People sometimes forget that the United States isn’t the only country that makes hip-hop music. While American music certainly dominates domestic (and often foreign) airwaves, hip-hop has serious implants abroad. As evidenced by Drake’s album “Views,” currently sitting at the top of the charts with over one million albums sold in the first week, the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on music anymore. And one artist certain to make a big splash in the hip-hop world is British grime star Skepta.
Skepta has been a popular musician in Great Britain for almost a decade, but his recent, wildly successful singles “Shutdown” and “Ladies Hit Squad” have caught the ears of American audiences. Recognition from Kanye West and Drake, who reportedly signed a deal with Skepta’s label Boy Better Know, further cemented his popularity. His newest album “Konnichiwa,” released on May 6, is a stellar project that showcases Skepta’s lyrical prowess.
While Skepta has been recording music for over a decade, and this is technically his fourth album, “Konnichiwa” feels like a debut. Skepta, and grime in general, went through a bland pop phase in the mid 2000s before Skepta went back to his roots. Grime is a British off-shoot of rap that incorporates garage and industrial beats with hard-hitting rhymes. It’s pretty similar to Atlanta rap here, except with the energy turned up to the max.
With only 12 songs and a runtime of only 43 minutes, “Konnichiwa” packs a quick punch. “That’s Not Me” and “It Ain’t Safe,” which were both released in 2014, as well as three other previously released tracks are also included in the album. While the album runs short, Skepta still managed to recruit a number of features, including grime legend Wiley, his brother and fellow grime star JME and Pharrell Williams.
“Konnichiwa” is pure grime bliss. Guttural bass and synth lines create a perfect backdrop for raw verses from Skepta and friends. The production sounds a bit odd to the American ear, with the dark synthetic structure and obscure sample choices, but the speed and energy that these beats carry fit perfectly in any party setting. Skepta rhymes with vigor and aggression, matching the heat of the production. His flow is both smooth and quick, to the point where it gets difficult to tell where one bar begins and another ends. He’s also a master of hooks. By repeating catchy verses, Skepta will have you shouting “It ain’t safe on the block, not even for the cops” or “Boy better know when it’s shut down.”
His verses are clever and frank. On the Pharrell-assisted “Numbers,” Skepta disregards the desire from major labels to get high album sales in exchange for masterful bars. Throughout the album, he shades current fashion trends, fake friends, and women after his fame. While this sounds like any normal hip-hop, Skepta’s disdain for the culture feels authentic. Appearing in tracksuits with low-budget music videos, Skepta is not with the flashy lifestyle of American hip-hop. His counterculture, masculine verses are vital to his success so far.
Despite having 11 other artists on the album, no one takes the shine from Skepta. He has plotted this album for years, and the expertise and skill is obvious. This album is the the model for grime stars to follow, a British version of a reloaded “Illmatic.” If you really want to expand your musical tastes past the border, give “Konnichiwa” a listen.