As we enter the latter stages of what has been a pivotal year for the UK scene, we celebrate the birthday of one its biggest pioneers, Skepta.
The Tottenham artist turns 33 today, and you would be a fool to feel like it hasn’t been a big year for the man.
With a fanbase rapidly multiplying by the minute, astronomical moves have seen the BBK member and co-founder able to firmly perch himself on the world stage.
So to honour his birthday, we thought it would only be right to give you a few reasons as to why we awarded him Artist of the Year at the inaugural Rated Awards on Thursday evening.
1. Attracting global attention to the scene
Anyone who has even vaguely followed activity in the UK movement will know about the famous fans that Skepta has managed to acquire in recent times. The Drake connection has been a huge look and has shone blinding light on Grime music. In addition, he managed to bring the majority of the scene on stage with Kanye West at the Brit Awards, which was beyond crazy. The scene has, at times, struggled to gain the larger mainstream audience, and thanks to Skepta’s vision and intense work rate, he has managed to attract the eyes of some of the biggest artists in the world. This has further led to the wealth of talent that we possess being noticed by so many – we even had Drake paying attention to the Rated Awards!
2. Released two BIG singles that have caused a Tsunami effect worldwide
Nowadays, any club, any festival, any drink-up you go to will have either ‘Shutdown’ or ‘That’s Not Me’ banging out the speakers – and it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser. You have people who would normally listen to other genres reciting the entirety of each song whilst sending their body parts flying to all sections of London. He even did it on Jools Holland. When you think about it, not many songs have managed to create that sort of effect. It doesn’t matter where you are in the UK, you will hear it – that’s a big thing.
3. The work rate is on another level
After the success he has gained, particularly this year, many would take time to relax and enjoy the ride. However, Skepta never seems to be satisfied and is always seeking more. Of course such a drive is reminiscent in many artists, but always more so with him. Despite locking off big festivals and seeing unprecedented acclaim for his releases, you will always catch him beavering away in the studio looking to further his name and artillery. In interviews, he frequently mentions how he has a place to sleep in studio, which further showcases it. For that, it’s visible as to why he has not only earned it, but thoroughly deserved it.
4. Consistency in his sound
Being a veteran in the game can be hard sometimes, especially when the younger generation barge through and steal your thunder. Naturally, a lot of artists will look to adapt their style/sound in a bid to maintain their status, but not Skepta. Taking away the formality of slight adjustments, the rawness, reality and unique identity of his music has firmly remained throughout, and it’s what we all love. You can digest many different feelings and emotions, and that’s what music is all about.
5. The undeniable variety in his work
Now this is something that I feel can help cement a rapper or MC’s reputation. The old saying is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but sometimes you can get bored of repetition. What puts me off an artist is seeing the same hooks, the same lyrics and the same vibe when new releases come out. However, you go through the vast portfolio of Skepta’s work, and you will find variety. You can even take the last year as an example. He’s managed to make songs for the wider audience, send for people on tracks like ‘Nasty’, and show emotion on ‘Lukey World’, in what was a fitting tribute for a great friend of his. Even with all of the previous, he has done work with two-piece punk band The Slaves. Apart from Lethal Bizzle, who else has done that?
6. Always intent on handing out opportunities
Nurturing new talent and sharing valuable advice to those looking to reach similar heights is always pivotal in helping a genre grow. This is prominent with Skepta, who has always given the impression that he will work with people he holds in high regard. For me, this was shown when he jumped on the ‘Straight Up’ remix with a number of Grime MCs from Birmingham. The Midlands have put in work since the beginning, but have always found it difficult to gain recognition for reasons only known to certain people. With Skepta blessing the remix, he helped to promote several talented artists from the region, giving a lot of people hope from outside of London. More recently, you can see him taking the likes of Novelist under his wing.
7. Humility in abundance coupled with a strong mindset
Fame can become a very cruel mistress for certain people, but this hasn’t been the case. Always surrounded by the same people, he has kept it trill since day one. Respect is always given when appropriate and you get the feeling that the love he receives is wholeheartedly embraced and reciprocated. I can’t find a snippet or a clip of Skepta exerting any arrogance or perception of higher category, which is pure. His mindset is evidently strong and has the right trajectory to further his accomplishments.
8. Won ‘Best Video’ at the MOBOS on an £80 budget
In a couple years time we will be looking back on ‘That’s Not Me’ as a pivotal moment in Skepta’s career. But to think that the video was made on a budget of £80 is beyond description. The trip back to the ‘old school era’ was something simple, yet so effective and necessary at the time. You will see obscene money spent on glossy videos, but that isn’t always the game changer. Many people identified with it, so much so that it won ‘Best Video’ at the MOBO Awards at the end of last year – incredible.
9. He has set levels from early
Undoubtedly one of the early pace-setters, he was making big moves from a long time ago. The most significant to mind was when he released ‘Microphone Champion’ under Boy Better Know back in 2009. On the album, he had three songs – Rolex Sweep, Sunglasses At Night and Too Many Man – which all charted in the Official UK Top 100 – that was a big deal back in the day. It may not seem too flashy, but this was in an era where illegal downloading program Limewire was prominent and the internet had a minuscule role in the music industry.
10. Fingers in all pies
Not only do we see Skepta on the mic, but he is also a serial trendsetter. Back in the day he was prominent during the ‘Ed Hardy’ phase and also saw overwhelming triumph with the ‘Boy Better Know’ merchandise. In recent times he has collaborated with designer Nasir Mazhar and even modelled on his Men SS15 Show. Not to mention the fact he single handedly made it acceptable to wear a tracksuit anywhere and everywhere. That’s not all though; BBK even created a mobile network for a small period, leading to many people having the crew name as their sim card.
Big up Skepta.
Words by Jaik Bramley-Fenton / @JaikBFenton