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.