Skepta interview

Underground grime titan-turned-UK chart star Skepta talks to Time Out

Interview

Underground grime titan-turned-UK chart star Skepta recently acquired a Mobo nomination for Best UK Hip Hop/Grime Act. He’s building a solid following around the world, with many comparing him to one of 2010’s breakout stars, Tinie Tempah.

When he heard Tinie Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’, he didn’t believe Tinie wrote it.
‘It’s phenomenal. It’s like he just went away to space, and came back with that tune. I phoned him and said: “Did you write that, or was there a ghost writer?” He went: “No, man. That was me.” I was like: “Bruv, well done, man.”’

He doesn’t think grime artists need to tone down their sound for chart success…
‘You don’t have to compromise. You just need to mess with other sounds, and I don’t think a lot of grime artists do. They’ve got it stuck in their mind: “This is the commercial route, so I’m just gonna do this.”’

… so he put a rough edge on ‘Rescue Me’.
‘I need to leave things on Earth that I’m proud of. Once I pass away, I don’t wanna leave bulls***. So with ‘Rescue Me’ we made the drop sound hard. People will deny that it’s a dubstep record. But, without being rude or anything, Skream and Benga are the dubstep kings, and ‘Rescue Me’ is a harder mainstream record than they’ve put out dubstep-wise. ‘Perfect Stranger’ with Katy B is more commercial than ‘Rescue Me’.’

Diddy gave him faith in his music.
‘After ‘Rescue Me’, I wanted to get grimier with the singles. Then Diddy asked me to remix ‘Hello, Good Morning’. He seconded my opinion, of “you know what? Grime is good.” Now I feel like people are accepting grime for what it is.’

He hasn’t heard Wiley’s zip files.
‘As much as I’m a fan of his music – he’s a big inspiration to me – I haven’t listened to the 150 zip files he released for free. It was very nonchalant the way he threw it out, so if he doesn’t care about it, I don’t really think I should. And 150 – that’s a bit too much for my brain. I got my own lyrics to write.’

He thinks N-Dubz are the UK Black Eyed Peas.
‘When I toured with them, I listened to the messages in their music and I thought: This is unique. There isn’t another group out there like them. Not even Black Eyed Peas. BEP aren’t real. N-Dubz are the UK BEP that someone from the ’hood could actually relate to.’

He’s finding fame a little hard to deal with…
‘The mainstream support that I get is much more fanatic than grime fans. I’m not new to posing for pictures or signing autographs, but it’s properly overwhelming where I feel paranoid now. If I’m walking places and I see a group of people, I feel like: Oh, s***. I can look at the group, and think: Yeah, they definitely know who I am, and then you get the whispers and it’s like: “Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” But I’m getting used to it.’

… but he has UK music clown Timmy Mallett’s number.
‘I did a video with him, and he was a good guy, man. Sometimes I feel like I need to phone him. Even though he’s not in the same business, he’s been through all the transition of fame and people knowing who you are. He used to say things like: “Just enjoy it, Skepta.” I was thinking: “You’re not a rapper, you don’t understand.” But I know that he knows what fame’s like and how the media is.’

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