So: it's finally here.
'Konnichiwa', we mean. Skepta has trailed his new studio album for three years now, an expanse of time that has seen the rapper lead grime's rejuvenated American charge.
Tracks such as 'Shutdown' have become unmistakeable youth anthems, attracting an audience far beyond anything the grime MC could have envisaged even 18 months ago.
With streaming figures going through the roof Clash decided to gather a few cuts that we feel offer a primer to Skepta's world.
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Skepta - 'King Of Grime' (Words: Will Pritchard)
Rounding out his Rinse:04 mix CD with this track remains perhaps the most complete artistic statement of Skepta's career to date: stepping from behind the mixing desk to record a vocal and then spinning it on the decks, all the while sending for any kingpin contender who dared try it. This was a ripe time for grime, with crews including The Movement, headed by Ghetto and Scorcher, Roll Deep, and Skepta's own Boy Better Know all vying for the top spot.
This healthy competition was to prove vital to the development of some of the UK's finest talent, and Skepta clearly thrived on it: his clash with Devilman for Lord Of The Mics 2 remains one of the genre's most legendary, and his head-to-head with Ghetto on Logan Sama's Kiss FM show a year later in 2007 cemented his reputation as a formidable mic controller.
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Skepta & Jme - 'Meridian Walk' (Words: Robin Murray)
Grime's fetish-like adheration to a sense of place echoes the intensity with which Londoners live their lives. Skepta was brought up in Tottenham, and immortalised his ends on this 2003 instrumental, co-produced alongside his brother (and BBK cohort) Jme. From Wiley to Novelist one of grime's trademarks has been nimble MCs who can also produce, allowing a direct conversation between the lyrics and the music itself.
Crackling snares, sub-low menace and that odd, chirruping sample, 'Meridian Walk' adds further proof (if any were needed) that Skepta is a jack of all trades - and a master of 'em all, too.
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Skepta - 'Autopsy Freestyle' (Words: Will Pritchard)
Arguably still his most recognisable reload bar, "go on then, go on then" embodies the kind of confidence that has always made Skepta such an infectious presence onstage and in the booth. At a time when UK hip hop artists were lambasted for their obsession with tackling overtly complex subjects with equally complex - often off-puttingly so - lyricism, Skepta stripped everything back and delivered each bar with a one-two punch. And, crucially, the punches all land.
The significance of the precision in Skepta's diction can't be underplayed: in the past it helped his one-liners become earworms and force reloads, today it's giving his music a new accessibility and helping him achieve success both in the UK mainstream (on his own terms, without compromising) and further afield.
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Skepta - 'Shapeshifting' (Words: Felicity Martin)
Taken from his BBK-released debut studio album, ‘Greatest Hits’, ‘Shapeshifting’ sees Skeppy donning three separate cloaks - of individuals that have made a large impact on his life. Starting off with his father, Joseph Adenuga (“I've got four kids and all of their names begin with a J”), moving onto Tim Westwood (“I'm a big dawg, these other DJs started in 2-double O-3 / I'm on Radio 1, not Rinse 1-double O-3”) then finally into producer Dexplicit (“I know Lethal B came with a good hook / But it wouldn't be as big if it wasn't for the kick drum, face it, I made a big one”).
Although Skepta's primarily known as an MC, the production on the album was largely his own - showing he’s capable of making those grimy strings bang as much as blow up on a mic.
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Skepta - Lord of the Mics 2 vs Devilman (Words: Josh Gilbert)
"Yeah I used to wear Gucci, put it all in the bin 'cos that's not me." Skepta's recent rejection of the trappings of fame has led to a welcome return to the old-school grime sound that made his name in the early Noughties. To get a flavour of where it all began, this gritty 12-minute clash with Devilman is a rude reintroduction to the energy and aggression of early grime battling culture, and the mic skills that Skepta displays here remind you of what he's always been about.
Lord Of The Mics 2 is notable as one of the first battles to use the opponent's tracks against each other, as well as just some of the hardest bars you'll hear. Devilman goes for Skepta, twisting bars underground hit 'Go On Then' back at him, premier mic skills underlined by a mutual respect between the two. At least, that is until 4.25 into the battle where Skepta goes hard over his bro JME's track Take Down, and slays it: "I don't wanna send Devilman to the doctors, I wanna bury him, scoop a MOBO then go to the Oscars!"
Two outta three ain't bad..
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Skepta - Westwood Freestyle (2008) (Words: Will Pritchard)
Skepta is certainly a man who knows when an opportunity is there for the taking. Impeccable delivery, flow variations, street tales, pop culture, braggadocio and countless nods to the scene that he helped build: you can't talk about Skepta or grime freestyles without mentioning this one. It both set a new precedent for what a grime freestyle could accomplish, and gave an indication to the BBC's station controllers that this was a sound worth taking seriously.
The view numbers may since have been dwarfed by the likes of Stormzy's 'Shut Up', but it goes without saying that we live in different times now. Many of the artists racking up the play counts today (not to downplay the hard work they've put in themselves) should tip their hats in recognition of the ground broken by Skepta and his fellow pioneers.
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'Konnichiwa' is out now.