So, it’s the 2nd of December, 2012, and Skepta has just released the much-acclaimed purchasable mixtape: ‘Blacklisted‘. Featuring an eye-grabbing stinger-pink cover, the 12-track tape was a real statement from the Tottenham MC – but who’d have thought it would be the start of a culture-shifting 3 years?
It was obvious to anyone that followed Skepta in 2012 that there was something changing in the MC’s mind state, as can be heard on the mellow track “Castles” from ‘Blacklisted’, where the rapper uses phrases such as “underdog psychosis” and “epiphany” in his verse. But, this change-in-thought had its roots wedged heartily into Skepta’s miscarried second studio album: ‘The Honeymoon’, which was due for release in 2011 before being delayed until 2012, and was then ultimately scrapped- supposedly following disappointing early promotional efforts. Singles “Hold On” and “Make Peace Not War” were songs that steered away from Skepta’s usual sonic approach, and instead steered him into the UK Top 40 on two occasions.
After the release of ‘Blacklisted’, Skepta wasn’t to release a track again until 2014, where he and his brother, JME, premiered “That’s Not Me” – a true summary of Skepta’s change in direction that peaked at #21 in the UK Singles Charts. From the outside looking in, it appeared as if Skeppy, during his brief hiatus, had achieved a state of musical enlightenment, a moment every musician will strive to realise. He had discovered his true sound and was soon to become well-aware of the baton that was to be passed to him as he started his lap of ascension into the pantheon of Grime and UK Urban culture. The DIY video for “That’s Not Me” cost Skepta and his BBK label £80- a stark contrast to the thousands of pounds spent on music videos by other artists. The same DIY video would win Skepta a MOBO award for Best Video, a win that truly set in motion his unstoppable rise to international fame. Later that year, the BBK pioneer released “It Ain’t Safe (feat A$AP Bari)“, which, along with “That’s Not Me”, is set to appear on Skepta’s highly anticipated second studio album, and the follow-up to ‘Blacklisted’, ‘Konnichiwa.’
Despite his 2014 success, no-one could have predicted Skepta’s phenomenal year in 2015. Skepta started the year off by appearing on stage alongside Kanye West (and the rest of the UK Grime scene) during Yeezy’s performance of “All Day” at the BRIT Awards. Junior-Editor Griff from GRM Daily claimed this as his favourite moment of 2015, describing it as “historic”. Similarly, GRM Daily Editor Caroline marked Skepta’s performance at a surprise Kanye West show in London in March amongst her top moments of the year, claiming again that it was “THE most historic concert experience ever“. After releasing Devilman diss “Nasty“, Skepta followed through in April with the (now anthemic) Grime track “Shutdown“, featuring guest vocals from Hip-Hop heavyweight and ‘Views’ artist: Drake. The OVO cosign helped to propel the track to international heights, prompting the London-based artist to embark on a North American tour. “Shutdown” has since been certified silver, peaking at #39 in the UK charts and #9 in the UK R&B charts. In the same month, Skeppy performed an incredible set in Shoreditch at the Hollywell Road car park, provoking a reaction from the crowd that has to be seen to be believed – you could barely even hear the MC over the eruptive chants and cheers. It’s worth mentioning that this was the third Skepta-based entry into our year-in-review piece, as it was heavily praised by Krish.
Throughout the rest of 2015, Skepta would appear on several international rap-tracks, including “RedEye to Paris” with Flatbush Zombies (on which he had the strongest verse) and Wizkid’s bouncy, Nigerian-produced remix of “Ojuelegba” alongside Drake, who comes through with a melodic verse himself. Both tracks featured on ‘The Tim Westwood Mix’, which dropped in September. The year was capped off impressively as the rapper won two GRM Rated Awards for Artist of the Year and Best Artist at our inaugural ceremony on the 18th of September, before Noisey released a documentary in November, which revolved around his sold out Summer tour of America. Let’s not forget that he also performed at OVO Fest in August, Wireless Fest in July (with Drake) and The Great Escape Festival in May, around the time he gave a memorable and historic performance on ‘Later…with Jools Holland‘.
For Skepta, this year started in the same explosive fashion as the last. In January he was announced to be performing at California’s annual festival: Coachella. Despite it recently being revealed that Skepta would have to pull out of the line-up due to work permit issues, this was a major step forward in the artist’s ever-heightening career that continues to make history across the Atlantic. In the same month, Skeppy was ranked at #7 on GQ’s annual “Best Dressed” list, ahead of David Beckham and his son Romeo, as well as Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch. This feature from GQ sparked a series of headlines revolving around the rapper’s fashion career. In February, he announced on Instagram that he would be releasing his own brand of Nike Air Max’s: the Blacklisted Air Max BW. Skepta was successfully branding himself as the top dog in UK rap culture by placing himself alongside Drake, Kanye and Michael Jordan, other previous and current partners with Nike. This huge announcement came just days after “Ladies Hit Squad” featuring D Double E and A$AP Nast released on Skepta’s YouTube channel.
As this piece timelining Skepta’s journey to the release of his second studio album begins to catch up with us, March and April proved to be just as important in the album’s promotion as the MC became a brand ambassador for Uniqlo, got put on the Glastonbury 2016 bill and got nominated for a prestigious Ivor Novello award. Then, a few weeks ago, it happened. In April, Skepta finally revealed the track list for Konnichiwa through an image detailing the songs via Instagram, along with the album’s iconically British artwork. The track “Man” followed concurrently with the album’s release date announcement, alongside an iconic visual show by Risky Roadz in East London late night hotspot, Visions. A trip to Barcelona with Fekky and Chip, the promotion of new Konnichiwa merchandise and a surprise alignment with Kellogg’s finished off the month, leaving just a few days before the album would release.
It’s now May, 2016 – Skepta’s second studio album, the highly-anticipated follow-up to ‘Blacklisted’ is set to release imminently, and everyone in the GRM office is keeping their eyes peeled for any last minute announcements from the man himself. Writing this piece was eye-opening, as it allowed me to chronicle the vast success Skepta has seen since releasing Blacklisted in 2012, and it emphasised to me just how much he deserves the legacy he’s starting to create.
A true pioneer, Skepta is set to release Konnichiwa on May 6th to what I predict will be a thunderous storm of acclaim and applause.