Words: Jesse Bernard

Every conversation regarding the great grime albums almost always falls back to Boy In Da Corner vs Home Sweet Home. I get it: they changed everything, forever. But albums like Skepta’s Greatest Hits weren’t expected to achieve much. It’s difficult even finding a review on the album, which says a lot about the lack of investment of belief in Skepta and what he could do. As the project turns ten years old, the MC hasn’t really taken his foot off the gas and his success is indeed proof of that.

Released independently after being rejected by numerous labels, Greatest Hits felt more like it mirrored a mood when I revisited it earlier this month. It was a hype album, and that’s something Boy Better Know were always gifted at: creating a mood of hype with their music. And we should attribute some importance to the power of hype music, especially as many of those listening to it experienced a frustration and needed a release for it. I get the sense that Skepta’s a restless person; laid back, but also eager to move onto the next thing. That sounds quite normal for people who often have a lot to prove and that’s something that has stayed with him since Greatest Hits (and something he addresses on Konnichiwa’s “Corn On The Curb”). He’s a worker, and his output has always been reflective of that, but this happens to be the very thing that has kept Skepta at the forefront of our minds, and why we like him.

Hearing “I Spy” all over again was nostalgic for a lot of reasons. Back when it was called “Spaceship Freestyle” featuring Jme, it was hard to come across a MySpace page that didn’t have it as a profile song. Facebook was barely the beast it is now, and Twitter was a verb, not a noun. MySpace was integral to building a fan base between 2005-07 and with music a core feature of the platform, it gave room to independent artists to build a following, long before SoundCloud graced the world. If it wasn’t for MySpace, Skepta’s ascent wouldn’t have grown as much as it did in his early years, and BBK knew how to use it. Their empire was built on it and it was the first place where the BBK merchandise became popularised. Greatest Hits is a reminder of a time when independence was in congruence with being accessible.

If anything, Greatest Hits highlights the change in Skepta’s audience over the years, especially with the “Ayia Napa 2006 Skit”—a recording of himself in an Ayia Napa jail. The year Greatest Hits came out, BBK had spent most of the summer in the Mediterranean touring a number of the party islands, such as Zante and Malia. If you were seeing Skepta on stage in a club, it was likely you were working-class, being the very thing that is seen as fashion today. Seeing Skepta, who you’d been spinning in your car, in a foul-smelling club in Napa is grime in its literal and figurative sense.

There’s a feeling as though, at least in my bones, that to not give Skepta the credit he deserves is contrarian. “Shutdown”, which became the milestone for new grime in the eyes of more recent fans, isn’t one of Skepta’s greatest songs when you look at his entire catalogue of releases; honestly, it probably wouldn’t be in his top twenty and that’s a good thing. The sign of a talented artist isn’t the volume of hits, but more so the amount of quality songs that surpass the most popular ones.

Perhaps that’s why Konnichiwa didn’t register as well with veteran Skepta fans, not because it wasn’t good—it deserved the Mercury Prize last year—but because, take away the hits, there were fewer songs that were representative of what a Skepta project sounds like. The mood was very much the same but it felt different on Konnichiwa, where Greatest Hits displayed an uninhibited, wide-eyed approach.

Greatest Hits is reminiscent of a time where our nights were occupied by aimless, late-night drives because we were bored. Driving down the A10 with “I Spy” to get Turkish food in Wood Green meant something when five man, and sometimes the guy who volunteered to get in the boot, are going bar for bar. There’s a lot of romanticisation about ‘road life’, but for a lot of fans who weren’t about that life, albums like Greatest Hits were the soundtrack to youthful restlessness.

Posted on September 18, 2017