A Primer on Skepta and U.K. Grime

SF Weekly

hearthis-skeptaIt took the award-winning London rapper Skepta at least a decade to get on Coachella’s bill. Even though the 34-year-old — widely regarded as a leading figure in the U.K. grime scene — has reached Kendrick Lamar status overseas, it wasn’t until 2016 that his name appeared on the festival’s lineup. Due to visa issues, he ended up canceling that performance, but he was able to get a raincheck for this year, showing up on the Sahara stage on Day 3 of Coachella alongside a phone booth.

Americans are still discovering Skepta and learning to embrace the foreignness of grime — best described as breakbeat-heavy electronic music — but if Skepta’s dogged perseverance in Britain proved anything, all he needs to do it is hang around the U.S. long enough and he’ll start to blow up. Putting out albums also helps. Since 2007, Skepta has dropped four records and five mixtapes, and if you listen to them in succession, you’ll see how far he’s come.

In his early days, Skepta was doing the most, cramming as many squelchy (or “fart-sounding”) beats as possible into a track. Sonically, he was also a bit schitzo. Listen to his second album, Microphone Champion, and you’ll hear a reggaeton track, a Timabland-esque pop ditty, and song that mixes old-school hip-hop samples with the sass of new jack swing.

It wasn’t until his fourth and most recent album, Konnichiwa — which won the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year in 2016 — that his sound started becoming less slapdash and thrown together. Skepta still spits wicked fast, cramming mouthfuls of words into one verse, and he still chooses menacing, nocturnal beats to rap over.

But now, his music is more nuanced and thought-out, and these are tunes that have been mulled over and repeatedly tweaked. Bringing order to the chaos also helped create more room in Skepta’s songs, which makes it easier to hear his voice and differentiate between the various wonky, industrial sound effects he’s so fond of using.

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