Time Out brings you some choice cuts from when Skepta met Time Out London. Discover the enigmatic star ahead of his concert in Dubai at Sole DXB
His arrival in Dubai might not make the sort of headlines the likes of Adele, Coldplay or Kanye West would, but Skepta's upcoming gig at Sole DXB is a landmark occasion for the UAE.
The London-born artist is one of music's most intriguing stars, a 2016 Mercury Prize winner who took the long road to mainstream success while maintaining an unshakeable connection to his underground roots.
So enigmatic is Joseph Junior Adenuga, that when Time Out reached out to him for interview in 2015, it was eight months - and scoops with Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Craig and The Rolling Stones - before it came to fruition.
And now, hot off the back of his five-star smash hit album Konnichiwa, he jets in to headline one of the coolest weekend festivals in the region; Tracks like That’s Not Me and Shutdown that have spoken to an entire generation will now ring out around Dubai Design District.
Ahead of the show, we bring you some choice cuts from that exclusive interview ("Hmm. Don’t worry. I won’t be talking to anyone else!" he told Time Out), the only one available to any Middle East publication.
So who is Skepta? When he was three his family moved from Old Street to Tottenham’s Meridian Estate after he burned down the house with a teddy bear. Raised by strict Nigerian parents, who instilled ‘old-school moral teachings in my mind, like there’s a 90-year-old Nigerian grandad inside me’, he became a pirate radio DJ, inspired by his disc jockey dad’s habit of throwing house parties. After a brief stint as a grime producer, he became an MC and set up his own label/crew/astonishingly successful T-shirt business, Boy Better Know, with his MC brother Jme (real name Jamie). For a decade, he’s been one of the most respected names in London’s grime scene.
How 'big' is he? Drake is such a fan that he recently got a Boy Better Know tattoo. When Kanye appeared at the Brits in 2015, he thought grime was so trendy he brought 40 MCs on stage (it was Skepta he called to make it all happen). And now he's worked with Pharrell Williams. "Man, Pharrell was so easy to work with," he laughs. "It’s an ego-less room. I was in the studio in my socks."
Why is he so unique? This is a man who has no label and no corporate affiliation: he’s done it all himself. ‘1Xtra took the power away from us,’ says Skepta. ‘Our pirate shows used to influence what records grime fans would buy. But suddenly it was in [the BBC’s] hands and they went: “Bang! We’ve got you now! Make pop or we won’t play you!” ’ By the time of his second album, he says, he was waking up, thinking: ‘This is rubbish, man. I’m not even enjoying this.’ Then a close friend died, he ‘ended up on the edge’ and put out a Youtube video called ‘Underdog Psychosis’: just him talking into a camera for 25 minutes, railing against a media that made people like him ‘feel like you’re not worth anything’, before repeatedly telling his followers: ‘You can be something.’ He finished by announcing that from now on he’d only make ‘music with meaning’. The video ended up being screened as an installation at Tate Modern.
How good is Mercury Prize winning album, Konnichiwa? It's 12 songs of ferocious, bassy brilliance, some of which are so good that we end up rewinding them to the start after just 30 seconds (notably the scorching ‘Lyrics’ and ‘Crime Riddim’). But it’s the singles that really leap out. There’s ‘Shutdown’, which urges people to ‘listen to no politician’ (‘The government is a gang and they’re bullying us,’ says Skepta in the car). There’s new single ‘Man’, in which he happily announces that London’s ‘come a long way from the days when whites never used to mix with blacks’ (‘We’re all together at the raves now, it ain’t like when we couldn’t go to Enfield because of racist skinheads’). And there’s an appearance from ‘That’s Not Me’, the slice of retro grime in which Skepta – a man who appeared at number 36 in GQ’s Best Dressed 2015 list – announces that he has destroyed all his Gucci in favour of sportswear (a decision which has seen him leap 29 places to number seven in this year’s GQ Best Dressed list).
More Skepta-isms "All the other rappers around me aren’t saying anything worthwhile. They’re lost in rap: all they do is tell you they’re a sick MC and they’re better than you. I don’t want to look like all these other little punk, dress-up, fake, manufactured artists. I’m not a rapper. I’m an activist."
"People who think grime is back are sheep that follow the media. People who aren’t sheep know grime never went away. There were still raves. Even when I was doing poppier tunes, I’d still take the same lyrics and spit them on a grime beat for the real fans."
"Me and Diddy went to a pool party. I tried pushing this girl into the water and this guy comes over: 'Don’t touch my girl!' I end jumping out of the pool to fight him. Diddy was like: 'Skepta, man, just chill!' But I go: 'Nah! Who does this guy think he is?' He’s probably thinking: 'I’ve seen this crazy stuff before [with Biggie]. People die from this.' He didn’t stay in touch. I’ve changed a lot since then."
"[Record labels] were like: 'We understand you’ve done this all yourself, Skepta. You can have a deal like no-one else has got! You can have this, Skepta! You can have that, Skepta!' And I nearly broke. But I just wanted to know, if all else fails musically, could I make a CD and take it worldwide by myself."