HOW SKEPTA REMAINED RELEVANT IN
EVER CHANGING MUSICAL LANDSCAPE
In the 21st century things are no longer built to last. Companies have gone to the lengths of designing products with planned obsolescence as a key component to their future proofing; which has in turn shaped the way we consume considerably.
The insidious effects of this can be felt in many other aspects of our lives, as increasingly we have become conditioned to expect many things in our lives to have a short shelf life. This ranges from the tangible to the metaphysical, whether it's iPhones or even relationships; theres almost this tacit acceptance about their ephemerality.
The market has of course been designed to exploit this, dating apps like Tinder, have made it easier than ever to circumvent the need to form meaningful connections, by supplanting the traditional methods of finding love; and replacing it with an emporium of lust.
The music industry is not exempt from these vicissitudes. Although streaming services have revolutionised the way we consume music, and given us access to a much wider range of music, it has arguably cheapened the experience somewhat. Because of the sheer volume of music being released on a daily basis, we as listeners perhaps don’t take our time to digest things in the same way we used to.
There’s also this pressure on artists to indiscriminately churn out track after track or risk being forgotten by an incredibly fickle audience, who’s consumption habits have been shaped over the years by the invisible hand of the market.
Longevity in this climate is certainly something worthy of reverence, as it is a pedestal occupied by so few. One of the chosen few, is undoubtedly Joseph Junior Adenuga, better known to us by his sobriquet, Skepta.
Skepta is of course one of grime’s original offspring, who has dabbled in every aspect of the music, from manning the decks in his formative years, to creating seminal soundscapes from bootlegged programs on his PC, and eventually evolving into his final form as one of the scenes most formidable MCs.
During these two plus decades in the game, Skeppy has traversed a plethora of different musical landscapes, and seen many of his peers and competitors fall by the wayside, while he has always remained a staple.
One of the rockier terrains, was during the late noughties - early 10s. The lack of mainstream interest in the genre at this point had driven many of the early adopters to diversify (or water down) their sound, in an effort to finally turn critical acclaim and street credibility into financially viable career paths.
This era birthed cross-over tracks from the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal, Chip, Wiley and of course Skep himself. To many purists, these crossover tracks were viewed in a negative light and the artists were lambasted for “selling out” and compromising the integrity of the budding genre. To other commentators, it was further proof that grime was merely a phase, and not a serious musical art form.
Although all of them dipped their toes in the vast ocean that is pop, none of the aforementioned artists have managed to maintain relevance in quite the same way that Skepta has. With the exception of Dizzee, all of the other artists’ courtships with the mainstream were brought to an abrupt end, as attempts to create paint by number pop stars began to falter.
Skep was due to release a major label follow up to 2011’s Doin’ it Again (rumoured to have been titled Honeymoon), but after a string of uncomfortable electro-pop singles, Skepta called time on the unholy union.
A year later, Skepta would follow up his major label debut with arguably one of his best works to date, the incendiary Blacklisted. The scene had welcomed Skepta back with open arms, and the mixtape saw Skepta chide himself (and others) for playing away from home.
Unlike many of his peers, Skepta was quick to return to the soundscapes he had helped build, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as the genre was on the cusp of becoming the dominant force it is today.
Naturally, returning to the sound at this precise moment meant that Skepta’s credibility remained in tact - which is a fundamental prerequisite when it comes to longevity. Some of the other artists who jumped ship, were not so lucky when they looked to make a return to the sound that birthed their careers. Skepta’s genuine love for the sound was evident, he’d returned to the roots despite the fact that commercial success still seemed inconceivable.
Although the timing of his return is undoubtedly important, it would be unfair to entirely attribute his longevity to this alone. During his mainstream courtship, fans were clamouring for the old greazy Skepta to reappear, Skep’s prior consistency had meant that fans now longed for his particular brand of grime. This trust that Skepta had built with fans has allowed him to beat modern consumer habits, and he has been someone that fans have returned to throughout the ages.
Skepta’s reputation has been instrumental in his longevity, but it’s a fusion between his crystal clear delivery and his genius simplicity, that has really seen the Tottenham native reach previously unthinkable heights. Rather than muddy the waters with unnecessary multisyllabics and rapid fire flows, Skep has opted for a lucid simplicity that bores straight into the minds of the wider population, and has allowed him to take the sound beyond cultural and class borders alike. In doing so, Skepta has opened doors that the New Gen now find themselves walking through, lest we forget the battles fought to get here.