Konnichiwa, by Skepta
Suggested by Alfie Bennett
I think I might like Grime.
I know! I’m as shocked as you are.
Grime music, the UK’s intensely urban electronic sound emanating from the London Garage scene in the early 2000’s, shouldn’t float my particular boat, at first glance at least. A form of Rap in which the Emcee is king, it’s as mannered and stylised as anything the US branch of the speedy-rhymey-talky business has to offer. It depicts a lifestyle and a philosophy that stands at ninety degrees to my personal experience. It feels young, while I feel old.
Grime is very working class, very urban. I do like that. And it’s energetic, and passionate. Another tick. It’s also replete with Britishisms, which do hit home. Finally, it’s fresh, or at least fresher than the hackneyed America rap noises which permeate every aspect of modern culture.
My true entry into Grime appreciation is appallingly uncool. Sarah and I are fans of the Dave TV show Big Zuu’s Big Eats, in which Grime Emcee cum Celebrity Chef Big Zuu designs an after-gig menu for some of the country’s top comedians, aided by his sidekicks Tubsy and Hyder. Each show ends with a Big Zuu Grime rap that discusses the show’s highlights, and I realise that this paragraph is probably the most white, middle-class thing I’ve ever written. “Why yes, I do like Grime, I discovered my passion for it while viewing a cookery programme! Another vol-au-vent?”
I’ve reviewed two grime acts thus far: Lady Leshurr and Kano. The former, I found decent enough, but the latter I found to be just as impenetrable as American rap. Skepta is my third bite of the Grime cherry, and I find it particularly delicious. Firstly, Skepta’s delivery is frenetic, angry and pointed, but there’s a certain warmth to it that helps modulate the intensity. He’s also ultra-clear, so instead of coming away from a track with a confused grimace, I feel as though I’ve actually absorbed something of worth. Musically, the underpinning electronica is driven and direct. Sure, it’s not diverse, but it frames the narrative well.
And it’s the narrative that’s the wonderful jelly in the Grime trifle. It’s wide stuff, but personal, and presented with a tangible whimsy that’s impossible to ignore. The opener Konnichiwa tackles Skepta’s life as a performer with both swagger and modesty, Lyrics is a straight-up diss track to a number of other Emcees, That’s Not ME (with his brother Jme) is a subversion of the usual boastful trope tracks, and my standout Man (Gang) is a strong takedown of fair-weather followers with some choice lines… “I don’t know why man’s callin’ me family all of a sudden / Like hmm, my mum don’t know your mum, stop tellin’ man you’re my cousin.” Excellent stuff.
If I poke holes, there’s a couple of spoken word /ambient recording sections that break up the flow of some fine songs. The phone conversation that ends Corn on the Curb, for example, is well meant but a bit pointless. As is the strange Call of Duty chat ending to Crime Riddim.
Konnischiwa gets 7/10. I liked it. Who knows, maybe Grime is the way to revitalise my Rap reviews for the remaining six hundred albums.