Hello, my name is Jordan Hayles. Some of you may know me as STiXX, and you read my reviews. I appreciate you all. This may just seem to be an odd introduction, but this album carries a greeting of sorts from across the pond in a major way, when it comes to one Skepta from London, England. Toronto and London are different, but have so many similarities; it’s comical that the younger residents over there think that we bite their slang, when literally there are probably as many Jamaicans in London as in Toronto. Regardless of that fact (if it is indeed fact), there’s an identity crisis that they too are dealing with, and to break out and have Western ears give them a listen, that’s one of the struggles that we in TDot can empathize with. Truth be told, there are a lot of people here who listen to Grime, and have been listening to UK Rap for a long time because we just have that understanding whereas Americans were & still are, to some degree, put off because their rappers have accents (welcome to the world outside your own, America). If there’s anything that I’ve learned about the Grime scene in the past year and change, it has come from Tre Mission, whose music is influenced by not only Toronto, but also London. It’s even evident in his speech. He put me more in depth on the history of it, and also a few artists who have been representatives for a while. They have their own culture and scene that still isn’t wildly accepted by their mass audience, but it’s slowly coming around because of the power of youth (don’t knock the Millennials; we’re good for some things). Ghetts, Dot Rotten, Big Narstie, and Merky Ace are just some of the few that I was put onto, but Skepta is one of the bigger names that is widely known and respected. With his name floating around for a while now, it’s clear now that he’s stepped out of the shadows into his own, to simply say – Hello…from the other side.
Alright, so if you didn’t know already by the amount of oh-so-subtle hints that I was dropping in my opening paragraph, ‘Hello’ is Japanese for Konnichiwa. Glad we got that out of the way, and now we can focus on more important things. Right off the bat, you get hit with that essential Grime sound, which is an up-tempo beat met with the double-time flow, but don’t let the speed of delivery fool you, there are bars being thrown out that many would think aren’t present because double-time is a way of tricking the average listener into thinking that the rapper is killing their verse, when really nothing of concrete matter is being said. We’ve all been fooled, but this is a staple to their sound, which is why it’s more than just the flow. You’ve got to dig a little deeper to appreciate it. Skepta has been on his grind for years, as I’ve said, and he lets it be known on the introduction as to how much struggle he’s dealt with, and though they played factors into him taking this long to reach this stage, at least it’s happened, and he can stand tall with pride on that.
“Nothin’ ain’t changed
Boy better know a man went to the BRITs on a train
Think it’s a game
Man shutdown Wireless, then I walked home in the rain”
There’s a different culture with London as opposed to our own Western ideals that celebrate more glitz and glamour (not to say Europe doesn’t), but with an artist as big as Skepta has become, and to still find himself amongst the people, it’s humbling in a way, and it’s your first glance at what his lifestyle is like. There’s hunger evident in this opening track because when you talk about Rap in London, right now it’s Skepta, and then there’s everyone else, but at the same time, there is a sense of unity within their game that when one is on top, they all support him, whereas when I look in my proverbial backyard in Toronto, it’s every man (or woman) for themselves. Striking contrast. This is essentially a proclamation to not only himself, but to whoever’s listening, that Skepta is determined to staying true to himself while breaking out into new territories.
What’s true for the emergence of what we know Rap to be today, is the same for Grime; it started with a battle. Or many battles, if you will. From the opening sample of a Clash (what they call their battles – very Jamaican influenced), to Skepta calling out other London MCs in his verses, Lyrics is a true testament to the foundations of rap that we North Americans came to appreciate in its early stages. The funniest thing, for me though, is the fact that so much of their slang is linked to the Jamaican influence, it’s almost the exact same here, just throw on a British accent. It’s very entertaining, but at the same time fascinating.
“Tell a pussyhole look sharp, fix up
Where you from? Huh, what’s wrong?
What’s going on? Why you got your screwface on?
Dead that, forget that”
I’m sure there are a bunch of documentaries that you can watch, relating to the history of Grime and such, but Noisey: London is definitely a program to watch to get some much needed inside info unless you know anyone who is knowledgeable about the scene. It’s all about asserting dominance over your competition and Skepta makes it known (along with a verse by Novelist) that it’s a friend-up ting, yuhzeeit. A war ting deh bout (Translation: we’re not friends, it’s war – but in the spirit of competition).
Because I’m not a heavy Grime listener, it took me a while to get a real feel for the album’s sound as I listened to it repetitively. You’ll find that, like Trap, most of the beats sound the same, and the delivery is the same throughout, which may put people off, especially if they’re not used to listening to someone rap with an English accent for an extended period of time. Corn on the Cob & Crime Riddim are examples of songs that had to kind of grow on me, because they didn’t hit me right away, although I do appreciate the storytelling that Skepta provided on the former track. He displays great humility and provides insightful detail as to the struggles of this newfound success during a phone conversation with Chip. It was poignant how Chip puts him in line and reminds him that he’s meant to do greater things and Skepta’s career isn’t without purpose because of the effects that he’s having on his city & other artists who are aspiring to breakout. I don’t want to compare it, but the only other example I can think of is when Drake broke out of Toronto and (almost) everyone else said “fuck this, I’m gonna do it too,” and we’re starting to see the effects of that initial break now, although we’ve had artist pop out in the past – not on that great a scale though. As for the latter, ‘Riddim,’ the beat put me off the most, as shallow as that sounds, but I couldn’t stand to listen to it more than I had to. It’s yet another part of the listening experience that I’m not accustomed to, but if you like it, you like it. Perhaps it’ll grow on me, but at this current time, it’s not happening in that way.
I don’t watch a lot of UK TV shows or Films (unless they’re directed by Guy Ritchie, because he’s the man), but one movie that I was introduced to by my friend, Jamz, was Attack the Block. It stars John Boyega (the come up to Star Wars is real) and that’s really where I really discovered that mandem in the UK really aren’t that much different from us. But they were battling aliens (bruv), and it was very entertaining. Watch it when you have free time to do so. How that relates to It Ain’t Safe, I can’t even given a reasonable explanation as to how it does, just the lyrics on the hook “it ain’t safe on the block, not even for the cops,” reminded me of the movie. My mind is weird, but you love me all the same, it’s fine. This is a hype song in any setting. If you’re out in a party, if you’re trying to psyche yourself up, or if you want to live vicariously through the eyes of a roadman, the choice is yours. There are variable options. This reminded me of the Crunk Era Lil Jon & 8Ball & MJG days. Why? Again, no idea, but it just had that vibe to me.
Now when one is crossing the Pond, it’s necessary to have some appeal towards the North American audiences, Ladies Hit Squad & Numbers are those tracks, and they are completely fire emoji. Starting with the former, it’s a track for the gyal dem (women), period. On every rap album, there’s a key song for the women (I mean, unless you’re Drake, then that’s the whole album), and this sexualized banter (with a fire ass hook by A$AP Nast) will have you Milly Rocking until the cows come home. I’ve had it on repeat for a while for that very reason – no judging. When it comes to Pharrell, can he really do any wrong? Ever? Even if he tried? I don’t think it’s possible, but maybe that’s just blind loyalty. He did Skepta a favour and then some with ‘Numbers’ because the beat is just disgusting, Skepta’s flow on it is rude, and Pharrell himself had a verse that he skated over. This was the song that hit me the most with my initial listen of the album, and that hasn’t changed much. If Skepta decided that he wanted to flow over some more North American beats, I think he would fare well, as he put on for display with these tracks in particular.
Back to the regularly schedule album, in returns the Grime with Man (Gang) and this is an anthem for everyone who writes “#SquadGoals” on their Instagram captions, but really this is a hype song that pays homage to the everyday mandem (which I’m so glad I heard this word all throughout this album). People always want to eggs up themselves in a crew, but you have to lock that off in an instant. There are unwritten rules that must be followed, or you’re simply not ‘Gang.’ But the idea of a gang has truly been watered down because the term is so mainstream. I sound like a hood hipster, but it’s the truth.
Mans never used a Drake vine as a sample for Shutdown?! Truss mi daddi! This is the song that most of the general North American public was exposed to and what elevated Skepta’s popularity, although having the shoutout at the BRIT Awards at the end of Kanye’s flamethrower enhanced performance of All Day sparked the fire (pun intended). More of the same – hype all over. Mosh pit anthem. A tooth will be broken at a show because of this song, and I’m here to witness (not to actually be a victim of). That’s Not Me & Detox carry the same type of vibe which don’t necessarily need to be mentioned in terms of having something that stands out, although ‘Detox’ is relatable because when you go hard all day and all night, you need to find a necessary remedy to step back and tek (take) time. But that’s the lifestyle they live, so it is what it is at this point (shout out to Skyscanner).
The finishing track, Text Me Back is where Skepta’s stream of consciousness comes to fruition as he’s talking to people he cares about in terms of how his life is readjusting, and the fact that they have to accept it, although it’s difficult to deal with.
“The perfect picture, lost money this summer
So you know I’ve gotta grind in the winter
I ain’t one of them wasteman tryna flex on Insta
I’m really out here with the axe, tryna chop down timber
This ain’t a game like knock down ginger
Our love’s strong like Mufasa and Simba
Never need to download Tinder”
I never would have thought that “never need to download Tinder” would been seen as a romantic line, but in this day in age, you take it and accept it for the true love that is laid out on the line. Between his girl and his mother (which he brings up in the 2nd verse), this song as a whole hits home for those who are hustlers by any means (and not just for the thrill of showing off on social media). There are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made in order to get to where you want to be. Some people don’t understand, others know what it is when they see it and live it.
“Cause I’ve got a big team
And they all want sick things, big rings like Saturn
Forget the fame, that’s already happened
Man are on top
But I can’t stop till all the mandem are patterned
I ain’t out here following fashion
And ya dun know, as soon as I come home
We can go shopping in Hatton”
Between “dun know,” “mandem,” and “follow fashion,” the Jamaican in me is beaming with pride. People need to understand that Jamaicans are everywhere and their speech & mannerisms are very influential. That’s not even bias, that’s pure fact. To hear it in various forms, whether it’s on a Toronto artist’s song or someone in bloody London, England, it’s exciting, period. Dun kno. This track connects to the phone call with Chip earlier that speak to the insecurities about progressing in Skepta’s career, but also recognizing that more work is to be done if he’s to see him and his team truly make it. That’s motivation enough. It doesn’t take much to spark a big dream, and after a lot of work, things are starting to really happen for him, and that’s what’s important.
This is a good album. That being said, I can understand why some people might not gravitate towards it at first, because a lot of people aren’t familiar with Grime. To be honest, Grime isn’t a genre of music, it’s a lifestyle, and that I did learn through conversations and watching programming. It’s no different from what we perceive Hip Hop to be when it comes to a lifestyle. It’s the music that is being made that reflects its surroundings. Other countries have their own names for their style of rap, but it comes down to the common denomination of struggle and the urge to break out. The identity crisis still goes on, and of course it’ll take a while for a broad range of North Americans to truly accept what the UK has to offer on a large scale in terms of their rappers (since they embrace pretty much everyone else), but Skepta being at the head of the charge as they cross continents in search for an opening for more acts too follow (Krept & Konan are fire emoji too). Toronto has a significant spotlight right now, but London is knocking on the door and it will be answered. Skepta’s cracked it, and only time will tell as to where he will end up on our side of the Hemisphere. For now, this is a great introduction to a career that was very much started before this debut. It’s a proud moment, and it should be appreciated as such. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX