When Skepta Wins, The Whole Grime Scene Wins

As featured in Complex UK

Thursday 15th September 2016 was something special. At a star studded Mercury Music Awards ceremony, against the likes of Laura Mvula, David Bowie and Radiohead, Skepta, a grime MC from north London, took home the prestigious award of Best Album for Konnichiwa.

For the first time since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner 13 years before, grime had won big on one of the UK’s famed award nights. It was a moment that meant so much; firstly for Skepta himself, with the award being the culmination of a charted journey to greatness, and for the grime scene in general (Kano was also nominated for Made In The Manor), receiving major recognition at the apex of its so-called resurgence.

Joseph Junior Adenuga now joins an elite group, one that has only one other artist (Dizzee) in it, and his legacy is now cemented. This accolade is the ultimate acknowledgment of his artistry and fierce independence that has brought him to this point; it was already clear that he’s given so much to grime—from his mid-2000s rise to the present day—but this new win arrives at an important time for the scene more generally. It’s another sign to show that, after all these years, the genre is now being taken seriously as style of British music that can stand up tall next to the best of them.

After the controversy behind the #BritsSoWhite campaign, there was a collective feeling across the scene that grime would not get its moment in the sun, and that award shows would never fully acknowledge its impact not just on British music, but also the culture.

The noise was deafening, but artists like Skepta paid it no mind, continuing as he meant to go on, shutting down shows and providing a soundtrack to life on the ends—a message that has propelled him to worldwide stardom.

Not one grime artist has been in the same position as Adenuga is in right now, but it’s the pure organic and authentic nature of his journey that resonates the most. Getting to the stage of winning one of the country’s most prestigious awards on his own terms, with his Boy Better Know family and no record label, confirms every meticulous move made in his recent career—from single to single and later Konnichiwa—has led to this moment.

There is now no doubt that Skepta stands as one of the greatest MCs the country has ever produced but, speaking after his historic win, he hasn’t lost sight of his aims in the longer run: “I want to inspire people who make all kinds of music, people who are with record labels who tell them what to do. I want people to get out of these deals because of Skepta. I want to get into people’s heads but I’m not signed—I’m still independent.”

It is this kind of motivation which has influenced the Meridian don to team up with Levi’s on a new community project. Aimed at fostering the next generation of musical talent, the project will develop a community workshop space in his hometown of Tottenham, and aims to give up-and-coming artists vital tools in recording, production, and social media.

The campaign is further proof that Skepta is a man of the people and has always wanted to uplift the people of his area through music—a process that has brought him to the level he is currently at. He doesn’t do this for himself. He does it for those who, like him, want to use music as a means of expression, change and togetherness. Skeppy wants to use his newfound platform for the advancement of his community and the scene that gave him a chance in life, demonstrating his undying loyalty to his north London roots.

Looking back on his career from the early days of “D.T.I.” and “Private Caller” to monster singles “That’s Not Me” and “Shutdown”, Skepta’s journey has seen its ups and downs but he has never changed what he holds dear, instead using it to break down the barriers that grime has been fighting since its inception and, essentially, forcing people to gravitate towards him; a long-term strategy that has finally began to reap rewards. This growth has made him such an endearing figure in the scene and, with such a huge reach that has now permeated the pop culture realm, his influence in fostering such attention to grime has eclipsed that of any other artist.

Shunning the temptations of traditional crossover mainstream success and sticking to grime’s principles while shunning the norm, which can be a scary path for any artist, Skepta has kicked the door wide open for the whole world to accept grime as the new musical tour de force, and the purely natural way this has been achieved.

He has stuck to his philosophy, and his alone, meaning that the Mercury Prize win is all the more of a great moment. Skeppy’s win is one for him, his team, and the grime scene, and one which has immortalised him as one of this country’s greatest to ever pick up a microphone.


Wretch 32’s ‘Growing Over Life’: A Review

As featured in Complex UK

Among the deftest emcees to emerge from the grime scene since its inception, the man known as Wretch 32 from Tottenham has always worn his heart firmly on his sleeve and has come into his own in recent years.

From the early days of The Movement to commercial success and acclaim on his own, Wretch has led by example as he has charted his journey from the underground to the ascendancy of mainstream recognition. Returning with his third studio album, and his first in half a decade, Growing Over Life uncovers an artist with an intense sense of community, one who understands the journey he has undertaken and the sacrifices that he’s made.

Leaning towards traditionally hip-hop soundscapes, the album’s production is riddled with lowkey boom bap but levelled by piano, brass and violin sequences that demonstrate the high level of musicality and thought put into Wretch’s overall sound. Flipping The Notorious B.I.G. on “All A Dream” serves as the clearest indicator of Growing Over Life‘s musical direction. It’s almost minimal with its subtlety, without sounding it.

Only album opener and highlight “Antwi” sticks to the trademark grime formula to amazing effect, and sets the precedent for the next 11 tracks to follow. His musical parameters are expanded to a level that is far from the realm of the scene he came up in.

Wretch is at his sharpest lyrically on this album, tackling his subject matter almost with a sense of duty, as if he was born to. “Pressure” projects expectations placed on Wretch from all cylinders, and his way of overcoming and making his family, and the ends, proud. It’s almost as if the MC relishes the responsibilities thrust upon him, adamant they make him a better person.

Delving into the album more and the first half certainly acts as a lamenting of the struggles and consequences of trying to make it, as demonstrated in the phone conversation between Wretch and his partner at the end of “Take Me As I Am”. He decides to choose pursuing his dream over his relationship; a way of bettering his life in the long-run, despite the pain of losing his love.

Calls for social justice are rife throughout the album, with “Open Conversation & Mark Duggan” the shining musical star. Born out of a mutual frustration towards the treatment of black people in this country, Wretch lets himself go lyrically as he reflects on a history of the police failing the black community, with a standout assist from Avelino compounding the anger further.

Wretch 32 continues to coax his guests out of their comfort zone, and they sing their hearts out in support. From Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula to Kranium and Knox Brown, the features serve to perfectly advance the pain and sorrow, and later joy and happiness that encapsulate the project.

This is particularly effective in the second half of the album, which shifts to a sense of gratefulness and recognition of those important to him, in tracks “I.O.U.”, featuring Sande, and “Cooked Food”, as Wretch levels up with heartfelt vocals. Ending with “Church”, the MC appears to have found solace in himself, able to hang his head high in church rather than being another statistic in the prison system. His life has seen a number of ups and downs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way, with the bellowing cries of a gospel choir reflecting the album’s triumph.

Wretch has reached a pinnacle on his third album, expressing himself in maximum comfort and with a maturity that has seldom been seen in his generation—all while delivering insightful, romantic, and ultimately triumphant bars that reinforce what we already knew about him.

As an artist and a leader of the UK scene, he has never been afraid to project himself to the fullest, and this is fully realised in his latest body of work. Growing over life, he most certainly has done.

The Lowkey Importance Of Frisco

As featured in Complex UK

Photo by Ashley Verse

Grime outfit Boy Better Know have undergone a phenomenal couple of years as a staff, record label and as a crew. 2015 and 2016 has seen the legendary London crew’s visibility and influence rise to the stratosphere, so much so that even the one and only Drake got a tattoo of the BBK logo and claimed to have been signed by the group. If that doesn’t say worldwide recognition—nothing will.

The north London-bred camp’s success is in no small part thanks to the role of Skepta and his ascendancy into the pop culture canon. Taking his crew with him on his wild, wild journey to the top, the Meridian don’s monster singles “That’s Not Me” and “Shutdown”, and subsequent Konnichiwa album, not only gave the scene a new lease of life, but also attracted a new generation of fans from around the world, shining further light on the grime scene as a whole.

His younger brother, Jme, also takes credit, producing one of the albums of 2015 in Integrity> and giving us enough bangers to last an entireSidewinder. Together with their fierce independence and DIY attitude, the Adenuga brothers have provided greater relevance for a crew already containing grime royalty in Wiley and Jammer, and the incomparable Shorty. But in the crew is another emcee, whose influence isn’t always given its just due. For years, the man known as Frisco has provided a sturdy foundation for BBK, with a consistency that is unrivalled in the scene.

Fans may be prone to shunning him in favour of his more renowned cohorts but, with a sharp and direct delivery, lyrical finesse and one-liners for days, months and years, Frisco has always proven the naysayers wrong. He can stand toe to toe with any rapper and give them a run for their money, without even trying. I would even go out on a limb and say that he is in the realm of the term ‘your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper’, such is the impact this dark horse has made on the game.

Frisco has been in the game from way back, from the early days of Skepta’s “Private Caller” to the release of the first of his Back 2 Da Lab series in 2006 and beyond, and it’s not wrong to say that he has seen it all.

The raw intensity and energy with which he spits has never been compromised. Instead, it has been taken to greater levels thanks to an ever improving musical backdrop behind him.

This is fully realised in his debut album proper, System Killer, released earlier this year. An absolute rollercoaster ride of a project with smooth cuts to match the bangers, it’s a fully realised effort from Frisco and the culmination of the qualities that make him so unique. If you want him at his fiercest, look no further than album highlight “Them Man There” and bare witness to the bullet-fast flows and puns.

Never letting those around him outperform him either, Frisco has also proven to be a hit whilst featuring on other artists’ tracks, especially in the past 12 months. Take his verse on “Detox” from Skepta’s Konnichiwa, or his bars on “Amen” and “Don’t @ Me” from Jme’sIntegrity> and you have some of the best verses coming from those respective albums.

Frisco has certainly done his part this year to keep the scene going strong in this fresh era with a solid LP (and new club night The Den), just as he has since its inception, and he warrants more accolades for his unapologetic approach to music. He may be part of Boy Better Know, but Frisco is very much his own artist and gives everything he has on the microphone.

He has perhaps done it quieter than his illustrious BBK brethren, but his evolution has been just as amazing and refreshing for the UK’s grime scene.