Give Skepta his flowers

Skepta wears jacket, trousers and top LORO PIANA

Skepta has kicked down so many doors in the music and fashion industries it’s not even funny. Ahead of his next adventure – the inaugural Big Smoke Festival – THE FACE fields questions from his friends and family.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

Where are you supposed to start with a Skepta introduction in 2024, anyway? The music, the fashion, the film… the festival?

Maybe the story begins in the mid-’80s, on Old Street, East London, when a three-year-old Joseph Olaitan Adenuga Jr. set his teddy bear alight and accidentally burned the house down. Then the Adenuga family moved north to the Meridian Walk estate in Tottenham. A decade or so on, with the encouragement of their Nigerian parents, Joseph and Ify, Joseph Jr. and younger brother Jamie made some serious noise in their bedroom, then via the pirate radio station Deja Vu with their Meridian Crew.

When Meridian Crew splintered, Joseph and Jamie (by now famous in the grime underworld as Skepta and JME) had a brief stint in Wiley’s Roll Deep collective before forming, in 2005, the collective and label Boy Better Know. BBK T‑shirts – which were designed and sold by JME himself – became an essential item among grime’s stubbornly loyal audience.

Skepta wears jacket, trousers and top LORO PIANA

Grime has had its peaks and troughs. And as well as dropping multiple underground anthems, Skepta, by his own admission, has had plenty of creative misfires – not least when tried his hand at electro-pop following the success of Wiley’s Wearing My Rolex and Dizzee Rascal’s string of dance-rap chart-toppers. But even during the dark days of the late 00s and the early 10s, when the crowds and booking fees for grime artists shrunk and major labels stopped returning calls, Skepta jumped at any chance to touch the mic, be it at a clash, a radio set or at the now-mythologised dubstep night FWD» at Plastic People in Shoreditch.

Then, in 2014, came instant grime classic That’s Not Me. Featuring JME and accompanied by an £80 music video, Skepta lyrically repented for his past mistakes of chasing fashion trends and the pop charts. Ironically, That’s Not Me induced a globe-spinning grime resurgence, putting MCs at the top of festival posters, on the covers of magazines and paving the way for the burgeoning UK drill and Afroswing movements. The track powered the rapper’s fourth album Konnichiwa all the way to the 2016 Mercury Music Prize.

A couple of decades into their careers, many musicians find themselves on autopilot, touring for the sake of financial necessity, churning out albums long after their creative juices have run dry. But Skepta, now 41 and a father of two, continues to fan the flames of his passions, launching his Mains fashion label, dropping a collaboration with Puma and setting up Big Smoke Corp to manage his many business ventures. In 2022, his painting Mama Goes to Market sold for £81,900 at Sotheby’s; this year he released short film Tribal Mark, which he co-directed, executive produced and starred in. Having become bored” of debates about which Black actor should play James Bond, Skepta created a new character with specifically Black actors in mind: Tribal Mark, a Nigerian immigrant in London who becomes a secret agent.

Musically, Skepta hasn’t stood still either. Attending Carl Cox’s 60th birthday in Ibiza in 2022, Skepta was moved by how happy the superstar DJ looked behind the decks. So, in 2023, he took a hiatus from rapping to launch house music project Más Tiempo with Boy Better Know comrade Jammer, although he continues to work on his long-awaited fifth album Knife and Fork.

Now, at THE FACE’s photoshoot, taking place on a pleasant spring afternoon in Northwest London, he’s getting in the mood for his inaugural Big Smoke Festival – which runs at Crystal Palace Park on 6th July and features cutting-edge acts such as Nigerian genre-blender Odumodublvck and amapiano queen Uncle Waffles – by impersonating security guards and sniffing a white hibiscus while sprawled out on the grass at the location.

It’s been more than two decades since Skepta started releasing the beats he’d made using PlayStation games in his bedroom in Meridian Walk. So many artists, scenes and trends have come and gone, but he’s still inspiring producers, rappers and designers half his age. Irrepressibly energetic and eternally relevant, the UK music scene needs him as much as it ever did.


How should I respond when women approach me in the street and tell me they want to marry you? – Julie Adenuga (Skepta’s little sister, beloved broadcaster)

I think you should tell them a crazy made- up story about our mum and scare them off!

What brings you absolute irrefutable peace? – Novelist (Lewisham grime don)

Being with my family in the Maldives, where I’m hearing the waves crashing, my children’s voices and no sirens.

We’ve seen Skepta morph from a rapper to a powerhouse of ambition, designing, DJing and making a movie. How much of this direction was inspired by Virgil Abloh? – Tiffany Calver (DJ)

Virgil was a great person to call an idol. If you reached out to him and said, I know you”, he would reach back and say: I can see you.” I do definitely reference him. I think about him when I’m designing. But ultimately, I think that he’s one of the people who showed me that anything’s possible. I don’t like to be a jack of all trades and just make stuff for no reason. But if I meet people who open a new door to my creativity, then I’ll explore it. Initially, everyone in my estate, in my ends, was making music. That was the level that I came in with: creation. Then I met this person, Mikey Pearce, and he just left CSM, studying fashion. So I look at him and go: Oh, we should do a fashion label together.” I look over here and I’m like: Oh, Paddy [McDonagh, Más Tiempo manager] you’ve got links in the DJ world. Why don’t we make a name for a DJ group and start pushing?”

How important is it for you to give back to the community? – Rema (Afrobeats superstar)

I remember being young and liking artists or people that was older than me, but liking them didn’t do anything for me. I used to like loads of football players when I was younger, but if I met them they wouldn’t even stop to talk to me. Now, I feel like there have been a lot of people who’ve grown up listening to me. So I want to be the person I needed when I was younger. If Odumodublvck reaches out and says, Skepta is my idol”, I reciprocate it. And I say: Hello Oh-doo, I can hear you and I can see you. Here’s a Big Smoke chain, take that and go have fun.” Or Stormzy comes out saying I’m his idol and I’m the only person he’s ever wanted to meet. He doesn’t care about Jay‑Z, he doesn’t care about Lil Wayne, he only cares about Skepta. And I say: Hi Stormzy, you alright? Come on, let’s go on tour.” I can’t help everyone, but I can [at least do] an acknowledgement. A spud. An I see you, well done.”


What’s your favourite bar of all time? – Nemzzz (Rising Mancunian rapper)

Good question. My own lyric: Like a bullet from a gun it burns /​When you realise she was never your girl, it was just your turn”.

The Streets are playing at Big Smoke Festival. What made you want to do a festival? – Mike Skinner (you know who Mike Skinner is)

I represent the underground, innit. There’s such great artists around me – Lancey, Odumodublvck, K‑Trap, Uncle Waffles. I wanted to give them the stage they deserve.

African parents sacrifice everything for their children. They walk the most difficult path in order to ensure every opportunity is available to us. You created your own path, pioneered a genre of music, transcended the industry. Having chosen a difficult route in life, would you allow your children to follow in your footsteps? – Ramla Ali (Somali pro boxer)

With the kids, I want to work hard enough so that whatever they want to do in their life, they don’t have to start where I started. In the end, I want a nice infrastructure. It’d be lovely if not just my kids, but if any one of [my team’s] daughters or sons that want to do something, we can say: Here’s the factory, here’s the marketing company that you’re going to use and here’s a distributor…” I just don’t want my kids to start where I started – on the stage, with the mic. Because it goes in stages. First you have the mic, then you understand the management and you understand the record label, then you understand the distribution. So maybe my kids won’t sing, they’ll just run Big Smoke Festival. They will come into music at a higher level, rather than being the jester.

What pushes you to stay creating and evolving? – Gabriel Moses (Photographer)

My mind. It just won’t shut up.

Skep, as a modern day Renaissance man, you’ve mastered music, fashion, art and film. What’s next to conquer? – Daniel Lee (Chief Creative Officer at Burberry)

What’s next? Boxing? Should I fight someone? Nah. Nothing.

Where do you see your clothing line Mains in five years? – D Double E (Grime’s ad-lib king)

As much as I love fashion and I love design, I definitely think that I have the same acumen as a Ralph Lauren, where it’s really about me making clothes for the masses. I’m not trying to make clothes for people to go on stage. I’m trying to make the best hoodie, I’m trying to make the best pair of jeans, I’m trying to make the best T‑shirt. You know, it’s base-level stuff. So I see it being a very lucrative business in five years.

Did you actually do it all over the house? Jorja Smith (R&B artist and fellow FACE cover star)

Too rude. Bye, Jorja!

jacket and top LORO PIANA

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