Review: Skepta – ‘Konnichiwa’

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2015 was a crucial year for grime as the genre made its first significant impression on the mainstream since the Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner in 2003. At the centre of grime’s breakthrough was Skepta and his much loved track ‘Shutdown’. Therefore, there has been a sense of anticipation surrounding Konnichiwa with many people expecting that this will be make or break for grime in the mainstream and more importantly, for mainstream American audiences too.

Konnichiwa’s title track is an exciting start to the album, the listener is greeted with the sound of unsheathed katanas and sirens, this album will be aggressive. The title track also introduces the central lyrical themes of the album, mainly Skepta’s rise to the mainstream ‘when I touch the road I make history’. ‘Lyrics’  brings a heavier bass line as Novelist, one of grime’s hottest new talents, features. Like ‘Konnichiwa’, this track references Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner, this further highlights the importance of Konnichiwa n grime history. It represents a changing of guard. Skepta, the last of grime’s pioneers is bringing the upcoming talents along with him.

The title of ‘Corn on the Curb’ reflects the dark humour that is often present in grime. Compared to the blistering pace of this ‘Lyrics’ is not reflected in this track where spacey synths and arpeggiated pianos lead. The Skepta of this song is Skepta the superstar, a prospective love interest ‘killed the conversation’ when his real name is asked. This is the superstar Skepta. However, Skepta also confesses that he has ‘mad pressures from every side’ this is delivered during a phone conversation within the song. This seems to imply that the diva-like behaviour is merely a façade.

‘Crime Riddim’ is a highlight. Here, Skepta is at his lyrical best, the song tells a story about a run in with police and the beat is the most varied. The song ends with another recorded telephone call; this time with Skepta taunting an American. This feels like Skepta is telling people that he won’t be selling out to the American audience. However, the Pharrell produced and featuring track ‘Numbers’ is a departure from grime and is more pop than the other tracks on the album. The beat of this track hops whilst it bounces on the rest of the album. Another American collaboration is with A$AP Nast on ‘Ladies Hit Squad’. This is the weakest song on the album by a considerable margin, the lyrics almost make one physically cringe ‘back so big it looks like your jeans got shrunk in the wash’.

‘Man’ is the most recent single from Konnichiwa. This song is energetic, and very British sounding. This song embraces grime and the family-like nature of the scene ‘I got my day ones and my new ones’. This is the most out and out grime track along with ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’. Both of these tracks have been in the mainstream for so long (released in 2015 and 2014 respectively) which highlights a potential problem within grime, that it is difficult to be truly innovative when the rules of the genre are so strict.

The closing track ‘Text Me Back’ is slow and a weak attempt at an emotional ending to the album. Nevertheless, the album as a whole is a testiment to how far grime has come in the last year. Grime is best when it sticks to its roots, as is Skepta. This may not be the album that makes it across the pond but it is an album which will further the appeal of grime music worldwide.

7.4 

 

 

Review: Beyoncé – ‘Lemonade’

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Beyoncé’s sixth album comes with little  fanfare, it doesn’t need to. By this stage of her career, Beyoncé needs no introduction. As ever, Beyoncé is models herself as role model for women all over the world. Whilst female empowerment is a central theme in Lemonade, the album as a whole is more personal look at her relationship with iconic rapper Jay-Z.

There is a cacophony of emotions throughout the  album, from the paranoia in ‘Hold Up’, to the defiant independent snarls of ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ and then the damaged optimism of ‘Love Drought’. These emotions are underpinned by the sense of betrayal that permeates through every note of the album.

Lemonade is at its strongest when Beyoncé is at her most defiant.  ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ is an example of this, her Beyoncé snarls expletives as the Led Zeppelin samples cascade around Jack White-esque squeaks and scrapes. Jack White’s vocals here and snatchy and whilst they are not as strong as Beyoncé’s they complement one another. ‘Daddy Lessons’ marches with a ballsy country stomp with ‘yeehaws!’ being shouted throughout. Even the piano-led ‘Sandcastles’ is driven by the strength of the raw emotion. Beyoncé is at her best when she is at her strongest. In ‘Freedom’ this strength is no longer personal, it is sexual and racial.

That being said, aspects of this album do no fit together, James Blake’s cameo on ‘Forward’ seems out of place in such a personal album. Moreover, Beyoncé’s singing about Jay-Z’s infidelity wears thin and by the end of the album it feels as though Beyoncé is airing her dirty laundry rather than empowering herself.

7.2