Release Date: May 31, 2019
Record label: Boy Better Know
Genre(s): Rap, Grime
The Tottenham rapper's comeback is a diverse-sounding, assured success, a muscular record that conveys global ambition, drawing on a dizzying collection of sounds and influences 'Konnichiwa' seems like a very long time ago. Since Skepta more than deservedly took the Mercury Prize for his fourth album in 2016, the Tottenham rapper has maintained a relatively low-profile, appearing on the odd featured track, with mixed results. 'England Lost', a collaboration with Mick Jagger, was genuinely harrowing, an anti-Brexit rap-rock crossover on which Mick griped about having lost England down the back of the sofa as though you'd startled him mid-afternoon nap.
"That's Not Me" deliberately evoked, both sonically and lyrically, the anarchic spirit of early grime - a genre which all-but collapsed as many of its young innovators succumbed to the allure of short-lived chart success via naff pop singles (Skepta himself included). In 2019, grime has yet again slipped from the very apex of pop culture, though a healthy underground scene still thrives and a handful of breakout stars (Stormzy, Wiley , JME et al) remain enormously influential. Despite the genre's shift in prominence, it has left behind a wealth of revered home-grown talent, and Skepta retains his place at the forefront.
In May 2016--before Brexit, before Trump, before plastic straw bans--Skepta released Konnichiwa, an uncompromising blow to the establishment and one of the best grime albums of the decade. The Mercury Prize-winning album quickly turned the heads of UK execs bent on ignoring homegrown talent, becoming a beacon to younger MCs who sought broader recognition. It received an unprecedented Top 10 placement in the UK charts, leading the way for a number of rappers who would follow in his slipstream.
If you're new to Skepta and hoping to settle into his sound, Ignorance Is Bliss is not the place to start. While Skepta is far too seasoned to make a truly bad album, for much of his latest effort, he seems to rest on his laurels. Longtime fans will be relieved — a good chunk of the album is enjoyable. "No Sleep," with its chaotic, industrial feel, is hallmark grime and "Going Through It" is moody and introspective, supported by a murky, mechanical beat that brims with grit. Skepta flirts with trap on "Greaze Mode," but doesn't lose ….
When Konnichiwa came out three years ago, it finally felt like Skepta had settled on something distinctly his. By reconnecting with his early sound, renouncing awkward stabs at pop and connecting with like-minded artists across the world, his music came of age. He also cultivated a look that was razor-sharp, instantly recognisable and extremely influential, spawning several Nike collaborations, his own 'MAINS' line and a GQ cover with Naomi Campbell.
A lot has changed for Skepta in the three years since the release of his Mercury Prize-winning, Brit nominated, fourth studio album 'Konnichiwa'. From having a daughter, to dating a supermodel and even becoming a Nigerian Chief, there was not an absence of content for him to explore when creating 'Ignorance Is Bliss'. Even in the genre of grime itself there has been development and steps in a forward direction with Stormzy taking over the commercial space, Wiley being awarded an MBE and most recently Ghetts getting an Ivor Novello nomination for his track 'Black Rose' from his album 'Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament'.
G rime is a particularly complicated genre in which to mature, not least for an MC whose gravelly delivery and fierce intelligence have long given him the aura of an elder statesman. Having won the Mercury prize with his last full-length, 2016's Konnichiwa, and crossed over to US hip-hop audiences, the bar for Skepta's long-awaited fifth album is set high. Ignorance Is Bliss handles the MC's next steps with authority and, crucially, popping production.