aving spent the first two years of my university life living with two Essex born-and-bred housemates, I’ve learnt that the phrase “shut up”, alongside its primary function to tell someone to be quiet, may also be used to express disbelief or shock. It was that same imperative uttered from my lips the moment I discovered Skepta had won the Mercury Prize last week with his latest album, Konnichiwa, and it is that same phrase fellow grime artist Stormzy tells me to do on his thought provoking and well mannered single “Shut Up”. State of disbelief, I think so.
[Skepta] has produced an album almost embarrassingly anti-authoritarian
Skepta is a pioneer of modern grime. He promised to make music that had meaning in his 2012 flop #underdogpsychosisno1, a video uploaded to YouTube which even premiered in the Tate Modern, but in this attempt has produced an album almost embarrassingly anti-authoritarian, incredibly crude, and (to be honest) a bit dated. He discusses contempt for the police, the press, the media’s image culture, government and even satirises religion, but doesn’t offer anything new. Konnichiwa has the potential to make some significant critique on our society – but ends up combining stabbing, repetitive synth lines, random interjections from the likes of JME, Wiley and Pharrell, and jolted syllables that don’t quite fit to make a long list of songs that I don’t want to listen to.
Konnichiwa was up against some serious contenders. Michael Kiwanuka’s beautiful and soulful Love and Hate looked promising – reaching number one in the UK album charts. The jazz musician’s success keeps growing with a magnificent style and incredible live show, those huge brown eyes letting you know something amazing is about to happen.
Also in the running was ANOHNI’s HOPELESSNESS, a breakthrough album that addresses transgender, political and environmental issues in our modern world. ANOHNI is only the second openly transgender artist nominated for an Academy Award, making her an important role model for listeners and reducing the stigma attached. The album scored “universal acclaim” from Metacritic, making me continue to wonder why, when there are such poignant albums nominated, Skepta won.
And of course, not forgetting to mention two mindblowing greats of our generation, Radiohead, who, yes, may exude a slight pretentious quality for some people, but present a long standing contribution to the industry, alongside their galloping leaps forward in the alt-rock genre with A Moon Shaped Pool, reaching out and standing out from the crowd with the creative vision of Thom Yorke and co., teasing their fans with surprise releases and gimmicks.
Then we have David Bowie, a pop genius who needs no argument and was robbed of the title.
The day of the announcement, the other Music editors and I were certain that either of these two artists would win. I even toyed with the idea of a satirical article as to why Skepta should be the winner. But we were proved wrong, and it seems grime’s extortionate rise to the surface of mainstream music – especially at university where the drinking culture is rife (‘That’s Not Me’ always seems to get played at our pre-drinks) – has been reflected in this year’s Mercury Prize. A bad thing? Not necessarily. Grime is on the rise, but I hate to say it: that’s not me.