Back in April, Skepta brought a corner of east London to a standstill by staging a free gig in a car park to celebrate his monumental ‘Shutdown’ single. Crowds climbed walls and fences, spilling into the road and stopping traffic. This year has been full of similar happenings for the Tottenham grime MC. At Glastonbury, fans were so desperate to see him they attempted to unhook the sides of the tent he was playing in. And in July, the roadshow landed in America for a triumphant run of dates culminating at Drake’s OVO fest in Toronto.
Skepta was joined by 12 mates and a film crew for the whole tour. Top Boy, the resulting documentary, premiered this Monday (November 16) in London. The night had the electrifying atmosphere that follows Skepta everywhere. Before it started, a crowd (which included Frank Ocean, Novelist and Boy Better Know MCs Shorty, Frisco and Jammer) milled around outside The Vaults behind London’s Waterloo station. Wearing what looked like a combination of three different hats and a hood, Tottenham MC Chipmunk handed out Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Everyone was excited to see the film (click below to do the same). Skepta usually keeps things pretty close, but this was a rare chance to peep behind the curtain. Here’s what we learned.
Skepta loves a spa
Driving through Toronto towards the end of the film, Skepta looks out of the window of the tour bus and says, “I went to the spa this morning.” There’s a long pause while he nods his head before continuing, “Very spiritual, trust me. Very spiritual. Steam… You get me, eucalyptus all them tings there… Water with cucumber at the bottom, you see the water it’s got mad, five cucumbers sliced up in the bottom of it… Apples, very crunchy. I had a good time in that spa man, trust me.” A photo showing Skepta and friends in soft white robes flashes up to support his point.
Get Skepta’s name wrong at your peril
Backstage in Boston, Skepta, with a joint suspended from his lips (there is a lot of weed in this film) pops a bottle of champagne. The fans that gave it to him are invited back to the bus for a smoke and a drink but when one says, “Everybody give it up for Spekta!” things go awry. The next shot shows the whole bus cracking up before the MC explains what happened next: “Basically she called me Spekta, that was a fucking red card, she had to go!”
America is really starting to get Skepta
“His flow is a lot more similar to hip-hop artists that we’re into like Nas or Jay Z, people that aren’t gritty,” says a fan outside Washington venue U Street Music Hall. “You’ll get some UK grime rappers that go so fast you can’t hear what they’re saying, but it’s down to our level. ‘Shutdown’ is crossing over, anyone who hears it in the mainstream knows it’s grime.” Flying bodies and chanting at every show in the film support his point. On this evidence, Skepta is as close to blowing up at the forefront of popular culture as he is here. But he isn’t surprised America understands: in the post-film Q&A, he says his music “can be understood anywhere, Amsterdam, Hong Kong… I’ve grown up with all different cultures. Somewhere inside I always knew I if I talk to someone from China they’ll understand me, of course they can understand me.”
Skepta is a thoughtful interviewee
Amidst rapid-fire montages of gigs, bus carnage, weed and booze the film cleverly weaves segments of Skepta’s to-camera interviews. He speaks slowly, and his words feel thoughtful. He picks apart the difference between UK and US rapping styles and says it’s important not to “try to make America like you.” Instead he advises to try and make the “sickest movie of yourself” and “do it from the heart, those people are gonna prosper.” He talks often of the scene, of exporting grime from the fringes of London to the world, but says everyone needs to work as hard as he does for it to work. But his best thought comes outside the White House in Washington. On the bus there, Shorty mentions Barack Obama and says, “We gotta let man know what’s going on in the ends.” The shot cuts to Skepta walking outside it, and among swayers, prayers and protestors he says, “It has a mad energy. People are actually standing in front of it taking photos, like it’s not even a thought in their minds, but to me if fucks me up a but because I think about stuff. But I’d rather be a thinker man than a lemming.”
His album is coming…
After confessing to being “bare shy to all this [attention]” during the Q&A, Skepta revealed he’s in the studio at the moment. “I’ve got a studio beard man!” New music is on the way then…