Skepta is a maverick, a mercurial talent that marches to the sound of his grimy drum beat. After winning the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2017 for 2016’s ‘Konnichwa’, you’d have thought the rapper would’ve been quick smash out a follow up but the guy who’s called Joseph Junior Adenuga by his mum, isn’t the kind of man to do what people expect. Without much fanfare on 28 th April, the grime star dropped an Instagram post announcing his new LP ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ was due to land 31 st May. No overexposed interviews or lengthy magazine articles, Skepta lets his music do his talking, as he reflected on a rare interview with Beats 1 DJ (and sister) Julie Adenuga “I’m not gonna try and take too much on-board of what people gotta say about it, ‘cause I really like, I’m gonna perform it, and the shows are gonna be crazy, I just want people to listen to it without talking about it.”
‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ is Skepta coming out swinging; this is the rapper against the world, taking aim at pretenders to his crown, fake hangers on that want to have a slice of his pie and anyone purporting to be G, flexing with their garms and drip. Sonically the North London born artist knew he had to shut the world out to bring ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ life or as Skepta put it to his sister in the same interview “I was in my own psychedelic world for time making the album”. What we have is a record that’s hinged on sturdy beats, glitchy 8bit video game fragments, sound-system bass womps and the occasional foray into head-bobbing slow jams. The album’s first unveiling to the world came via opening track ‘Bullet From A Gun’, a song anchored by a woozy, oscillating noise, taut beats and tip-tapping hi-hats. Then there’s Skepta’s stern, continuous flow. It’s here where we find the Tottenham boy exposing a vulnerable side but with a clenched fist “when you realise she was never your girl/it was just your turn. You gotta face your demons no matter how much you earn”. He’ll later state “I can’t play the victim” whilst directing his scorn at roadmen begging for likes online. The rapper’s observations of all- mouth-no-trousers flexing runs through ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ like pungent dope smoke. ‘No Sleep’s distorted chimes and staccato bounce has Skepta calling out brand obsessed wastemen “can’t pay the rent but you just bought a Stoney”. Over a beat that harks back to the days of UK garage and a firm string accompaniment, Skepta dismissively swats away haters like they’re pesky mosquitoes “said you got beef with me/you wish”. ‘Gangsta’ is the most direct and visceral exposure of false G-shit; over warped synths stabs and gut punch beats, the track is strewn with digs at wannabe bad-men “don’t know who you’re trying to impress G/man can see your man bag’s empty.” With Skepta’s rap collective Boy Better Know in tow; they trade verses that further ram the point home that “you cannot by gangsta from shop.”
‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ isn’t all about the Londoner calling out faux big man posturing; there’s a vulnerable side to the record and a small swipe at the Houses of Parliament, notably via ‘Glow In The Dark’s silky groove “the streets are at an all-time high/the government at an all-time low”. It would have been good to have heard more of an anti-establishment slant from Skepta’s new record, given the main-man in UK rap has a clear path to millions of ears that hang on his every word. Whilst having a direct route to an army of devoted fans, some of the album’s themes about woman and sex can come across as chauvinistic and degrading, an unfortunate blot and a tired cliché on an otherwise innovative and thrilling record. The same thing can be said for a few guest appearances; Skepta can hold his own without doubt, when some additional vocalists come close to cluttering tracks. ‘Same Old Story’ is where the MC reflects on broken relationships and the toil of having your heartbroken over and over again “I feel like I’m in love with the pain fam/because it’s the same old story.” He’ll also deftly declare “I’m cold/I’m broken.” ‘Animal Instinct’ plunges the record into darker, metropolitan areas, where wolves howl and beats rattle with a ghostly crackle; “I ride around town with a broken heart” shows the softer side to Skepta’s firm and fierce persona. 2016’s ‘Shutdown’ was Skepta’s crossover moment and ‘Love Me’s hefty garage leanings has radio hit written all over it; with a chopped up vocal sample that’ll eventually unveil itself as Sophie Ellis Bextor’s ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ the MC is joined by guests Cheb Rabi and B Live to rattle a jiggling joint that’s got lofty ambition “no jokers/it’s just kings and queens”.
‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ illustrates why Skepta is at the top of his game and in a pole position when it comes to UK rap – world domination beckons.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams