It feels like forever has passed since we first began our long wait for Skepta to release his fourth studio album, ‘Konnichiwa’. But a lot has changed since back then too. What started life with some mediocre chart singles in 2012 has spiraled into one of the most important albums yet for an entire culture and genre. While we’re still not sure what to expect (aside from a handful of unspeakably good singles), we can guarantee that the release and impact of ‘Konnichiwa’ is going to be monolithic for Skepta, for Grime and for London.
Skepta’s earliest murmurings of his discontent at the state of grime and rap in the UK was on his vicious and scathing track “Ace Hood Flow“. Venting over a minimalist and menacing instrumental, this track from his mixtape ‘Blacklisted’ was released at the back end of 2012, following two entries into the charts earlier on in the year. This was in hindsight the precursor of what was to come, but at the time it’s significance wasn’t as great as it is now. “I’ve been keeping my ears to the streets/The UK run out of ideas, everybody doing covers of American beats”, he raps on the opening line. This was set to be his rallying call to be the change he wanted to see.
It wasn’t until 2014 however, that Skepta rose like a Phoenix into his current Super Saiyan form. Fittingly alongside his brother Jme, he released “That’s Not Me“, an authentic, no-frills, Eski-tinged banger that exploded across the nation. It’s message was simple; be who you are, not somebody else. “I used to wear Gucci, but I put it all in the bin ‘cos that’s not me”, he spits on the hook, knowingly shifting an entire culture. It was time for UK street music to really represent the UK streets again. With that chorus, Skepta reignited a cultural zeitgeist of keeping things simple and authentic. Back to wearing tracksuits, back to the in-your-face and undiluted music. He helped kick down the door for the next wave of artists to come through and help carry the torch, personally handpicking barrers like Stormzy and Novelist. He rejuvenated the veterans to do the same, with all kinds of names coming out of the woodwork, as young people across the country began to fully invest themselves into the movement.
Of course, the cause of this paradigm shift doesn’t solely land on Skepta’s shoulders, but his influence towards it is unquestionable. “Shutdown” literally took over the world, a song so widely successful and celebrated, it probably doesn’t even need much discussing here. He not only shuffled the deck in his own country, but also laid foundations overseas, which began with months of networking in New York with artists like Blood Orange. His much-documented friendship with (and signing of?!) Drake has been a huge source of buzz in itself, not to mention also rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. With all that being said, ‘Konnichiwa’ has become the defining moment of Skepta’s career yet. It’s a moment for grime at home and for the flag flaying overseas. It’s a moment for a generation.
With such a huge album, it’s initial impact is going to be greatly important. That’s why we’ve decided to give you our first impressions, as our guy Griff writes a review of his thoughts, as he listens to it. Think of it as an endless stream of consciousness, Kanye style. Of course, it’s important to sit with an album for a while and fully digest it, which we’re certain to do, but first impressions matter too. They might not be lasting feelings, but this is our place to capture the magic and the excitement of that very first listen. Sit back, spin the album, and enjoy our live review of ‘Konnichiwa’.
This is like some Kung-Fu movie, Wu-Tang shit. There’s women’s vocals over a flutey-instrumental and it sounds like she’s probably singing under a cherry tree in Japan or something. Ok no, now there’s horns. Shit den! That was an unexpected drop, things have already kicked off with some explosive energy. This sounds like it’s probably produced by Skeppy himself. He’s talking about the Prime Minister and corrupted agendas, and disgusting MC’s, this is so what was needed for a strong intro. Definitely a statement for the album opener. It’s aggressive but personal lyrics wise, no hook, no holds-barred. Lets get this party started.
2. “Lyrics” (ft. Novelist)
Eurgh, this is immediately that kind of disgusting, screw-face music. There’s more eski-elements here, with an all-encompassing bassline. “Hear me on the radio, wagwan”, is a fitting hook, as this sounds like a radio set in MP3 format. Skepta’s doing his thing and the beat kind of sounds like some girls doing karate. Loving those Japanese sounding elements. Novelist kicks off the final verse and absolutely merks it, he really grabbed this opportunity by the scruff of the neck. “Lyrics” is going to go off in the raves for the next 9 months, fucking ‘ell.
3. “Corn On The Curb” (ft. Wiley & Chip)
I’m gonna start by saying that I have no idea what to expect from these 3 on wax together. Skepta kicks things off on the first verse, while the beat kicks in after about 8 bars into another head-nodder. I thought this might be some serious going-for-the-jugular raps, but it’s not really. He’s going in, but not on a sparring ting. Wiley’s on hook duties it seems, going with a skippy almost one-line flow. Still Skepta by the time the second verse kicks in, name dropping Drake and Section while he’s at it. I’ve got a feeling Chip is gonna kill this in the final third. Skepta’s second verse is stronger, a lot cruddier. He’s got Chip on the blower… I’m gonna be over pissed if this is what counts as a feature; it’s kind of a jokes conversation, but I need bars! Omg they’re talking about Skepta calling him out on “Nasty”, this is kind of gassed actually. No bars though 🙁
4. “Crime Riddim”
Immediately this sounds like an 8-bit SNES game’s theme tune. I feel like Frogger is gonna spit a 16 over it. Woi, this beat is actually properly left, in the most sick way. The 808’s fit so nicely in the pocket, this is the coldest beat on the album yet. I like how Skepta’s slowed things down a bit with his delivery and his flow, it leaves the riddim some extra room to pack a punch. This riddim is confusing man, it’s ever changing, it’s fluid. There’s another skit midway through, so this is probably going to be a reoccurring thing through out the album. There’s more ignorance to the feds on this one, which is also probably going to be a theme that comes up more than once. An American is on the phone for another skit towards the end, making for a perfect segway into…
5. “It Ain’t Safe” (ft. Young Lord)
Now this is sequencing that makes sense. The last track fits “It Ain’t Safe” thematically so well, I couldn’t imagine anything else following. I’ve heard this song countless times since it came out a couple of years back, but it still hits just as hard now, especially with it’s positioning in the album so far. It’s so dope that Skepta got A$AP Bari to spit over a definitively grime instrumental. He made him come to us and it works so fluently. The gurgle on this bassline is so dirty, I never realised how similar it was to the one on “Mike Lowery”. Big up Skepta for the Lil B reference as well. Thank you Based God for inspiring us all.
6. “Ladies Hit Squad” (ft. D Double E & A$AP Nast)
‘Konnichiwa’ has been pretty intense so far and this more wavy-influenced tune is a welcome breather. It caught more flack than I thought it deserved when it came out, with people criticizing the sonic direction. It’s another one that works in the grand scheme of the album, plus that chorus from Nast is still so great. You might not like it sat at home, but wait until you hear it out in the club, bumbaclarted off of brandy. It’s a real sing along, drunk as fuck anthem. Skepta’s opening lines and D Double’s closing lines are everything. I want another spliff. Swag, swag.
7. “Numbers” (ft. Pharrell Williams)
Oh shit, this is one I’ve been waiting for. It kicks off immediately, with a booming and wonky drunk loop. No skits here. This is vintage Pharrell and he handles the hook duty. Skepta’s verse works effortlessly over P’s unorthodox and out of space style, fuck anyone who doubted that this collaboration would work. Pharrell really hates calculators and so do I. The instrumental gets a darker edge after Skepta’s second verse, as it kicks back into the hook. This is a certified banger, I’m so glad this paid dividends. It’s a big look for us all. Wow, Pharrell handles the third verse too!
Seems like we’re getting a break from the skits. This is just how we heard it when it dropped the other week, with that absolutely incredible Queens Of The Stone Age sample flipped on it’s head. I heard that Toddla T had something to do with this riddim, so big up that soundboy. I reckon Skepta could get a wheel up just from his opening “woah” on radio. He’s taken a little note from his boy Drizzy on this track, in a not-so obvious way. “You are not mandem, you are not gang”, is the kind of hashtag rap that Drake would come up with. That’s not even a slight either, that’s the sign of a great song writer. Reminder to set that as my next Instagram post’s caption. I love the outro on this, how the instrumental kind of falls into an anti-drop.
MAN’S NEVER BEEN IN MARQUEE WHEN IT’S SHUTDOWN EY?! That sample is so fucking timeless. Ragz Originale did a madness on the beat. Skepta has quotables for days. What can I even say about this song that you don’t already know? It was nominated for a Novello Award for a reason. If Drake does a surprise verse on this at the end, I’ll eat my foot. The OVO owl on the tracklist could have been a hint, but that’s probably too bait. The radio clip on this is still so hilarious and the way Skep catches the beat after is so wild. “When I get through I’ma bring my dargs”. Fuck off!
10. “That’s Not Me” (ft. Jme)
No new Drake, and straight into “That’s Not Me”. Feel like there could have been another unheard song here to spice things up. My gas levels from Pharrell earlier have died down, although that’s only because this is my first listen. “Shutdown” and “That’s Not Me” are kind of synonymous and needed to be placed together, so I can see the reasoning. Good to reflect on this, the moment that Skepta flipped the script on it’s head and got so many more white people into grime. Gonna try start that spliff, but there’s no way that’s happening by the time this song is out…
11. “Detox” (ft. BBK)
Spliff didn’t get rolled. This beat is properly wonky again, Skepta really went left field with a lot of this production. Skepta and Shorty make the first two appearances, but I’m expecting to hear the whole camp on this. Maybe Drake will appear on this one?! He’d kind of suit this riddim with an ‘IYRTITL’ flow. I’d have a heart attack. Frisco comes through next, he’s really cementing himself on his own two feet, I can’t remember the last time he didn’t body a verse. Jammer next up, with some hyper adlibs. When they perform this at Wireless, thing’s are going to be lock arff. Oh shit, that was it. Only Skepta, Shorty, Frisco and Jammer spitting on this one.
12. “Text Me Back”
Just like that, it’s the final track. ‘Konnichiwa’ has felt kind of short, I wish some of the songs were a bit longer or we had a couple of extra new ones packaged in (deluxe edition anyone?). It’s dark and gloomy synths and bass again on this track, but Skepta keeps things light in his lyrics, addressing a gyal. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not soft at all, it still sounds like a cold London night. He’s addressing his mother again in the second verse, one of a few references in the album. Skepta is on some paranoid ting on this song it seems, apologising to some close ones and worried that they’re upset with him. This is possibly the most vulnerable he’s been on the project, everything else has been pretty filled with bravado. The song closes out with some female vocals, like the intro, before switching into a more glittery and polished bit of instrumental. Is this Skepta ascending into grime heaven? Has he evolved into his final form?
‘Konnichiwa’ was a really solid project from Skepta and could most certainly prove to be the important album for grime that it has been set up to be. It’s very London and very legit, but also feels palatable for overseas and less familiar audiences. It was mostly filled with intense, in your face and hard hitting music, with only a few brief moments where it felt like he pressed off the gas. I have a couple of qualms with it though, namely that it didn’t feel long enough, or fresh enough in the middle section. There weren’t really any surprises here either, in a negative or positive way; I feel like he did his moment justice though. People are going to seriously love this album.
I hope you enjoyed my mindless babbling and please feel free to hit me up with your own thoughts. I’m gonna go reload this and bun a zoot. Peace!
Words: Alex Griffin