Skepta: Konichiwa

William Sutton

Grime forefather reintroduces himself to the world and carries with him the hopes of a genre.



Label: Boy Better Know
US Release Date: 2016-05-06
UK Release Date: 2016-05-06

As a young British male raised in southern England in the noughties, grime feels like the music of my generation. In the same way the ‘60s had folk and the ‘70s punk, this is our generation’s voice and sound. Ever since I heard the opening bars of “Ghetto Kyote”, I have been gripped. Of course, grime looked dead in the water after the move to the charts and electropop towards the end of the last decade. However, the resurgence since the turn of the decade has been enthralling for not only those fans who had given up on grime, but new fans as well, both in the UK and overseas.

Symbolic of this return was the 1Xtra Sixty Minutes Live series, in particular the session featuring Boy Better Know, Dizzee Rascal and Lethal B, amongst others. The passion, energy and comradeship on show from those originators of the genre was a joy to watch and seemed as much fun for them in the studio as it was for the listener. Here was a group of people who had all enjoyed commercial success to differing extents and moved away from the core sound of grime in different ways but with the same outcome, a stagnation of both commercial and artistic success. This “return” of grime also comes in the context of increasing presence in the US as Dizzee played Boy in the Corner in full in New York recently and Skepta and Drake have become well publicized pals.

It is with both excitement and trepidation therefore that Konichiwa arrives. Would the album build on this success or would it make wrong moves and push too far in the search for a return to the commercial “glories” of the past. The latter seemed far more unlikely after Skepta’s 2014 single “That's Not Me” rejected the Gucci wearing Skepta of the past, and the run of promo singles ahead of the album raised expectations even further. As the title indicates this is an introduction for some and a reintroduction for others. And what a reintroduction it is.

The title track is something of a statement of intent, calling out the politicians that Skepta clearly feels have left him and those around him disillusioned and isolated and for whom grime provides the most valuable outlet. Attacks on the institution do not stop there with “Crime Riddim”, a classic slice of grime production driven by an 8-bit melody, commenting on the racism and brutality of the police. Often grime’s potential for lyrical depth and social commentary is forgotten amidst attention drawing MC clashes on which the genre rose but this album shows that grime can be as diverse and varied as any other musical form. “Feds wanna strip a man, fuck that I ain't a Chippendale / Want to strip a male, put him in a prison cell, got me biting on my fingernails.” This isn’t a Ghostface crime masterpiece but a tale of arrest for fighting and asking the judge for leniency, and it seems very real tale, an insight into day to day life for those around Skepta. What follows the track is another insight into day to day life as we hear Skepta and his friends playing Call of Duty online. This track perfectly reflects the lack of pretense about the album and for that it is even more refreshing.

There are a number of previously released tracks included which are undeniably good, becoming modem classics of the genre and providing the basis for Skepta’s international expansion. This success was driven primarily by "Shutdown", a track with demonstrates the potential for grime and its most talented performers to expand beyond its current limits given the correct combination of lyricism and jarring beats. "Lyrics" is such a track and initially sounds like a flashback to 2003 and the heyday of grime for many but with a clear stamp of 2016 all over it. Feature artist Novelist proves there is great potential and talent in grime with the Lewisham native providing a great verse demonstrating aggression, control and power of both voice and content.

US critics have said Skepta tries too hard to fit words into bars and doesn’t flow with the beat. They consider Pharrell produced “Numbers” an example of a “better” flow and appreciation of the beat. And whilst "Numbers" is a good song and features impressive production from Pharrell who shows a real appreciation of the grime sound, it appears some in the US may continue to miss the point with the genre. Skepta has always demonstrated a great beat awareness, making space for himself amidst the jarring beats that he has worked with and the slightly off kilter flow is an aspect of grime that should be embraced.

There are a few misses. “Ladies Hit Squad” appears to be an attempt to cash in on US attention and yet the first few bars are so very British with Jammer doing what only he can. After that however it descends into a slice of US club rap that isn't bad but can’t hit the levels of recent hits such as Desiigner's “Panda”. Final track “Text Me Back” is another track with women at the centre, and whilst clearly no "Oopsie Daisy" (a symbol of the decline of the genre the first time round), the tempo drops and it is one of the weaker tracks on the album as Skepta reflects on his career and the impact on his relationships. Well-trodden territory, maybe, but at least it steers clear of schmaltz.

“Man” is a much better example of addressing the changes in lifestyle that success can bring as Skepta raps, “Man calling me family all of a sudden / My mum don’t know your mum, stop telling man you’re my cousin,” and again shows his technical flow and very British delivery. However most disappointing is “Detox”, which features all of Boy Better Know and was one song that promised much but doesn’t quite make the mark. The beat is a little drab and generic and the content dry.

These tracks should not take away from what is a strong album and potential watermark moment in both Skepta career and grime’s history. Boy Better Know’s headline slot at Wireless felt like a real “moment” for the genre and we may look back on this album and that show as the turning point where grime establishes itself as a power in the music industry on a global scale. That growth would need to bring growth and evolution but hopefully that would come organically rather than the forced changes seen previously. The spoken word ending to “Corn on the Curb” from Chip shows the importance of Skepta to grime, and this album will hopefully be central to the growth of the genre.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.