Review: Konnichiwa – Skepta

On a day that felt holy for music fans worldwide, Skepta’s Konnichiwa was my most anticipated by a long shot. Not that I thought Konnichiwa was going to be better than all of the other projects that came out last Friday (and it wasn’t), but the leader of UK’s grime scene has been one of my favorite artists for a few years now. If you live under a rock, “grime” is essentially British rap, but don’t use the two interchangeably as many would argue (grime ≠ rap.) Anyway, Skepta and his brother JME founded the supergroup Boy Better Know (BBK) in 2005, and they’ve basically been the bossmen of grime in the last couple of years. I became familiar with the group around 2012 when JME dropped his music video for what’s still one of my favorite grime songs, “96Fuckries”. To an 8th grader that already loved rap, JME spraying bar after bar was mind blowing. As I dove deeper into the genre, I quickly came across some of the Godfathers of grime like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Kano. More than a decade after Dizzee’s groundbreaking Boy in da Corner, grime has reached unfathomable heights. The movement is spreading across the globe and has seen a new generation of artists, while the originators remain more relevant than ever.

Despite not dropping an album since 2012, Skepta had a huge year in 2015. After mobbing on stage with other grime artists in a legendary performace with Kanye at the Brit Awards, the emcee dropped his biggest track thus far, “Shutdown,” last April. Tens of millions of views, a brief world tour, and three singles later, I expected greatness out of Konnichiwa.

The only problem I have with this project is the amount of singles that came out prior to the release. With five songs out of twelve already seeing the light of day, there’s obviously not much room for surprise. “That’s Not Me” featuring JME came out in the middle of 2014, so I was a little thrown off when I saw this on the tracklist. I just wanted as much Skepta as possible (but enough with the negatives, because my expectations were definitely met.)

The title track serves as a great intro to the rest of the album. The first sound from the entire project is a gong like the ones you ring on your “birthday” at Ron of Japan, followed by swords slashing, water flowing, and birds chirping. It makes me feel like I’m in the middle of an ancient Japanese temple with Monks and intense samurai training with lots of rare plants and koi fish, fitting the Konnichiwa title. It seems like everything’s going great until about 40 seconds later, sirens blare, snares slap, bass hits, and Skepta begins what he does best. Somehow, I went from a peaceful temple to a midnight riot in Tokyo, and I love it. A solid two minutes of raps from the north London native perfectly opens up the rest of the project.

After seeing the tracklist a few weeks back, I was excited for this second song. The feature on “Lyrics” is Novelist, the youngest BBK emcee, who has an incredible amount of potential. If I had my way, this track would feature far more “lyrics” than just three 16 bar verses, but unfortunately I have no say in what flies over at Boy Better Know. Still an impressive track, and the Tokyo riot I like to imagine myself in has not yet settled. If anything, the muffled voice effect on the chorus, distorted bass, and additional sirens on this cut escalate the chaos.

“Corn On the Curb,” featuring Wiley, continues the rawness of the LP; it’s emotional, loud, and real nasty. This precedes one of Skepta’s most conceptual tracks on Konnichiwa; “Crime Riddim” follows Skepta through a hectic night where he and fellow BBK members run into trouble at a club/rave. As Skepta puts it, some “pussyhole must’ve been off his nut”, as he spills Skepta’s precious Hennessy. Being the ultimate G that he is, Skepta gives this guy what he deserves and lands a punch in his face. Unfortunately, the “pussyhole” informs police and Skepta is arrested, letting the listener know that the cops were getting a little too touchy-feely: “Fuck that, I ain’t a Chippendale/ Want to strip a male”. Very clever Skeppy…

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Skepta looking like a true roadman. Photo via Hot New Hip Hop

Two out of the five singles come next with “It Ain’t Safe” and “Ladies Hit Squad”. The latter is the first time on the project where my imaginary riot dissipates, but both are still absolute bangers that have been in constant rotation for the last couple months. On “Ladies Hit Squad”, Skepta rides alongside D Double E in the verses, and A$ap Nast takes care of the catchiest hook on the project. The track as a whole is a dreamy, braggadocios anthem, not only for ladies.

Track seven had me most anxious, as Skepta joined forces with my favorite artist of all time, Pharrell Williams. With Pharrell’s exquisite production, “Numbers” has to be one of my favorite cuts. This is one of the most light-hearted tracks in Skepta’s discography, and is more about flexing on literally everyone alive than anything else. The lyrical cadence is outlandish and works for both artists very well. Pharrell closes with a verse that brings me back ten years to his Skateboard P persona. I picture him performing this on stage with a gold blackberry in his pocket, BBC on the t-shirt, and some pink and yellow diamonds on the chain. 

The remaining three singles follow, incase you thought Skepta was playing games after “Numbers”. “Man (Gang)” was the last single to be released, coming out days before Konnichiwa, and it’s simply wild. This song makes me afraid to approach Skepta if I were to have the honor to see him in public. According to this track, he doesn’t fuck with you unless you’re in his clique. Personal intimidation aside, the blaring horns, thick bass, eerie synth, and slick lyricism elevate “Man (Gang)” to one of the best songs in Skepta’s career. If you don’t believe me, the music video speaks for itself.

After “Detox” – another banger that ends too soon – with group mates Shorty, Frisco, and Jammer, Konnichiwa closes with what I see as Skepta’s most heartfelt song to date. “Text Me Back” is sort of an apology to the women in Skepta’s life who are underappreciated due to his busy schedule on the road and the demands of craving success. In the first verse, he details a woman who he’s quite fond of, explaining to her that he’s met girls from around the world and none compare to her. The second verse is an ode to his mother, telling her that despite having trouble speaking to her consistently, she’s always on his mind and he wants to make her proud. If you ask me, it’s a perfect way to end an album.

Skepta hasn’t slowed down his game with Konnichiwa, and I believe he has taken his career to the next level. (If you’re reading this Skeppy, can you please do a show in Chicago besides Lolla because I really don’t want to have to deal with that BS if you’re the only artist I’m remotely interested in seeing.) Keep doing your thing and make a longer album next time.

8/10

Written by Dylan Hardin

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