NEWPORT, ISLE OF WIGHT - SEPTEMBER 13:  Joseph Junior Adenuga, stage name Skepta, performs on day 4 of Bestival at Robin Hill Country Park on September 13, 2015 in Newport, Isle of Wight.  (Photo by Rob Ball/WireImage)

REVIEW: Skepta, “Konnichiwa”

It’s been a long and gruelling road to Konnichiwa, but damn, it’s finally here. From what was first announced in the aftermath of his 2012 “realisation” mixtape Blacklisted, it wasn’t long until Joseph Junior Adenuga aka Skepta’s fourth studio album became one of the most highly anticipated releases in the UK.

Blacklisted represented a rebirth for the Tottenham born emcee and producer. In an early post-Blacklist interview he said in relation to his pop flavoured tracks, “I felt like I was making music because it was my job to make music – I had to have a reality check.” Through this and further reflection came some of the rawest and truthful material he set to paper, include the opening bar to Ace Hood Flows which would go on to shape future mentality and persona, “The UK run out of ideas/Everybody doing covers of American beats.”

With Konnichiwa announced so soon after the tape, it was quickly deemed to be a more elaborate and improved carry on, if not sequel to Blacklisted, but with three years gone by, a lot has changed. Rather than disappear from the grid and release singles closer to it’s lead up, we’ve been getting album singles since mid 2014. That’s Not Me, arguably one his greatest tracks, was the first to be dropped, and since then, staggered over the years we’ve been gifted It Ain’t Safe, the globally successful Shutdown, more recently Ladies Hit Squad and Man as well as the standalone cuts Nasty, Lukey World, Back Then and Top Boy and even a tonne of features. Launching in Japan on Friday, after three years in the making, Konnichiwa proves to be Skepta’s most promising release yet.

Konnichiwa opens with the title track, introduced by a gong hit, flute and an unsheathed sword; some Japanese cinematic flavours which are soon cut short overtaken by a haunting female singer. “Looking for me? Konnichiwa!” It’s almost like we’re being teased, as if it’s just too good to be true. Cue the sirens and we get hit with some rough, dark and genuine grime, which even uses a vintage sound effect seen on tracks like Too Many Man, making this already feel reminiscent. The tune is the perfect opener, setting the scene and filling us in with where he is now, informing us of his lost love, emotional reaction to losing his friend Lukey, all tying into his decade long commitment to the scene, cemented with the bars, “A lot of emcees disgust me/ Real talk you ain’t the best emcee in the country/how many emcees do I kill before they realise there’s nobody above me?”

The next track, Lyrics, really pushes this reminiscent concept further, opening with a sample of the classic Wiley “lyrics for lyrics, calm” phrase, recited at a 2001 clash. The Skeppy produced beat this time around features this nicely open and simplistic track, driven mainly by the seriously banging bass. Accompanied by Lewisham king and The Square member Novelist, the pair pay homage to the classic grime period of clashing culture and diss tracks, masterfully playing on words to mock their opponents.“Truth of the buck ting when I bucked in/And in the jawside’s right where I bucked him”

Opening with a self-motivating monologue, Corn on the Curb continues to unravel Skepta’s extreme work ethic, struggles and the consequences of fame and how it has affected him and those around him. Once again, the production matches the content with it’s dark and fast paced beat. Closing with a phone call with Chip, we see a different side of Skepta reminiscent to those Underdog Psychosis days. In an internal struggle, where he feels he is “in limbo” he states, “It’s coming like I’m too ambitious for the mandem on the road, but I can’t be up there with them people either, I’m too black to be up there”

Chip’s reply? “Fam, you’re going mad fam”

At this point in the project we get some back to back villainous tracks, starting with Crime Riddim, which changes the format so far to a narrative driven track following the story of Skepta and his altercation with a “pussyole” who spilt his glass of Hennessy in a club. Even though the circumstances that follow aren’t necessarily his fault, he gets nicked and is forced to have a strip search, questioning police officers’ sexuality. The raw anger in this track is punishing, accompanied by this seriously heavy beat produced by Blakie, the second collaboration from The Square. This comes across as one of the hardest tracks on the album. The track finishes with a skit of some online gaming banter between UK and US players, “Share you location, man will come to your yard – You’re a gamer, I really do this”

The skit perfectly contrasts the next track, the 2014 released It Ain’t Safe. Where the American gamer was fronting, these guys really do this, as Skepta explains “From SoHo to the heights, they’re fuckin’ with me heavy/They know me and my gang, we’re the realest on the telly.” Featuring Young Lord aka A$AP Bari, this tune played a huge role in the recent relink between America and grime culture, and it’s no wonder thanks to the gritty collaboration. Speaking about dealing drugs to make a living, this is the ultimate grind.

In a total change of vibe, the smooth and sensual Ladies Hit Squad comes on next, standing out as the odd one out from the album. With its strong OVO sound and raspy chorus from A$AP Nast, this essentially is the closest we have to a Drake feature on Konnichiwa. Joined by grime legend D Double E, whom Skepta considers “the greatest grime MC of all time”, Ladies Hit Squad is a really provocative track that essentially has each artist explaining what they can do for the girls. It’s definitely different in terms of Adenuga’s style, but he has never been scared to break walls and merge genres. Take Lay Her Down for example, this isn’t new, and definitely was an immense risk; the track goes hard.

Continuing with the change comes Numbers, the collaboration with Pharrell Williams who produced and featured on the track, the only on Konnichiwa to not be British produced. Not surprisingly the production is top notch, it’s strong bounce makes it a solid instrumentation. Due to the pair caring “only for the music,” it’s no surprise that the song conveys the mistrust the pair have for record labels and their enthusiasm when it comes to their stress on numbers rather than the actual art. While this concept sounds promising, the hook though comes across pretty weakly, especially when Pharrell says “You calculator” – it’s just cringey. Despite this Skepta doesn’t fail to deliver on the lively track, yet when Williams joins it seems a bit out of place. His high pitched voice and American accent is a bizarre change from the long list of gritty and dark features we see on the project, but whether it works or not definitely is a matter of opinion – for me personally, I think it comes off a little unconvincingly.

Shifting the change, back to the classic style we know, Man is the most recent release prior to the full Konnichiwa drop. Featuring this dark, guitar driven beat with the help of a little Queens of the Stone Age sample, the energetic track lashes out about those who pretend to be in his circle. The track is viciously brilliant, seriously, but you have to wonder, what happened to that unreleased version?

The last already released tracks are highlighted back to back here to the end of the record, Shutdown and That’s Not Me showcase Skepta in his highest form during the early days of the project. The addictive Shutdown was the anthem that really took him globally, with its simple melody and catchy hook, it has quickly become his most popular track thanks to the pivotal groundwork set in it’s lead up. Following this is arguably his best track, packed with boldness and bravado, That’s Not Me is a cry for individuality and integrity all mixed in with a vintage eskimo party vibe. With a feature from his brother and regular collaborator Jme, it’s now regarded as one of the most important grime tracks in recent times, as it looks to the rawest period of the genre yet builds upon it masterfully.

In the closing stages of the album we get blessed with the final features from fellow Boy Better Know members Shorty, Frisco and Jammer, joining him on the track Detox, ironically talking about “turning up to the max”, it’s a sick party anthem similar to the link up on 2 + 2 x 2Finally, with the same co-production seen on Shutdown with Ragz Originale, Text Me Back sees the bold Skepta take a step back, to be replaced by the thoughtful and critical persona. Rapping about how his commitment to the game has affected the relationships with friends and family around him, it’s a refreshing change to finish the album. Not to mention that cheeky beat at the end, it definitely feels like there couldn’t have been a greater way to  close the project.

Depending on which way you see it, with almost half the album being already released, the shell shocking power of the album was somewhat lost. Not to say Konnichiwa isn’t intense and influential, far from it, but I imagine the impact of listening to the album knowing none of it would be extremely different to the boat I’m in, having listened to the singles for literally years now. Despite this critical mentality, the album really delivered, every track stands out in it’s own respect; every feature, beat, and bar works masterfully. Already, people are saying it’s not on the same level as Dizzee Rascal‘s Boy In Da Corner as it was heralded to be, and I get that. The album isn’t really breaking down walls and conventions, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a really, really solid album, and I’m just happy to have more Skeppy in my life. Arigato, Skepta.

For further reading checkout our feature on the rise Boy Better Know here



Image: Stereogum