London emcee Skepta released his fourth studio album Konnichiwa, on May 6th. Much like his previous projects, Konnichiwa was released via his Grime label and collective Boy Better Know. Skepta has been gaining a lot of traction lately due to a cosign from a certain Toronto rapper. Would that, paired with Skepta’s talent, be enough to help him push that momentum towards international, specifically U.S. success?
Grime isn’t new. It started in England in the early 2000s, branching off from the UK Garage genre. Because it wasn’t widely accepted in mainstream British culture, a lot of it was played on pirate radio and shows were done in secret. There’s is still resistance to Grime music, with shows being shut down and artists being targeted by police. It has a sound that is unique to England, and it is the sound of the poor, working class English community.
A big part of Grime is based around the artist telling their story. On songs like “Crime Riddim,” Skepta says thingslike “feds wanna shift man/wanna put me in the van/wanna strip a man” to tell stories of his life in the projects, encounters with the police, and the violence that surrounds him. On “Shutdown,” there’s a snippet of what sounds like a news reporter expressing dismay for the “aggressive” and “intimidating” behavior seen at Grime performances.
There are 12 tracks on Konnichiwa, but “Numbers” is definitely a highlight. It features Pharrell for one, and it sounds different from any of the other songs on the album. It it is slower than most songs on the album. When I first heard it, I instantly knew it’d be a listener favorite. The hook is catchy and the beats just knocks. Skepta’s flow works well with the production, and also shows some versatility on his part that he can rap over a not-so-Grimey beat.
While most of the songs touch on similar topics, the final track, “Text Me Back,” is sentimental in nature. On it, Skepta speaks to a woman in his life and his mother about how his lack of contact with them is in no way him trying to be disrespectful to them, he’s just “on the road trying to do this ting,” working toward his dreams. It’s a nice change.
Recently, Grime has blown up and become more mainstream. And that’s a good thing, because what artist doesn’t want global recognition, specifically American recognition? However, with regards to Skepta’s album only, it may be difficult for American audiences to receive because it sounds so different from what we are used to. One, there may be a slight language barrier. Skepta uses a mix of slang from UK English and Jamaican Patois. Two, it may be hard to get over hearing someone with a heavy English accent rap. Three, Grime itself can come off pretty abrasive. The beats can sound somewhat harsh and gritty. It’s also fast-paced, having a higher BPM than rap. To the American ear, these things might not fly.
On the other hand, others may appreciate a new wave, if you will (similar to the recent explosion of dancehall becoming more mainstream). Also, by having songs that feature ASAP Mob members ASAP Nast and ASAP Bari (Young Lord), and longtime hitmaker Pharrell, is a great way to help appeal to listeners on this side of the Atlantic.
Konnichiwa accomplishes a few things well. It gets the listener hype with tracks like “Lyrics” and “Man.” Second, tracks like “Corn On The Curb” and “It Ain’t Safe” have dark undertones and give you an insight into the dismal world Skepta had to survive and flourish in. Ultimately, what an album like Konnichiwa does is give those unfamiliar with English culture a glimpse of a different walk of life in England. Furthermore, some of the events Skepta highlights in Konnichiwa mirror some of the experiences some people here in the U.S. go through, such as. police harassment, and being surrounded by drugs and violence. On Konnichiwa, Skepta paints a picture of London life that isn’t so glamorous, and may even change the perception of the city for those who think it’s just about tea and double-decker buses.
Purchase your copy of Konnichiwa via iTunes.