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Joseph Junior Adenuga, better known as Skepta, is a man who’s operated under plenty of guises. He’s a genuine triple threat of DJ, MC, and producer – and as a leading member of one of grime’s most influential crews, Boy Better Know, Skepta has played a role in every era of the sound’s cyclical ups and downs.
His career spans all the way from the early days of pirate radio and car boot white label sales, through the scene’s first ill-fated flirtations with the charts (or, in the case of the All Over The House [NSFW] video, sometimes a little more than just flirting), to staying rooted in the scene during its early-2010s retreat into instrumental experiments with Butterz, Hyperdub, Harddrive and others.
He kickstarted the mid-noughties grime renaissance with the £80 video for That’s Not Me and a career-best album in the form of Konnichiwa, and his persistence has earned him the respect of his peers from across the Atlantic too – one-time Boy Better Know signee Drake most notable among them.
But long before he was picking up Mercury Prizes and Ivor Novellos, Skepta’s musical dalliances began with two decks and a mixer: spinning tracks in the early noughties for north London’s Meridian Crew. Named after the Tottenham estate its members grew up on, the group included Big H, President T, Bossman, Meridian Dan, Paper Pabs, and Skepta’s younger brother Jme. Meridian burned brightly, but not for long: other than a handful of radio sets and vinyl releases, the crew’s real legacy lies in what its members would go on to do later – and none more so than Skepta.
The crew disbanded around 2005, but it was as a Meridian member that Skepta’s first experiments with Music 2000 and Fruity Loops started showing promise. Tracks such as D.T.I (named for the authorities responsible for locating and shutting down pirate radio operations) and Private Caller picked up allstar vocal treatments and went into regular rotation on influential stations such as Rinse, Déjà vu, and Heat FM.
As well as showcasing Skepta’s early production chops, they set a blueprint for the young maverick’s sound that would define his sonic identity for years to come: the sawtoothed synths, off-centre rhythms, and handful of squelchy signature soundbites present on those early tracks are as much a part of his musical palette today as they were back in 2003.
After a run in with the police put paid to his nascent DJing career (“they took all my records off me,” he told Martin Clark aka Blackdown for the liner notes of his 2008 mix CD for Rinse), Skepta was coaxed onto the mic by grime scene godfather Wiley. A short stint as a member of Roll Deep followed, before Skepta left to form Boy Better Know along with his younger brother.
Having proclaimed himself the King Of Grime and put out a debut album called Greatest Hits in 2007, Skepta’s confidence on the mic was without question. Indeed, it’s as an MC that he’s best known: crisp diction, tons of reload bars, and a stage and radio presence that remains unmatched – his Lord Of The Mics 2 clash with Devilman and a clutch of Tim Westwood freestyles would be enough to cement his icon status alone. But to overlook his work as a producer is to do him – and, frankly, yourself – a disservice.
A master of doing lots with very little – see UFO, which stirs screwface-inducing grooves from barely a handful of notes – over the years he’s turned his signature grimey sound to everything from bassline on Dupps (synonymous with his own “doin’ it again” bars), to UK funky flavours on Grime, or a melange of the three on sweetboy anthem Tingles. And that’s before you take into consideration the raft of pond-crossing hits to his name – Da Shine, a collab with A$AP Rocky, has picked up three plaques to date.
Even as Skepta’s star has risen (filming freestyles outside Meridian Walk to covering GQ alongside Naomi Campbell is quite the career arc), he’s retained his sonic identity. The beats on 2019’s tripped-out Ignorance Is Bliss sound as futuristic in their own right as Gunshot Riddim or D.T.I did almost two decades ago.
In this way, Skepta is an artist in the truest sense: a born innovator with a unique vision, and the ability to bring it to life. Go on then.
Click to DOWNLOAD (65MB)
- Skepta – Gunshot Riddim (Pulse Eskimo) [Wiley Kat, 2002]
- Skepta – Grime [Pirate Sessions, 2007]
- Skepta – D.T.I [Dice Recordings, 2003]
- Terror Danjah – Love Is Here To Stay (Skepta Remix) [Aftershock, 2004]
- Skepta – Serious Thugz [Boy Better Know, 2004]
- JME – Hench (Skepta Remix) [Adamantium Music, 2007]
- Skepta – Rewinder [Pirate Sessions, 2007]
- Skepta – Rockstar (Poomplex Edit) [Adamantium Music, 2007]
- Skepta – Dirty [Dice Recordings, 2003]
- Skepta – Slow Wind [Boy Better Know, 2004]
- Skepta – Reggae [Adamantium Music, 2007]
- Skepta – UFO [Boy Better Know, 2010]
- Skepta – Sonorous [Adamantium Music, 2007]
- Skepta – Private Caller 2 [Boy Better Know, 2010]
- Ruff Sqwad – Pied Piper (Skepta Remix) [RSQ, 2005]
- Skepta – Dupps [Pirate Sessions, 2007]
- Skepta – Are You Ready? [Boy Better Know, 2006]
- Skepta – Tingles [Pirate Sessions, 2007]
Big love to Hedmuk for the words
Big love to Truant for the epic mix (and his patience) – recorded back in 2016 across vinyl, CD and digital
30 minutes of Bass education #32 will follow when it’s ready – find the previous mixes here.