Skepta announced the release of his forthcoming album Ignorance Is Bliss on social media sharing snaps of promotional billboards throughout Nigeria, London and New York with the release date being the 31st May 2019. Looking towards the future is always the move to make, however, we can’t ignore the past accomplishments as it creates the context to really appreciate the growth and career Skepta has achieved. Skepta Albums have created timestamps in grime culture and it’s important to see what each represented at the time.
We already know Ignorance is Bliss is GONA BE A MAD TING! Even without knowing some track titles, featured artists, tour plans or production expectations, over the years we have learnt to trust Skepta’s sound as he always delivers. A true MC by definition, this is only going to prevail him to new heights. Which gives even more reasons why I wanted to take a step back into his past work.
Skepta Albums: The Journey to Ignorance Is Bliss
1. Greatest Hits
(Most Notable Tracks – Duppy, I SPY & Aiya Napa 2006 Skit )
Released independently on the Boy Better Know label, Greatest Hits outlived the Myspace era which is where it lived initially and where it was consumed by fans.
An artist’s first album is their most important body of work and Skepta chose to use this opportunity to send a message to his audience, and that message was to portray the ultimate confidence in his self. For example, the Ayia Napa skit 2006 sees Skepta proclaiming to be the king of grime, first album in! This speaks volumes and interestingly enough his consistency throughout the years places him in legendary status. You could say he was speaking it into existence!
When you think of the term greatest hits you think about compilation albums which have been curated together from an artist’s previous albums that tend to feature big singles and memorable album tracks. Skepta comes out the gate with the first album entitled greatest hits! Now that says a lot.
The album was released in the year 2007 and prior to this Skepta was actually a DJ and his brother JME was an MC. A much younger JME at the time would travel around London to private radio sets which Skepta would join him on. Wiley encouraged Skepta to write lyrics after police took his vinyl’s and equipment which meant he was no longer able to DJ and in turn began to write music. This then quickly developed into a love for the grime art form.
In hindsight Greatest Hits can be looked at as homage to the journey Skepta embarked on prior to the release of his debut album. Prior to the album dropping Skepta was working the traditional grime format which meant getting your name known by doing radio sets, DVD’s and clashing – all of which he prevailed in.
We also learnt on his debut album Greatest Hits he’s a producer and a good one too! Skepta produced 60% of his debut album and this without a doubt speaks to the DIY culture grime is all about.
Notable tracks such as Duppy will forever mark a time in culture as these tracks helped cement Grime as radio worthy and introduced the masses into this particular style of mc’ing. Duppy included multiple MC’s spit an 8 bar rally which is common in grime, the only difference is had this of been done on stage each MC would compete to get a reload from the DJ. That’s grime culture and that’s what greatest hits helped solidify.
I SPY (The famous rhythm and gash instrumental) was also featured on greatest hits and has gone on to become recognised nationwide.
At the time of release, Skepta was not a mainstream artist and much of the album was self-promoted by doing club appearances at party islands within Zante and Malia.
Greatest Hits Verdict?
Album cuts from Greatest Hits are still played today on stage shows, festivals and loved by grime music lovers. An album should be judged by how it has aged over the years and it’s fair to say the rave still goes crazy to the sounds of duppy! Doing it again!
It should now be obvious that Skeptas first album efforts should join the grime album classics hall of fame with albums such as Boy in the corner (which is regarded the ultimate grime classic) & Home sweet home.
(Most Notable Tracks – Too Many Man, Look out & Are you Ready)
The 2nd studio album from the microphone champion himself dropped in the summer of 2009 which produced Boy Better Knows biggest hit to date as a collective “To many man”. Similar to his debut album Skepta also produced 60% of this album.
He makes it a point to start the album intro with the track titled reflecting which Skepta uses to further emphasis being the king of grime, addressing the haters and his mother being happy regarding his progression in music.
At this point of his career Skepta was becoming a household name and what he does well with this particular body of work is showcase his ability to be versatile making songs for the mainstream radio, the streets and core grime fans. Whereas his first album was predominately catered to a grime audience.
To further emphasise the point above
Too Many Men (For the Mainstream) – The anthem of the summer clearly had a wide range appeal to both grime and pop fans. The song reached number 79 on the UK singles chart and was undeniably a smash. Other Tracks such as sunglasses at night and Rolex sweep also featured on the album which were clearly made for the radio and mainstream.
Look Out (For the streets) – A moment that won’t be forgotten is the Skepta and Gigg’s collaboration. Gigg’s burst onto the scene with talking the hardest and forever changed the direction for UK Rap, Skepta being one of the main acts in grime meant the 2 linking up to do music was only going to create history. The best respectively at their crafts, the video dropped on SB.TV and still has replay value! You loved it, the streets loved it! This is the hard shit!
Are you Ready (For Core Grime Fans) – featuring Wiley, is the 2nd track on the album and caters to the grime cadence and style. The bars from the song have been used for freestyles and contain very memorable lyrics such as “Who produces anthem after anthem? Skepta, The Microphone Champion”
If you cast your mind back to 2007 when 50 cent and Kanye West created the much-anticipated moment which was around selling the most albums in the first week and positioning the albums in the media as a musical face-off, Skepta took this same approach to create a buzz around microphone champion as it was promoted as a face off between himself and Wiley’s Race Against Time.
Microphone Champion Verdict?
Microphone champion was an opportunity for Skepta to test more commercial sounding music while keeping elements of his core. This also allowed Skepta to try out different marketing around the album as a promotional tool. So, looking back now 10 years later it’s clear to see after his debut album Skepta was testing new creative ways of doing things with Microphone champion.
Some of the music has dated, some marked time and some of the music if played today will get the crowd going.
This is a personal favourite of mine as my best friend at the time gave me his IPOD which had the whole album in its entirety.
3. Doin’ It Again
(Most Notable Tracks – Mike Lowery, Hello Good Morning Remix)
If microphone champion was Skepta testing sounds and new creative ways of doing things, then doin it again is a product of Skepta going the complete opposite direction of his original sound and creating music with a pop and dance feel.
While we do get some traditional Skepta sounding music such as Mike Lowry, overall it was very different from what he has released before. I personally believe Skepta wanted to further test out more music and go the other way after the release of microphone champion and seeing success with songs such as Rolex Sweep and sunglasses at night.
These songs worked for Skepta on microphone champion because we had more music that we loved and expected from Skepta whereas doin it again was the opposite. It’s also worth the mention that he worked with many other producers which became evident once released.
The type of songs that featured on the album were predominately cross over, radio friendly and commercial music. Each single that was released all had massive pop appeal and songs you could imagine being played to mostly commercial crowds. Bad boy, rescue me and cross my heart are songs that are hard to envision Skepta making today as he’s gone back to his original music sound.
What’s also interesting about this time is when it dropped a lot of grime artists in the 2010-2011 period were testing different styles of music but not much of it felt organic. This is where we heard a lot of the grime’s dead conversation coming from.
Doin’ It Again Verdit?
Doin It again isn’t an album I personally revisit, then again I’m happy Skepta made it and here’s why. After the public perception, I believe this forced Skepta to revisit his next moves and become true to himself and the music he wanted to make FOR REAL FOR REAL.
He may have taken a few steps back with doin it again but what happens next in the story is the reason downtime is so important. It’s at this point between doin it again and Konnichiwa a new Skepta is born!
(Most Notable Tracks – That’s not me, It Ain’t Safe & Shutdown)
There are a number of reasons that make Konnichiwa a special project, for example, the album was certified Gold in the UK selling 100,000 units, peaked at number 1 on the UK Official Chart and most importantly won a Mercury Prize which without a doubt has raised his profile as a successful artist. While these are massive achievements and something to be grateful for, what really stands out about the Konnichiwa era is the fact that Skepta went back to basics, doubled down on grime music, stayed true to himself by producing a body of work that he is proud of. He has stated on a number of occasions that songs like it ain’t safe will be performed in his set forever and that’s because he made music the best way he knows how, by being him.
Before we look into Konnichiwa any further we have to address 2 interesting moments that really set off this new journey in Skepta’s music direction
1. His Underdog Psychosis Video
The 25mins Underdog Psychosis video which was uploaded to YouTube is the turning point in Skepta’s career that was documented right before he burst into new fame and that’s the beauty of the video. His new stardom is what makes the documented video even more valuable and significant. Though it was uploaded for fans and supporters to watch, it felt more as a self-talk to himself and a promise to no longer be influenced by anything other than himself.
2. His Blacklisted Mixtape
Blacklisted is the project from Skepta with an intentional move away from commercial sounding music that he was creating previously. After the release of doin it again we got to see skepta produce tracks from blacklisted such as castles and ace hood flow.
From the lyrics of ace hood flow, it was apparent Skepta wanted the UK to find its own identity and stop covering hip hop sounding music with an ace hood inspired flow hence the title “Ace Hood Flow”
He chose to use blacklisted as a true artistic expression and address not making music from the heart. Looking back at it now, it was necessary to call people out as Skepta himself came from producing an album chasing hits! With his message, Skepta took his own medicine and blacklisted was born. I call it the album before the album! This mixtape without a doubt inspired Skepta to stick to his ethos and produce Konnichiwa.
Now Back to Konnichiwa
There are so many inspiring moments surrounding the Konnichiwa album, for example, Skepta stated at the MOBO awards it ain’t safe cost him £80 to shoot.
What message does this send out to supporters and other artists?
Videos don’t need to be backed by big budgets but need to express visuals that complement the song and if that costs £80 it’s just as good as a big budget video because you know! It won a MOBO award! You do the math
Or the fact that the album was celebrated in Japan with a party streamed with Boiler room as he had envisioned.
Now, what do Konnichiwa and greatest hits have in common? The majority of both these albums are produced by skepta himself. Also, both albums are not chasing radio hits!
Every song was made organically, for example, it ain’t safe was made by a forming a friendship with ASAP BARI and while they travelled together felt the need to create a quick song to drive with from state to state. It ain’t safe was born with small snippets being released on the internet and instantly being loved by fans, Skepta knew he was onto something.
It also within the period between his album doin it again and Konnichiwa skepta forms a natural relationship with drake. Drake had taken an interest into skepta by sharing pictures of the MC on Instagram, liking pictures and even getting a BBK tattoo.
SHUTDOWN would be released after it ain’t safe and that’s not me and would cement Skepta into real stardom. The track featured a snippet of drake taken from a vine clip and made into a full-length song. Naturally, you felt Skepta was creating a moment with Konnichiwa and taking his music into a direction he trusted and loved.
Skepta’s journey has been inspiring to many and he is a part of black British history. The Mercury prize was well deserved as he has put so much effort into music over the years. One of the best things about music is getting to watch an artist throughout their journey & Skepta is one person I’ve followed closely for years.
If Skepta is going to follow the formula of making music he truly loves as he did on greatest hits and konnichiwa then were in for another moment. 5th Album in, a lot of experience, multiple hits and bangers, a new dad, a konnichiwa follow up, this is an album that’s highly anticipated for 2019.
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