23 August 2016

Skepta - Konnichiwa

Good day to you all, or Konnichiwa as they say in Japanese.  Our looks at the Mercury Music Prize nominations have brought Grime Rapper Skepta to our attention.  Now, I am clearly not to usually demographic for an artist like Skepta, middle age, greying Frank Zappa fan from North East England, but I will always give something a go (also, I bet before I have even heard a note that it is better than some of the shite I have had to listen to this week already).  Brief history lesson for everyone (including myself) -Skepta is the stage name of one Joseph Junior Adenuga from Tottenham, London who released his first album 'Greatest Hits' 2007, a ballsy move that will have got him a lot of attention.  He has released four mixtapes and this is his fourth album, which was released in May 2016.  I can remember seeing Skepta's name around, but I cannot say I have not knowingly heard any of his music.  But the list of people he has worked with (Drake, Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Rocky, amongst others) is very impressive; this album reached number 2 in the UK charts, was a hit around Europe and reached the USA Billboard 200.  Whilst the way has now always been smooth, he seems to be doing very well.  Now I am listening to an album that is from a genre that I do not have much experience with, but the Mercury's always bring interesting works to our attention - so without further ado....

The first song is the title track "Konnichiwa", starting with cymbal clash, some wood-pipes, a splash of water, some birdsong, a drawing of a sword and the sound that can only be described as a man who is ready for an attack as the horns and glass starts to smash.  It has a minimal backing track, a large bass and a fine set of verse about a man trying to avoid change and still trying to showcase that he is the best in the country.  With a rap you have a lot of bragging and attitude, but that can be said for all music to a large degree; but this has a bass system that reminds me of The Bug and that harsh sound that comes from any Ninja Tune album - even though this is from the Boy Better Know label.  It is a strong opening, trying to get the right sort of attitude and style across and it is a very compelling opening track.  The second song is called "Lyrics" which features Novelist, starting with a sample of a promoter screaming for the MC to leave the stage and then the music starts and it is a huge song which show cases what both Skepta and Novelist are all about, laying down rhymes and sounding as if they own the room from the very beginning.  The bass is huge once again, it would rattle teeth a few miles away from wherever it is being played.  Even as an outsider to this style, it is very hypnotic and absolutely storming - that bass really does win me over from the very beginning.  The next song is called "Corn on the Curb" and features Wiley & Chip, this one is more serious in mood and style.  It is all about comparing the past and the present for Skepta, how the past was incredibly hard and whilst the world is full of ladies and bling now, there is still something else required for the world.  It is a strong song from the beginning and it gives more with each listen, but the interesting part is actually when the music stops - the conversation over the phone with someone having great doubts and the other telling the former to pick himself up, it is actually an insight to the vulnerability of people and how sometimes you just need someone to talk (maybe someone who will shout at you) to bring everything back away from the abyss; a very strong and interesting number.  The next song is about trying to keep out of trouble, just wanting to have a quiet life, but the world is against them and trying to antagonise them.  "Crime Riddim" is a power and intriguing number that shows how a night can be when you are treat like (for want of a better word) scum and discriminating against.  Musically, I am not like the song as much as the first three songs, but I love the rap on this song as it is absolutely compelling and sadly something that is too familiar to a lot of people.  It speaks of injustice and it also speaks of how it is for other people, powerful and amazing - the end segue about a gamer who takes stuff far too seriously is also funny as fuck.

"It Ain't Safe" featuring Young Lord is the fifth song on the album, it is a slower beat that greats you on this song with a rap about being attacked from all angles and nowhere is safe and sanctuary is scares; so the defences are high and the attack mode is just a few moments away at any given point.  It is heavy and dark musically, it does give a sense of menace and weariness from the beginning to the end of the song.  It is not one of my favourite numbers on the album, but it is one I can admire for the quality rap and sinister music.  "Ladies Hit Squad" featuring D Double E & ASAP Nast starts off with the brag about the ladies, the boastful side and it has some clever rhymes about not needing Netflix, round two and such slang about the various amount of sexual activity that they are going to experience.  It is still done in a slow style with some weird swirling synths to add take a little bit of edge off the bass (it fails by the way, nothing hiding that bass sound as it is glorious) and it has a swagger that can be seen from out of space.  I have never been the biggest fan of this type of number, but understand the need for this song - but I would be skipping it if I was listening to it again.  Numbers features Pharrell Williams, it is a song about the mistrust of record labels and there need for the record sales and numbers to take precedent over the artistic vision.  The desire to be away from all of that, to be away from the money pit that is the recording industry and creating his own label (Boy Better Know) with his brother gives the momentum behind this number.  It is a great song, one that shows a man who is not going to be fooled and is going to do his thing his own way.  The eighth song is called Man, it features a familiar sample to these ears from Queens of the Stone Age and the song "Regular John", it is about people trying to invade the inner circle of Skepta and claim to be family and Skepta is too smart for that sort of shit.  This was so close to being the top track of the album as it is huge, bigger than life and bass heavy (as is a lot of this album).  The energy, dynamics and the harsh beats dominate here; but it would be for nothing if the rapping was poor and that is not going to happen here, Skepta walks the walk and talks it too - as good a track on this album as you would expect for the rest of the album. 

"Shutdown" is a track that is all about Skepta and his view of the world, no one is better, politicians and the police are not to be trusted, if you are saying you are not into things, you are a liar, rules are not for him and he is going to do it his way.  This is for the clubs, raves and shows - it will go down a storm live and it has that all important bass that is the core of this album, it's heart and identity.  The track is not for me, but just because it is my not thing does not mean I cannot understand it or appreciate what is going on - I can imagine this coming out of bass speaker and it will sound as if the Titans have entered the world again to take over once more.  With help from JME (Skepta's Brother), "That's Not Me" is billed as an old school Grime song and is another look at the music industry and how something that has been force on them is not their style.  The rapping on here is great, but the music behind it is a little weak in comparison to other songs on the album and that has always been an important factor for me with the rest of the album.  The two elements are in unison for a lot of this album, sadly it is not the case here with this one; it is not a bad number, just pales in comparison to other tracks.  The penultimate song of this album is called "Detox" and it features Boy Better Know label mate Frisco, Jammer and Shorty who are billed as BBK; it is a rhyme about not being able to relax, always being on the ball and never taking down the intensity level.  It is a fantastic number, I love it when contributions work as well and fluid as on this number; it sounds so smooth and natural.  The beat is solid, the bass loud and they all bring their 'A' game to this number, what is there not to like?  Ending the album is "Text Me Back", this number is Skepta trying to almost apologise to a significant other that whilst he may not answer the phone when contacted, he is not playing silly buggers and that she is the only one he wants to be with, but he also is focused on his art and that is something that he cannot take his eye off at all.  It is a good ending, showing that Skepta values family and (as he puts it) his crew above all others; sometimes he does not get to show it, but he always true to those that he holds precious.  I admire that sort of thing, I understand it and it brings this album on a high note.

I like this album, it is a strong, passionate and well-crafted record.  The raps are crisp, the beat loud and the bass, oh that massive bass is able to raise the dead and cause Atlantis to rise out of the Atlantic Ocean.  I would be lying if I said that this is the album I would have be looking for, I do not want come across as an old man trying to sound hip and digging the current sound; it would reek of bullshit from the start and that is not how I write.  Would I play this normally, I don't know that for certain; but it does have something about it that cannot be quantified, call it passion, call it determination - there is a factor on here (not calling it X Factor, that name has been sullied) that you do not always get with music.  The sound is one of the loudest that I have heard outside of The Bug and whilst I might not be from the scene that created this album, I know that this will be a huge album for both Grime and also the UK music scene.  If it was not for the Mercury Prize, this might have passed me by and I think it is has a great chance of winning the event; there is a repetitive nature to some of the music, but the raps elevate this album.  An interesting contender for the crown, definitely one of the better releases in this line up.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - Numbers

You can purchase Konnichiwa from Amazon here

You can visit the Hello Skepta website here (which also has links to purchase Konnichiwa)

You can follow the activities of Skepta on Facebook here

You can stream Konnichiwa on Spotify here

You can stream Konnichiwa on Deezer here

You can stream Konnichiwa on Tidal here

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