“There may be trouble ahead” echoes the baritone and booming voice from the Middle East Bar in Boston, U.S. Those bass filled tones belong to none other than the Grime high master Skepta. Just how much ‘trouble’ Skepta has caused for his peers by being embraced by an unbreakable market where movies are made and dreams come true not even the man himself could have predicted the warm response he has received from the U.S and luckily noisy productions were there to capture the events as they unfolded for Skepta’s documentary ‘Top Boy’ released 18th November.
“The first time I came to the U.S I was representing the sound from the streets in the UK.” Skepta reveals to camera during one of many insightful moments in the documentary” he adds; “I was representing the grime culture back home in the U.K and giving the crowd a sample of grime straight from the speakers. This time it’s totally different because I’m here in my own right, I never know what to expect when I get up on that stage, I may as well be back at home because I’ve got the mandem with me rapping along with me the crowd are rapping my bars back to me, I may as well be in the endz”
The Endz Skepta refers to are in Tottenham, London and the mandem Skepta mentions are better known to me and you as Boy better know (BBK) formed in 2005 to allow the crew to release the music they wanted heard in their own right and in their own way and includes long time affiliates Shorty, Jammer, Frisco, on occasion Wiley and his grime star brother JME. Interestingly he brings his boys out to the U.S with him and extends the invite to Krept n Konan and 1 xtra D.J Twin B so that before and after every show he can indulge in “Straight up mobbing.” Watching the documentary you get a real sense of how Skepta’s crew keep him grounded and sane amidst all the hype from the U.S fans which he questions constantly throughout the film, as though he’s still in disbelief that he managed to “Shake shit up” so far away from home. After watching Skepta dressed all in white as though he were the saviour of music spittin blazin bars to a crowd of predominantly white mosh pitters in Queens New York Twin B shares “They love him out here and back home because you can see he loves, lives and believes in what he does. It’s crazy how the crowd knew the lyrics, even those back in the dayz lyrics! He represents a confidence in black culture and has helped to restore the British identity and urban artists from the UK are proud to be themselves again”
Everywhere Skepta goes the crowds turn out and turn all the way up in their hundreds to see him whether it was Boston, Washington or Queens the result was the same – an energetic crowd rhyming along to lyrics as far back as 2006 and losing their minds bouncing to the bass filled beats. There’s even a blink and you’ll miss it appearance from none other than Jaden Smith! Skepta isn’t just Steppin steady he’s sprinting sonically to the very top. Although Skepta is currently enjoying the dizzying heights of fame on both sides of the Atlantic he is under no illusion that he is responsible for the rise of Grime and in a reflective moment states “I’ve been doing this for over 10 years and it’s been a process for Grime to gain the recognition it deserved but the time is now it’s a very good time for grime and underground music in general. Grime isn’t gonna grow just from what I’m doing; the whole community has to come together and work hard. The internet is helping artists to flourish and those artists with clarity in who they are and what they are doing it’s now their time to prosper.
It wasn’t all work and no play though there are hilarious scenes within the documentary where the crew are catching jokes and taking the piss out of the tour manager’s trainers because Shorty had an accident and bled all over them (don’t ask, just peep it) or my favourite scene when Skepta and the fam decide to throw 3 attractive but not that buff Boston girls off the tour bus for a reason that will have you creasin for days! It’s also great if you want to know which oils to bring with you to a pamper day at your local salon as Skepta talks about his day at a spa in a blissed out Zen like state of calm and about how he enjoyed the benefits of water with freshly sliced cucumbers sat at the bottom of the glass! It was in watching these moments I realised just why Skepta has become the unofficial champion of Grime overseas – He’s charismatic, he’s energetic he’s talented and has the rare quality of being insightful and hilarious all at the same time. He has a depth and maturity beyond his years and has an instinctive understanding of all the unseen layers of this game they call Grime. Asked why Skepta has blown up state side one Washington fan shares “I feel I can relate to Skepta. He’s accessible and down to earth and he’s not flashy, he just has on the one gold chain and he’s understated a lot of our rappers in the U.S rap about bitches, cars and money and I can’t relate to that. I can relate to Skepta’s struggles growing up in the endz because most of us have been through those struggles.”
The documentary culminates with Skepta and his boys literally ‘Runnin through the 6’ but he has no woes to speak of in this moment of glory; instead he remarks on how surreal it is to hear his idol Drake rapping about the 6 and to now see it in living colour glaring back at him as the entourage make their way to OVO fest in Toronto for a guest slot on Drake’s set. Drake has kept Skepta’s hotline blingin all year long with shout outs, features, and just being all round hype man for Skepta resulting in a much coveted co-sign which any artist would welcome. As Drake and Skepta (or Wiley and Dizzee as Skepta refers to their mentor/mentee relationship) take to the stage the crowd is gassed, the infectious energy swirls around the arena as a grime giant and a hip hop legend align to give the crowd what they came for and cause a mass shutdown. It’s at this moment I realised that with the influence of Drake’s Midas touch and the realism of Skepta’s talent the world has to pay attention…don’t they?
As Skepta stares slightly out of focus with an intensity and conviction in his eyes he laments “One day another rapper will come along and the heat will be on them; I’m not anxious about it. People will remember what I’ve achieved. Once the spotlight fades away from you and focuses on the next big thing people will ask “When it was your time to shine, what did you do to change the game?”
Watch Skepta’s documentary ‘Top Boy’ below.