Skepta follows up his Mercury Prize-winning LP Konnichiwa with brand new album Ignorance is Bliss this week, here's everything you need to know...
For any grime music fans who have been following the scene since its humble beginnings as an offshoot of UK Garage in the early 2000s, 2016 must have felt like a strange year. While some of the genre's emerging acts were still getting their shows shut down or cancelled by police, at the same time the music was finally beginning to find mainstream acceptance, with leading lights such as Stormzy and Skepta picking up major awards at the BRITs.
Perhaps most strikingly of all, just a few months after being forced to cancel a US tour when his visa application was declined, Skepta's self-released 2016 album Konnichiwa beat off competition from the likes of Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and David Bowie's Blackstar to win that year's Mercury Music Prize, with another of grime's pioneers, Kano, also on the shortlist.
Skepta did eventually get his visa issues sorted to perform at Coachella in 2017, but touring aside the last couple of years have been fairly quiet ones for the London-based rapper. This week however, after unveiling new music last month, Skepta returns with Konnichiwa's follow-up.
The new album is called Ignorance is Bliss and makes its arrival in stores today, here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
Since scooping up the Mercury prize for his last album, Skepta's success helped him to reorganise his cancelled US tour – now renamed 'Banned in America' – performing at 14 shows in the States before returning to work on his 2017 EP Vicious, which included appearances from A$AP Rocky and Section Boyz.
There were also rumours of a collaboration with Goldie, later confirmed by the legendary drum 'n bass producer himself, although the music itself has yet to see the light of day. In the meantime he's also become a father for the first time and even been installed as a chief in his Nigerian hometown.
The new album was announced in April, with new singles 'Bullet From a Gun' and 'Greaze Mode' unveiled earlier this month.
Who's producing it?
As with Konnichiwa, Skepta is handling the vast majority of the album's production himself, but there is also some input from others such as Ragz Originale, who previously produced a handful of the tracks on Konnichiwa, including the hit 'Shutdown'.
Any special guests?
Nafe Smallz adds some heavily autotuned vocals on the album's second track 'Greaze Mode', while there's also Atlanta-based rapper Key!, puts in an energetic shift on 'Redrum'. Elsewhere there are also appearances from J Hus, Cheb Rabi, Lancey Foux, Lay-Z and Wizkid.
What does it sound like?
In most places, the pace feels slower than on Konnichiwa, and tracks such as 'What Do You Mean?' and 'Glow in the Dark' have more of an old school hip-hop / R&B vibe, suggesting a move away from the classic grime sound he perfected on his previous album. Many of those elements are still there – the jittery hi-hats, the deep, angular basslines – and this is no crossover record in the way that Dizzee Rascal's Tongue n' Cheek was, but stylistically it feels different than its predecessor.
That said, there are other moments on the album such as 'Same Old Story' and the atonal groove of 'No Sleep' wouldn't have been out of place on Konnichiwa. Skepta recently said in a BBC interview that he didn't feel under obligation to make a full-on grime record, but Ignorance is Bliss is a gradual evolution rather than anything more drastic.
Does it deliver?
Skepta has proved that he's one of the UK's most capable rappers and producers and the new album only reinforces that status. He's clearly wrestled with the implications of his success and his lyrics address this sharply in some places, but this is the sound of a man in full creative stride. If you enjoyed Konnichiwa, you'll plenty to love on the new album too.