There are probably many reasons why grime, after a brief and thrilling heyday followed by a lapse into awkward pop crossover and Robbie Williams guestspots, is back in a big way. Most of them, though, point back to Skepta. Tottenham’s Joseph Adengua had a crack at the charts like all the rest, donning a white suit and skanking about with girls in bikinis on the video to 2008’s ‘Rolex Sweep’. But it was Skepta, more than anyone, who saw the potential in a return to grime’s first principles. His 2014 single ‘That’s Not Me’, made with his brother Jme, and promoted with an £80 video, set out the formula: hard rhymes, street fashion, alpha male attitude. He wasn’t the only MC out there grafting – but by example, he proved what was still possible.
‘Konnichiwa’ has been promised pretty much since ‘That’s Not Me’ hit the charts, the sort of timespan that usually sets expectations unreasonably high. Incredibly, it meets them on all counts. Skepta is on scorching form throughout, his direct, firmly enunciated bars addressing rival MCs (‘Lyrics’, featuring grime upstart Novelist), life in the fast lane (‘Detox’, featuring Boy Better Know compadres Frisco, Shorty and Jammer) and hassle from the feds – see ‘Crime Riddim’, a menacing UK trap anthem on which Skepta faces the prospect of a strip-search with typical forthrightness: “Fuck that, I ain’t a Chippendale”.
These are familiar themes – but brilliantly, ‘Konnichiwa’ is packed with surprises. It’s quintessentially British, a grime album to the core – but big and confident enough to feature a guest production and vocal from Pharrell Williams (see the bouncy ‘Numbers’, a witty two fingers to music industry sharks), or casually sample Queens Of The Stone Age on the broiling ‘Man (Gang)’.
Best of all, it’s practically filler-free. Most grime albums get unstuck when they get sentimental, or approach the boudoir. But ‘Ladies Hit Squad’, featuring a purring D Double E and A$AP Nast, proves grime can get jiggy, while ‘Text Me Back’ is a love letter, Skepta pleading with his girl to stay patient while he’s out there doing his thing. She’d better get herself a good hobby: ‘Konnichiwa’ is a landmark in British street music, a record good enough to take on the world without having to compromise one inch in the process.