One of grime’s success stories delivers a perfectly pop third album.
Melissa Bradshaw 2011-02-08
Skepta is a big grime success story. Since attracting underground attentions with tracks like Duppy and Too Many Man, the Boy Better Know co-founder has set his sights on continually broader horizons. His 2010 singles Bad Boy and Rescue Me both charted without radio support, and latest single Cross My Heart had well over a million YouTube views even before it was released. He has even tackled Diddy – Dirty Money’s Hello Good Morning, here in a grime remix guise.
Yet Skepta seems to be having some less than straightforward feelings about his status. Rescue Me, for instance, confidently bridges its catchy chorus with a dubstep riff, but its refrain is odd – apparently at an apex of a stellar trajectory, Skepta complains about not getting any love. Elsewhere the album features friends accusing him of getting too arrogant and complaints that life’s like a box of (Cadbury’s) Roses – when the chocolate’s eaten, the (w)rapper gets thrown away. The title-track and Cross My Heart give the deliberate message that Skepta’s not going to forget his roots, even if he is sitting in a white mansion surrounded by chandeliers and models in suspenders, and his sound has taken a distinctly pop direction.
Skepta’s delivery is always confident and often witty and, if it fails fully to showcase his vocal flexibility, this album is most captivating for his evident self-entrapment. On Big, our man struggles in a paranoid paradox where "my life ended ages ago", but he still wants to make it even bigger. Throughout the album he switches between bragging about his fame and finding it lonely at the top. Taking Too Long seems to be in response to a girl ignoring him on Twitter. Listening to boastful tracks like So Alive (featuring N-Dubz), you can see perhaps better than Skepta himself that the very values he espouses might be contributing to his troubles. But this self-contradiction makes him as human and vulnerable as the rest of us, and that is this album’s true charm.