Grime for grown-ups: Skepta’s ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’
Review: Three years since the release of his celebratory Konnichiwa album, the platinum-selling MC reignites the energies of Blacklisted for his 2019 LP.
“This is grime for the older mandem,” my friend, 31, tells me as he blasts Bullet From A Gun from out of the whip, and he’s not wrong: from Skepta and Ragz Originale’s futuristic, warped-synth production to lyrics of rushing home from a show to see his newborn child, the MC is in a new space – a firmly-rooted, grown adult with responsibilities just like the rest of us, 28 and over. Now in its 18th year of existence, grime’s true essence lies within a war-ready state of mind and braggadocios rhymes, but when it does get the chance to wear its heart on its sleeve, it’s celebrated, much like the work of Stormzy, Kano and Ghetts, and we get a lot of that on Ignorance Is Bliss, weaved in with those very things that make grime, ‘grime’ at its core.
Between Bullet…, and Greaze Mode with Luton rapper Nafe Smallz – the second track shared from the album on the same day, May 9th, and also in order of appearance on the LP – you get a sense that Skepta’s in a place of finding a new sense of self, much like the story of his 2012 mixtape-album, Blacklisted. Back then, Joseph Junior Adenuga found himself in “underdog psychosis”, an artist with an aim to rid himself of certain stereotypes and rigid ideologies, while now we’re seeing a successful musician trying to block out the trappings of fame – yet unashamedly still enjoying some of its perks.
The next cut we hear is the oriental-licked, bass-shooting sonics of Redrum (again, like 95% of the album, produced by Skepta) with Atlanta rapper Key!. Together, Skepta and Key! deliver a purposely ignant anthem for the turn up, with rhymes of shutting shit down wherever they go, whenever. No Sleep, meanwhile, with its hypnotic xylophone knocks, tells the story of a man on the grind, and the pros of minding your business to focus on your business; no time for slackness in Skeppy’s world. The R&B vibrations of What Do You Mean – featuring the recently-freed rapper J Hus in full singing mode, on a beat Teddy Riley would approve of – is a spiritual bop about knowing your worth, and valuing your day ones. On Going Through It, with a sonic nod to industrial techno, we see Skepta in anti-everything, anti-everyone mode, with an urgent flow allowing him to exercise his inner demons; You Wish is a light and breezy, but still-grimey jab at the opposition (Wiley?); while Gangsta is a well-done follow up to Konnichiwa posse cut Detox, with Shorty, Frisco, Jme and Jammer taking aim at fake ones all over the robotic riddim.
But it’s on Glow In The Dark where we see Joseph shine – at his introspective, and wokest, best. Pinning a flute-driven backdrop, the Nigerian Chief celebrates blackness in a world that wasn’t made for us to flourish; he touches on London’s youth violence epidemic and “politicians trying to get tickets to come to the shows” instead of dealing with the matter at hand, all while shouting out Nelson Mandela and the old friends that doubted him. The additions of African megastar Wizkid and BBK’s Lay Z are just a bonus, tbh.
Despite a few wrong turns (Love Me, for the ill-fitting features; Same Old Story, for the ill-fitting production), Ignorance Is Bliss is a welcome return to the throne for one of the UK’s greatest lyrical minds… Grime 3.0, anyone?