I interviewed Skepta for the Guardian the week prior to his recent Mercury Prize win. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’ve watched him be anything from forthcoming to non-communicative in interviews- I was happily surprised to get the former. It helped that the day was crazy hot and that he was hanging with old friends (Jammer and Shorty from BBK were around, as was his manager Grace and a few of his inner circle) – all of whom were getting baked in the sun from multiple spliffs and endless bottles of Rose. I’m not gonna lie, by the end I was glugging the wine with the rest of them. Essentially I was lucky enough to catch Skep chilling with his mates in the sunshine, and we ended up having a sprawling chat for over an hour and a half about anything and everything; his positive view of the future, the artists he’s been supporting in Meridian Estate, the way the internet is shifting society, and the reasons why he thinks fate brought him together with Drake.
The downside of this was space constraints. With 1500 words available for the piece, only a small fraction of our conversation could make it into the final feature I wrote. I feel like it’s a shame not to do anything with the transcripts of our conversation, so here they are – think of as a DVD extra giving an insight into an artist at the top of their game. Sometimes the flow may seem disjointed, but that’s just how it goes- Natural conversations flow funny as standard.
So, to set the scene, I’d come up during the photoshoot, Skepta blazing with a towel covering his head from the sun. We started chatting, and I got the recorded rolling. He was talking about how the internet has changed London, and how he loved the city. Here's what he was saying:
Skepta: We’ve been ahead for so long in the UK, we’re so multi-cultural and that’s the beauty. From young we’ve had all these different cultures around us- in class you have to get used to hearing all these different names, like you’re best friend has got some different kind of name, and you can’t say but you try innit, so you have to learn compassion for others. That’s why grime was formed – grime can be anything. It was formed from this mix, so many styles of music were formed from this mix, this understanding of different people, even punk. Anything. We’re so free in the UK and now other people are catching on.
It’s a good time. The internet has made it that you’re a prick if you don’t have compassion for something you don’t understand. Back in the day people could tell racist jokes, sexist jokes, be homophobic. Now you’ve got a profile, you’ve got a name, we can see what you’re saying – you can’t say those things, whether someone feels them, they can’t be disrespectful to others. I grew up in the 80s, it was ignorant shit! When black people first came to the country they thought the way to get on was to fight back, and say crazy things about white people – that’s the era I grew up in. People have got to fix up now, you can’t just be saying bullshit, there’s a worldwide knowledge. The internet is a library of thoughts and happenings, you can see people and the world is catching on to what London has been for a long time. I’ve been around the whole world, I walk around by myself and I’m fine – I’ve always been around different cultures, London is way ahead.
Do you feel positive about London?
I think… yeah, I do fell positive about London. Compared to what I thought my options were when I was younger… If I was young today, then I’d have a dream, I’d have a belief cos of what the older generation have done before me. When I was young I didn’t believe all this could happen. Like, my album came out, I was on a flight to Toronto the next day to play a show, and they knew all the words to the new songs – you think when I was a kid I ever thought that would happen? I’ve got my name tattooed on my back and I fucking hate it – but when I was younger I thought I was just gonna be a local thing – I had Skepta on my jacket, an S earring, and S chain, then it was all about being local, now it’s worldwide. As a younger man I didn’t think this was possible.
The lack of good weather here brings the vibe down in the city. The city is a rat race as it is, and bad weather brings it down, but that’s what life’s about, you can enjoy the sun but you’ve got to learn how to enjoy the rain as well, learn to party in the rain. That’s what London will teach you. When I go round the world people ask me why I ain’t got security – it’s because it wouldn’t make sense to me to have them. I’m from London and people don’t stunt like that here, like if you had security and some car with big spinning gold rims people are like –huh?
Don’t get wrong, when I go to America I have my fun, I go to the clubs and through my money in the air, but it’s like a movie to me. Londoners know about that bad weather, they know about fake people, and know how to manoeuvre. When I went to America loads of those artists messaged me and shit, or when I’d see them in person they’d say raa raa, and I know they’re just saying it.
The world follows America, and it took for the American style of grime to come out before they’d get what we were doing. The American style of grime is like the Asap Mob, or Rat King. When Rat King are on the decks playing tunes and freestyling on the mic, that’s grime, but when we were doing it before it looked weird.
Grime has had some play in the states before though – I remember Jay-Z freestyling on some of Dizzee’s beats
Now it’s gone to a commercial level – people always fucked with it in an underground way, but now it’s commercial.
You’ve not just been out in America – there were pictures of you helping your dad build a playground in Nigeria earlier this year, it’s clear you’re close to your parents-
I take a lot of influence from how my dad bought me up- if I make money I always remember where my mum and dad came from. I think what is this money worth. Money is value. A man might have a million pounds, and I might have 20 quid – but if I give a homeless guy a tenner and buy each of my five friends a falafel wrap for 2 quid, and my guy with a million buys himself a Bugatti, then I’m richer than him. The value of my 20 pound has fed more people and made more people live than the person with the Bugatti. The richness comes from within, and I take that from pictures I’ve seen of where my dad’s come from – I went out there last year cos I just wanted to help
At that time Konnichiwa still hadn’t come out – at one point people were wondering if it would ever see the light of day
As long as Konnichiwa to come out, that’s how long it took for me to make that album. I got to a place where I wasn’t forcing anything – if a release date comes and we ain’t got enough songs or it’s not mixed, we just change the date. Stop making things a big deal – people put so much emphasis and pressure on singles in this industry.
It’s interesting that you had so few features on the record when you were in the position to pack it with guest spots
Being in the game for so long I’ve learnt longevity. I’ve learnt that things people said were massive turn out to be shit, and I’ve learnt that things that no one cared about at the time have turned out to be massive. I’ve learned about features. Features are so important, who you align yourself with. I thought about the features I’d done before and realised, oh shit, do you even wanna be associated with that person? So when I did my album it wasn’t hard for me to pick my features cos I know who I wanted – Novelist is an up and coming MC from London and people need to hear him. JME, my brother, he’s on That’s Not Me, one of the biggest records of my life. Boy Better Know all the man dem on there. Pharell – stamped. D Double E, the greatest grime MC. That’s what I feel represents the scene today.
And I guess a lot of people haven’t really picked up on how much of your music you produce yourself - do you prefer producing to chatting?
In the coolness factor, yeah, I prefer producing. Anything where you get to live the most flashy shit whilst being as low key as possible, that’s the best. Being as quiet as you can be, but still enjoying the best stuff, that’s the trick. I’m slipping back out of this. You ain’t gonna see me.
Now grime’s been embraced by the mainstream, do you think that when these industry people who have never really been into the scene before start marketing it as this very rigid thing- like it’s GOT to be 140 bpm, it’s GOT to be aggy- do they freeze it in place? I always think of grime back in the day as having loads of humour and sentimentality, do you think it’s in danger of losing these aspects?
It will lose something to other people, but not to us. It’s not gonna ever change for us. Really getting in touch with your life purpose is important . Now I understand what I’m worth, I understand what I’m here to tell everyone. I understand why guys are doing new shit things for money, and I’m like, no guys, I’m from a place where we didn’t care if things didn’t go to number one. Are people singing along in the clubs? Yes, then that’s great. You watch Eskimo Dance, the MCs spitting 8 bars, the DJ rewinds it, and that’s it. People paying £50 to see that! It’s different, it’s an energy. Now it’s easier for someone like myself to navigate through because I remember saying to myself, I wanna live this life – this is what I’m gonna do, so now - I don’t even try to do what I’m doing, I’m just on this path where I know where I’m from and what I need to say. I don’t need to worry. Movements and togetherness are strong. Togetherness is everything bruv.
So what now you’ve done Konnichiwa? How do you move the scene forward? I think there’s still a lot of casual listeners out there that aren’t even aware that you jumped on the Ojulegba remix
I’m not gonna ever try and make another Konnichiwa – that’s a classic mistake. That’s why I think I’ve lasted, because if I make different sounds no one thinks it’s weird – well, some people think, oh Skepta should just be doing grime, but most people understand that if Skepta releases a song it could be anything, it could be an Ojulegba, it could be a Sweet Mother, it could be anything.
I’ve always been moving forward in my life. Never try and force your art on people who don’t care about it. Those people are gonna have to acknowledge it. That teaching is everything I know. The people who support what I do, I care about them. Don’t make fucking stupid songs or stupid music for people who don’t care about you. Why would you want to? What you want is for someone who doesn’t care about you to not be able to ignore you. That’s how you kill it. It comes from pirate radio days. We were there at them times, and now we’re here with the internet, we can focus and get it. I know how I got popping on the streets back in the day, and I get the internet and how to use it. I’m not on there dissing people. Anyone I’ve got problems with in life, you’re not gonna see me on there talking about it. I see these twitter beefs and shit… Would I talk about on record, if the person was an MC then yeah, cos that’s the way I’d deal with that situation.
Even if I had £500 in the bank right now I’d still be happy in my life. People still listen to my music and that’s more than anything else.
In the Red Bull lecture you did with Hattie you talked about helping new artists come up – is that something that’s going on?
I’m helping a few artists on Meridian estate where I grew up – an artist called Belly – and really anyone, not just someone from my area. I come from a place where you’re insecure and you don’t really know how to show your talent. But now I’ve blossomed like a flower innit. I can see someone with talent and I can see their insecurities, I can see something in them.
Everyone on the roads is A&R – you see everyone sitting around talking about different people. Now we’ve turned into OGs. An OG is where you’ve got the knowledge. In your 20s you’ve got that energy and you can do anything, you’ve lived that – now we can not only change lives in a business way, we can also give them life coaching. I can tell Belly, if you want to be successful in music, all you have to do is say ‘I’m big in music’ you have to tell yourself, I’m not on road no more, I used to do street shit now I do music. I’ve got 289 followers, that’s sick – you be happy with fucking everything.
Music is just an avenue. It’s the most sterotyped thing I could have done to reach my position – I’m a black boy from Tottenham , 6 foot tall, grew up in the streets, mums from Nigeria, I made the best out of this. I don’t like to celebrate this shit, my shit is downplayed. Its not ungrateful, that’s the demons in my head talking. I hear demons saying, nah man take photos with everybody, play up to this shit, walk the red carpet, but then I hear the true self say no. The world’s getting smarter. Back in the day people thought God was crying when it rained. They thought gay people can’t even come around us.
If the world’s getting smarter, then explain to me the rise of Donald Trump
That’s trolling. On a big scale. It’s a popularity contest, he’s the funniest guy, the stupidest guy. But we can see that, it’s nothing. The revolution is happening. I can feel it inside me. Life is forever, there’s never gonna be an end, but less people will be oppressed. As more of the revolution goes on, more people will be free. We won’t have to be spotting insecure people, everyone will just be like, Yeah! It’s happening! You think the kids give a shit about who’s mum’s from Pakinstan?? When I was in school being from a certain country was a diss. Now kids are not hearing that, they don’t know what you’re talking about. If a video got uploaded of some silly stupid old skool chats of man dissing people back in the day, man’s career would be finished. There are certain ways you were carrying on back in the day that you couldn’t do now. You have to have a profile, and represent your profile, so you can’t just chat shit. It’s a global knowledge. It’s good. It’s a library, a sick library of thoughts, of videos, pictures, you can do you research. You don’t have to be quiet in the library now, you can be in the club. People ask, what you doing on your phone – I’m on my phone for the same reason people are on their phone – I’m on my phone learning! I’m constantly on there.
I was at a point in my mind set when I thought my journey was bad, now I’m at the point where I’ve learnt that everything that’s happened is a lesson. If you watch Groundhog Day and think that’s some basic movie – it’s the sickest concept ever; control your day. Be in control and learn, cos you’re trapped if you don’t. I don’t give a fuck about age, I’m gonna do whatever I do on a brand new day. I’m sharp now, I’m like in The Wanted where the guy can bend bullets. I’m getting sick right now, trust me. You can’t tell me nothing. I know the pain that went into Konnichiwa. I know how much time, how much work. That’s what makes me happy. I was making money before, I weren’t happy though. Now I know the more people that are involved, the more I listen to other peoples ideas, that’s the happiness. Now I’ve realised that, it’s mad. I’ve realised that happiness is the key, it’s crazy.
So is the next record gonna be a happy one?
I’ve shed more insecurities. So whether it’ll be happy, I don’t know – I’m not always happy. I go to a very solemn, steady zone. But not to a bad zone. That’s the spectrum.
My next song is called No Security. I did the beat, it’s going to fuck shit up. I feel like I already had a career in London as a popular artist for ten years, so now just because I’m on a world thing, I want to bring how I am here everywhere. I’ve lived in London with no security for all this time, I wanna take that round the world. When I’m at a festival, I’m out in the crowd, I go through the crowd, maybe because I’ve done that for so much time, being around my supporters, I can’t do the celebrity shit of having security pushing people away. Sometimes when I go to play people even rub my head and shit, fuck that! Fucking with my swags! But I’m used to it. I don’t wanna get some fucking security, or make some fucking gold statue of myself. Who do you think you are? You see that all the time in America, going there is like going media studies. I go there to learn- like, WOW WOW WOW this is crazy. Shit, in London what we thought was a movie is really going on, they really are like that. Wherever I go, celebrities have made a distance between themselves and people. One time I told my friend; you can do music, you don’t need a label, just make your mixtape and put it out, and he said, ‘nah it’s alright for you to say, you’re Skepta’, and I thought, oh my god, this is my friend, I’ve grown up with this guy, we know each other, but because of success, he’s thinks success is somewhere else. Celebrities make success far away from people, so people think success is getting somewhere, they don’t know that it is within. It’s from saying; I’m happy, I’m good with this shit.
My purpose, my life is written out. I know where I’m from, I’ve got the history, I’m accepting of my history, I will use anything bad as a lesson, and now it’s planned out. I already know how it’s gonna be; big houses, yachts, crazy parties, it’s done. The only thing I don’t know is how to be through it. The only choice is happiness. Any photo of me from this time, I want to know when I look at it that everything is going to be alright.
Say you get kicked out of your house and all your stuffs on the street because you’ve got no money – you’re scared of that moment, all the time leading up to it you’re scared of that moment when you should have been happy. You should have thought, fuck it, and that would give you more space to call your friend before you got kicked out. I’m laughing it off now, the worries gone. The worry blocks you, now I don’t worry about anything, awards I hope I win, but that’s it, there’s no worry
And I’ve got to ask, what’s going on with Drake? Are you gonna record together?
With that situation, sometimes in life you just have to meet someone to collaborate. It’s not always about making a song together. Different people in my life, we do different things, I mean, say, you work in a pub. I work as an MC, but we’re going to book me a show in your pub, are we? It’s the same with me and Drake I understand why we met – the power of him telling me, ‘yo bro I’m from Toronto, and when I was starting to rap people would laugh that I was from Toronto, and say, you gotta be from Brooklyn, or Philly or the Bronx. But I kept on repping Toronto and repping Toronto and being about Toronto, and it became a movement’. I was already doing my London shit before that, but meeting Drake taught me to stay on my London shit forever. He told me there was never a day when he thought he would be bigger than Lil Wayne – but he just done his Toronto shit, and now people can actually utter the words Drake is bigger than Lil Wayne.
He was in a place where he was clashing a road man rapper like Meek Mill, and that’s why he met me – he watched my clashes with Devilman, and was like 'raa that’s my bredrin' – I think that’s why he met me, to learn more about that energy of grime clashing. But as for music together... The best songs get made in free time, in good times. Things can happen in the future, but we’re not pushing it...