‘Konnichiwa’ seems like a very long time ago. Since Skepta more than deservedly took the Mercury Prize for his fourth album in 2016, the Tottenham rapper has maintained a relatively low-profile, appearing on the odd featured track, with mixed results. ‘England Lost’, a collaboration with Mick Jagger, was genuinely harrowing, an anti-Brexit rap-rock crossover on which Mick griped about having lost England down the back of the sofa as though you’d startled him mid-afternoon nap. Yet A$AP Rocky track ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’, on which Skepta borrowed DMX’s sing-song delivery, was an undeniably catchy smash.
So there was a suspicion that the long-awaited ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ might be similarly inconsistent. The good news is that it’s a diverse-sounding, muscular record that conveys global ambition, drawing on a dizzying collection of sounds and influences. On opening track ‘Bullet From A Gun’, atop a claustrophobic and looped synthetic refrain, he namechecks fellow Tottenham rapper Headie One and slow-burning drill group 67, proving he’s remained in the loop with emerging talent even as his own career has scaled the stratosphere.
Where ‘Konnichiwa’ seemed determined to become a seminal grime album – taut, tense and monochrome – this record is colourful, kaleidoscopic and loose. This is nowhere truer than on the J Hus feature ‘What Do You Mean’, a bass-heavy anthem with production crisper than a Frazzle (Skepta, still fiercely independent, produced most of the record himself). Elsewhere, ‘On Love Me Not’, he even samples Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’.
He sounds like he’s having fun. On ‘Greaze Mode’, previously released as a single, the 36-year-old raps, “I’m so high / I’m so fly / I’m gonna need a parachute”. There’s always been an endearing goofiness behind his tough-guy image, and lyrically he indulges that side of himself on ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’. On the breezy, pan-pipe laced ‘Same Old Story’, he rides a jaunty offbeat to confess, “I hope she’s not gonna ask me back / ‘Cause my life’s like an episode of Maury,” referencing the gaudy American talk show. On the BBK-featuring ‘Gangsta’, a traditional grime track, he insists, “Yeah we did young and stupid / Now I do grown and sexy.”
Yet for all Skepta appears to be in a light, unguarded mood, he’s still suspicious of fake friends, a consistent theme in his career, and on the opening track he confesses there’s more to lose since he’s become a dad: “There’s no better feeling than getting home and seeing my little girl in the cot”. So although album five lacks the narrative that made ‘Konnichiwa’ so compelling (a victory lap for grime’s commercial renaissance, it also reasserted his DIY credentials), this sounds like a record from a rapper with gallons of creative juice in the tank.