? Of course not. Why then shouldn’t the same apply for when I listen to rap? I, and anyone else for that fact, can listen to whatever we want to. Any musician should accept that, and embrace all of their fans, not just the ones that make them look ‘road’. ‘Road’ and ‘Roadman’ can be loosely translated into ‘cool’ and ‘gangster’, by the way.
Skepta has, in fact, began to accept all of this, at least partly. He was sat in the front row – not in a black tracksuit – at the Tommy Hilfiger show in Los Angeles earlier this year. Something not many gangsters from London get to do. In his new music video, ‘No Security’, Skepta has a totally new image, almost hipster in his attire. The tone of the song is exactly the same, with the same aggressive, roadman, yet modest approach. But Skepta simultaneously accepts the luxuries that life has afforded him: ‘Stones in my jewellery,’ for example. Yet there is no excess, in the way American rappers often do, when talking about these luxuries.
All in all, Skepta is an absolute inspiration. A man who, with Boy Better Know (BBK), a musical group which he is a part of, went it alone, and reaped the benefits. Without record labels, promotions, or any external help, Skepta and BBK changed Grime from an inner-city, underground London musical genre, to a national, potentially international sensation. Skepta himself puts it aptly in ‘Shutdown’: ‘Wanna know how I did it, with no label, no A-list songs, well I told them. Blood, I just Shutdown.’
Below I attach some links to a few Skepta songs, and some of his best live moments. Please do give them a watch, you won’t be disappointed. And Skepta, please let everyone be a part of your crew, not just who you think should be. You owe it to the fans.