I’ve been debating how to approach this article for awhile now. I’ve wanted to write something about Skepta since Konnichiwa dropped but I’m not one for doing album reviews. I feel they are short lived, and in any case, the music is there to be enjoyed, not critiqued. But just in case you’re wondering, I liked the album and I think it’s a future classic. As a life long Skepta fan (I have Private Caller on vinyl from the Heat FM days) I was glad that Konnichwa delivered vintage Skepta. The distinctive raw production, aggressive and punchy lyrics, all delivered with crystal clear clarity. The album is, as we expected due to Skepta’s movements over the last couple of years, uncompromising. And that’s exactly what I want to focus on here.
What Skepta has done with Konnichiwa (number 2 in the UK charts) is an amazing but not necessarily new achievement (see Krept & Konan’s Long Way Home from 2015 which also went to number 2) but the way he has done it has been completely unique and something that shouldn’t be ignored. The significance and gravity of what Skepta has done/is doing is remarkable and seems to be going somewhat under the radar.
Let’s just break it down real quick: completely independent, no big features prior to the album dropping, no commercial radio songs and very limited mainstream press or guest appearances. All this with a gritty street authentic grime sound and increasingly anti-establishment lyrics.
This is something we have never seen before. As Chip put it on that now infamous phone call at the end of ‘Corn On The Curb’:
“These youts don’t know what’s going on fam, they aren’t got a fucking clue fam. Independent to the tee!”.
Something seemed to change around culture clash in 2014. Skepta had just won a MOBO for best video for ‘That’s Not Me’ and, at Culture Clash, the whole grime scene came out to support the BBK sound. That night was amazing. We saw the second wave of grime fans come out in full force and it took absolutely everyone by surprise. That event, and the MOBO win, took Skepta from a well respected MC to a global cult superstar, shutting down street parties from London to New York and gaining the respect from the likes of Drake.
Skepta had well and truly arrived, all the while being as uncompromising as ever.
In an industry where it’s commonly agreed that you need to make certain friends, do certain events, get played by certain people and feature in certain publications to get ahead, Skepta has done the complete opposite, refusing to work with any brands or platforms that he doesn’t feel wholeheartedly represent him or his crew. Where other artists would have taken every opportunity for promotion, Skepta has picked what he wants to do. As he says on Man (Gang):
“Tell Grace not to reply to those emails. Nah I don’t wanna do no sessions”.
Now I’m not saying it’s easy to reach this level of independence. It’s taken Skepta some time to arrive here and it has to be noted that his brother JME has been on this wave for over a decade now. I know from being a musician myself that it takes an amazing amount of self belief, a whole heap of patience and complete unwavering persistance. But what BBK are showing us is that the hard way could actually be the best way. Rather than jump on any brand or platform that throws some money your way, keeping your integrity and building a trusted fanbase who share your core beliefs is the new model. This way, when the brands and platforms move to the next popular fad, your core fanbase is still with you. This ensures the power sits well and firmly with you. In addition, doing exactly what you want in life is more fun. Why compromise for money when it doesn’t truly make you happy? Skepta has not only been uncompromising with his art but also in his personality, business and whole being.
Through being completely true to themselves, Skepta and BBK have built the the kind of cult following reminiscent of anti establishment rock bands in the 80s.
Skepta is teaching us how to build empires. He’s reminding us about the power of ownership and, alongside his BBK crew and other artists like Stormzy, he’s leading the way for new and established underground artists to create their own infrastructure and play the game based on their rules. This is an inspiration to not only his fellow MCs but to all creatives and entrepreneurs. Stick to what you love and everyone else will eventually figure out that you’re the ish!
We are in a time now where we can build a following without having to use the traditional mainstream channels. The power of social media is real.
This is real life inspiration for everyone doing what they love, standing for what they believe in and creating art in its purest and most uncompromising way.
It is possible to win on your own terms.
Written by Elliott