Konnichiwa has been the grime scene’s most anticipated album since Skepta returned to form back in 2014, putting the mainstream, materialism and his Gucci away with single ‘That’s Not Me’. After a period of uninspiring, commercial hits grime was alive again. Not since its 2002 East London origins has the genre been as culturally relevant as it is today, and there’s no-one more responsible for fixing the spotlight firmly on the grime scene than Tottenham MC Skepta. In the age of social media and after a series of successful singles the hype built up around Skepta’s fourth studio album had been immense. But the diversity of Konnichiwa’s tracks live up to these expectations.
Famously sampling superstar grime fan Drake’s “Trussmedaddi” vine, ‘Shutdown’ has been lighting up venues on both sides of the Atlantic since mid-2015. Skepta’s delivery is perfectly aggressive rapping over an aptly in-your-face beat, as he states that grime “ain’t a culture it’s my religion”. It’s managed to garner significant critical acclaim, competing for the Ivor Novello for 2015’s Best Contemporary Song and topping NME’s tracks of the year list.
grime speaks from the margins, giving a voice to those that feel…ostracised by mainstream society
The album flows phenomenally well. With Kanye and Drake both facing criticism for releasing bloated, repetitive albums it’s clear that real care has gone into the production of Konnichiwa. Tracks are tightly grouped together by stylistic similarity. The record’s titular, opening track is heavily political, as Skepta’s rhymes push past issues of “colour and gender” to focus on the reality of “politicians corrupted agenda”. The slowed pace of delivery and beat in ‘Crime Riddim’ adds emphasis to it’s lyrical significance, centring on the anxiety produced by stop and search police culture. Skepta’s confrontation of real contemporary social issues couldn’t be further way from the mainstream mediocrity of 2011’s Doin’ It Again. Once again grime speaks from the margins, giving a voice to those that feel at odds with popular culture and ostracised by mainstream society.
This voice is not always one of a genre stereotyped misogyny and hedonism. There’s a sense of duality that runs throughout the album. The aggression of ‘Man’ and ‘Shutdown’ sharply contrast the undertones of uncertainty and fragility that surface in the skit that closes ‘Corn on the Curb’. While the intimacy of ‘Text Me Back’ may be the closest thing we’ll see to a roadman love song conveying the tensions that exist between family, relationships and the stresses of producing meaningful music.
…The closest thing we’ll see to a roadman love song
It’s by no means a perfect album, peaking heavily around previously released singles. The majority of the albums seven truly new songs fail to capture the same energy and lyrical edge of ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’. The album falls a bit flat around its American influenced tracks. The beat in ‘Numbers’ is uninspiring and A$AP Nast’s hook in ‘Ladies Hit Squad’ is bland, giving the impression of a budget Drake song. Skepta’s hook in ‘Lyrics’ is drawn from a sample of an old Wiley clash. Containing the albums best feature, the track blends the youthful energy of ‘Lewisham King’ Novelist’s show-stealing, skippy flow with pounding base, giving the track the aesthetic of a grime classic.
Konnichiwa isn’t simply an album, it manages to be both antagonistic and intimate, pushing the boundaries of what grime can achieve as a genre.