Heralded as the "King of Grime", Skepta has been on our radar since the early 2000's, making a name for himself within the UK Grime scene. Recently however, following co-signs from US artists such as Drake and A$AP Rocky, Skepta has seen his international success soar. We caught up with the rising star after a show in Berlin to talk about what it means to be a true artist and more.
COZY MAG: Hi Skepta! First of all, welcome to Berlin! It was a decade ago that you came out to Berlin for the first time, right?
Skepta: That’s crazy! [haha] I saw somebody say that online like yeah, "Skepta has come back ten years later." I didn’t even know. But that’s a very good thing.
CM: Thinking about where you’re at now and coming back to this city ten years later – how does it make you feel?
Skepta: It makes me feel like I have been alive for a long time.
CM: Well...I mean, you have!
Skepta: [Laughs] I have, I have. Yeah, but I mean, at the same time it makes me feel good man. You know, like people still support me, they’re still listening to me. Many artists come into the music game or they come on to the internet and they have like two months, maybe one year, two years. For me, to be able to be do it for like ten years or even longer is crazy. I’m blessed man, I’m blessed.
CM: Definitely. I mean, you’ve been around for a decade and for American rappers it’s a big deal when they’ve been around for that long. And in your case, your buzz picked up even more outside of the UK in the last two years. It’s going through the roof! But how do you see that? What do you think about the way people perceive you and your music outside of the UK that are not familiar with your work before that?
Skepta: Yeah, I understand it. It’s like when you’re on youtube one day and you find like an old film from a long time ago that has been uploaded. You feel good when you watch it because it's like you’ve found something that no-one else has seen. It’s a cool thing, a good thing.
Imagine there’s a character in the film called Johnny Big Guns or something like that, so you and your friends call yourself that name. It’s just an example of what I’m trying to say. People finding out about me now is like people finding a very old film – Skepta the Grime Artist. He’s had clashes, he’s been on stage with this guy, he’s made music with this person. That's a good story. So I understand why they like it. And I’m just happy I’m still doing it, you know. People are still showing support and love. It’s sick bro. I’m just loving life right now.
CM: I can understand. That's dope. But what I think is really remarkable about this is your album, "Blacklisted". You said it's sort of your midlife crisis album. You had a moment of realisation at that time of your life and everything started to pick up after that. What exactly was that moment of realisation? Did you wake up one morning and it just happened?
Skepta: I think it was when I made Blacklisted 'cause I never had a studio on my own ever. So, when I bought this studio for the first time I was able to make music whenever I wanted. I put Blacklisted out and everyone was saying: "Yo Skepta! This is like your most honest, truthful album. I love this album more than anything I have ever listened to." And that made me think.
That was my turning point. I was like, "Rah, people would listen to me whatever I made." Blacklisted came out on iTunes with no song titles. It was just Track 1, Track 2, Track 3 and people still got it, came to the shows, loved the music. We did a tour off of it, do you know what I’m saying? It was that moment where everyone was like you know, that’s it. There’s no more faking, just me and I’m going to do what I want to do.
CM: One thing people don't talk about as much about Blacklisted is that it's timeless. A DJ friend of mine used "Simple Life" in one of his mixes recently and a lot of people were asking what song that was. They wondered if it was a new song you had put out. But it has been around for some time now. That’s incredible! When you actually do something and it’s somewhat contemporary but still stands against the test of our fast paced time.
Skepta: I think that comes with just being true. If you make a true album, it's timeless. That’s why you feel the same way every time you listen to Biggie Smalls’ stuff because it's always relevant. People think that because you live in a different country or you got a different name or whatever that we’re so different. But we all feel the same emotions, so when a man writes or makes a piece of art that is true to that emotion, it becomes timeless because that emotion is always there and he was real about it. That’s how it works.
CM: True. That's really interesting thought. You’ve also mentioned a lot of things about the way you approach your music with regards to putting your team first, having a mutual goal and achieving something together outside of the ordinary structures. Was there a process that made you think that way, or was that something that naturally happened?
Skepta: Nah, that definitely happened over time. The more I started working with my family, I started to understand that working with my people is what makes me happy. Like as soon as I’m working with somebody that’s not with us, it doesn’t work right because I can’t speak to them, I can’t tell them how I feel about things. So the more that I’ve worked with my family I've realised that I can say anything I want. And even if they’re going to tell me to shut up because I was chatting shit, it doesn’t matter because I’d still put it out there. But that didn’t happen at once. That happened more over time. But I love it. It’s the best feeling.
CM: Speaking of the people around you, since you've spent a lot of time around US acts recently, is there anything you took from that regarding work ethic? Because I feel like your approach now is so different from what most of the American artists do. There is this culture of showing off, being flashy etc. To me it was kind of contradictory to what you do. It’s like when you've told everybody "That’s not me" they suddenly started paying attention.
Skepta: Yeah, that’s just something that for me came with learning about yourself. If I didn’t do the same stuff, I never would be the person that I am today. One day, that realisation I had changed me to be this person, but maybe they haven’t had that same realisation. Maybe because they keep getting money. I don’t know. Everyone is different, innit? I had money, I had cars, I had whatever, but it doesn’t make you happy. Money is not happiness. To them though, it must be, because they carry on doing it. But I don’t understand it, but each to their own. I just feel more comfortable doing this, and now they appreciate it and I think that that’s the way I should have always been. I should have listened to my own mind instead of listening to other people.
CM: And how about your A$AP Mob connection? I know that Rocky is also very aware of how people look at him first and then at his crew, even though they came up together. Is that situation something you can identify with?
Skepta: Yeah, definitely man. And I feel like that’s why BBK is what it is. We’re all big in our own separate ways. Like JME is JME. He’s himself. Frisco he has got his own Grime nights, doing his own mixtapes and stuff. Shorty is working on his own stuff, Jammer has got Lord Of The Mics and is doing his stuff, Wiley is doing whatever so it’s like, we don’t depend on each other. There are a lot of teams out there that depend on each other, so they depend on that one guy and he has to take everyone through.
With my team, because I believe in everybody, and I want everybody to be equal, We all have to have the same shine, the same goal and the same spotlight, it has to be like that. I’m not better than anyone in my crew. We’re all sick. That’s why we’re in a crew. That’s very important to me.
CM: It’s like a chain - only as strong as each individual link...
Skepta: Definitely. It’s like Power Rangers man. We’re all like different rangers and then we come together and make the Megazord, you get me?
CM: [Laughs] Which ranger would you be?
Skepta: I’m the Black Ranger. Because I always wear black man. That’s just me. I always wear dark colors. But summer is coming, so I’m about to switch it up.
CM: But, you’re wearing white right now!
Skepta: That’s just for the show! [haha]
CM: Talking of Boy Better Know, you started out with your first crew, Meridian, then you were part of the Roll Deep collective, and then you guys started Boy Better Know. But there was also this situation with Wiley at one point in time, even though he’s also part of BBK. What resolved that? I mean, you guys were really trading bars at one point..
Skepta: Yeah.. [haha] Ah man. Wiley has got this thing, yeah? When people around him start to do well, he gets scared! One time he started to say like bits and pieces or whatever in his lyrics, and then he phoned me and he said: "You know what? Let’s put our albums on the same date and whoever sells more, the other person has to retire."
Skepta: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. That’s why my album "Microphone Champion" had the boxing gloves and shit on the cover. Yeah, I sold more...[haha] ...And he didn’t retire. But he’s just like a big brother. You know, always trying to bully you. It was nothing serious. We’re always going to be together in the crew. We’re just like brothers. It’s whatever.
CM: You also had a similar situation with Devilman. On your song "Nasty" you have a line in Japanese or something, right? You need to tell me what that line means. I’ve been trying to figure it out forever...
Skepta: Ahhh. That’s not Japanese, bro. That’s a secret language! That’s the Devilman’s language. To clash him I had to study his game, study how he plays the game. Clashing is like chess, so I studied his moves and found out what he does.
CM: So, what does it mean?
Skepta: What does it mean? It’s secret, bro. It’s like his language. It’s crazy. Even I want to know, but I’m on level 1 at the moment, you climb up the levels, but I’m on level 1, I don’t know everything.
CM: I noticed that you support a lot of young talent around you. You have Novelist on the crew and I heard that you’ve reached out to a few young producers in London. That’s a cool thing, seeing you try to push talent and bring in new people. Did you feel like people were supporting you when you were young and that you should give some of that back?
Skepta: I believe that that’s what life is about. I think even if I didn’t do music, I’d be a person that does things to help younger people coming up. Because as you learn things in your life, you pass it on to your children or whatever. That’s all life is about. Gaining knowledge and passing it on to the new generation so they’re more wise than the old, that’s it.
It’s the same thing I’m doing with my music. It’s something that my dad did, something that my family did- passing on the knowledge, so I've always had it in my system to do that.
CM: So if you had something to pass on to the next generation, what would that be?
Skepta: To think big man, think big. That’s it. Just always think big.
CM: I also noticed that a lot of young kids, or young artists have their individual dreams but not necessarily the courage to go with their gut, even though it’d probably be their best choice. Did you ever have that moment, when you hesitated and wondered if you were going into the right direction?
Skepta: Yeah, I think that comes with being an adult. When you grow up you get scared of let’s say riding your bike because you’re scared you’ll fall off. My thing is to always stay youthful in myself, just stay like a kid in my mind, even though I think I’m way too old to be doing the stuff that I do – I don’t care.
I’m going to be one of those old people that's such an idiot, like a little kid. But that’s the only way I can stay free and be fearless about things. When you see a kid trying to ride a bike, he’s not caring if he’s going to fall off. He scrapes his knee, gets loads of cuts everywhere, on his elbows, everything- But he doesn’t care. That’s learning. That’s how you learn. You have to fail to learn. That’s why you have to stay youthful in your mind. Always.
CM: Are you going to still be a kid when you’re sixty and do Grime?
Skepta: Yeah, I’m still going to make songs when I’m 60...if I get to 60.
CM: Let’s hope for the best, let’s knock on wood for that man. Thanks so much for having us! It’s been a pleasure.
Interview led by Flo Hettenbach
Photography by Vicky Grout