Words by Billy Hodder.
On Thursday night Skepta (a.k.a. Joseph Junior Adenuga) was presented with the prestigious Mercury Prize award by Jarvis Cocker for his album Konnichiwa. Accompanied by his mother and father on stage, who were both dressed in traditional Nigerian clothing, Skepta announced to fellow grime nominee Kano “we did it bro” in a moment where he realized that the past 15 years have deservedly come to fruition and that himself and grime are deservedly fulfilling the needs and representation of so many voices.
In a industry that has predominately been dominated by white voices, it would seem that music is starting to turn. More paramount than Skepta winning the Mercury Prize is the moment before he is revealed as 2016’s champion. The room is filled with chants and calls for “Skeppy”. As Jarvis Cocker proclaims Skepta’s self-released album as this years Mercury Prize album his table erupts with friends and family in tracksuits jumping higher than the London Bridge they were raised under.
Mainstream music is saturated by voices of pop and lyrics that are unrepresentative of current generations. Grime is politically charged, a running narrative of distaste and neglect to a current cultural climate. London’s nightlife is being ripped from piece to piece. Areas such as Shoreditch, where Skepta and many mastered their trades, are suffering from gentrification and ‘modification’ and are being turned into middle-class, ‘hipster’, tourist attractions. In a year where so much has turned against future generations, Skepta and Grime are a vital and welcomed light.
Skepta’s performance on Thursday night featured banners and signs from Black Lives Matter demonstrations, including the “stop killing the mandem” sign that Novelist proudly displayed this year at a Black Lives Matter march. Skepta recently revealed in an interview with The Fader that at school he was often ashamed and embarrassed by his name that is traditionally Nigerian. He now wears his heritage with pride and often drops lyrics into his material indicating how proud he is to represent his African ancestry. Skepta and so many others are the representation and embodiment for young black individuals in media that he himself didn’t have as a youth.
It is worth noting that in 2003 Dizzie Rascal was awarded the Mercury Prize for his debut album‘Boy In Da Club’. While at the time Dizzie Rascal was predominately a grime artist himself, he then understandably launched himself into more of a commercial career focussing on hip-hop and climbing the charts. While Dizzie Rascal is now very much back in touch with his roots in grime and is often seen working with the likes of Skepta, JME and others from Boy Better Know, the commercial record labels have never attracted Skepta who is an example to all creatives.
The record label Boy Better Know (BBK) was established by Skepta’s brother JME and is very much the personification of Skepta’s mindset and belief that anyone releasing music should release it independently and should look to avoid major record labels. Skepta’s award winning album Konnichiwa was released by BBK and Skepta’s family living room was the warehouse used to store and dispatch the album. You can trace alternative music back to The Sex Pistols and they too, like Skepta, believed in independent record labels and DIY music.
However, thanks to the work of Skepta, Wiley, JME and so many others grime is emerging into the mainstream but is maintaining its independent voice that has got it there.
Skepta has vowed to put the money he won from the Mercury Prize into those who are disadvantaged in Tottenham. While driven and focused in continuing and strengthening his own career, Skepta is also actively and constantly looking to give a hand up to others.
Skepta is an example to youth, black individuals, creatives and music that despite marginalization anything is possible. Grime is representing voices that have for so long been unheard in media, and for that, we must salute the likes of Skepta.