Skepta turns inward on ‘Ignorance is Bliss’

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 5:14pm

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I can’t lie. I don’t know much about music in the United Kingdom. I don’t know much about the references, I don’t know much about the difference between UK hip hop and grime, I don’t know much about the scene’s key players and I sure as hell don’t know much about the politics and societal dynamics. The only thing I do know is that Skepta is one of the greats, and on Ignorance is Bliss, he proves it in a way that only Skepta could.

Skepta, a man typically known for off-the-wall tracks like “Ed Hardy Party” and “Shutdown,” hilarious one-liners and off-kilter production, is notably subdued on Ignorance is Bliss; he rarely picks up the pace as he raps. For a man who has never been one to hold punches, Skepta keeps to himself on this album. Rather than going on the offensive and cracking wise at whoever pops into his mind first, he instead plays defense and returns any remark made against him to its origin.

It makes sense, though. Just listen to the album’s opener “Bullet from a Gun.” Throughout the song, Skepta describes everything that has been going on in his life since his last release, Konnichiwa. In an interview with YouTube Music, Skepta said “Bullet from a Gun” was released first because it perfectly sums up what the album is about. That is to say, the song proves just why ignorance is bliss. In fact, in the same interview, Skepta proclaims, “(‘Bullet from a Gun’) should have been called ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ because it just explains that.”

On the track, Skepta is introspective without being confessional. He keeps it real for the entire song, but only once does he let his guard down. In this moment he raps, “Recently, I’ve been learnin’ a lot / All I know is there’s no better feeling / Than getting home and seeing my little girl in her cot.” This is a powerful statement for Skepta, as he has never been known to bring much of his personal life into his songs, instead opting to focus on the perception of his public persona. That said, “Bullet from a Gun” confirms that a new Skepta is about to rear his head on Ignorance is Bliss.

Though there is a new Skepta in the building, he stays true to himself and tries to appeal to the masses by including his typical fanfare. He attempts crossover hits with tracks like “Glow in the Dark” and the J Hus-assisted “What Do You Mean?” but largely misses the mark. “Glow in the Dark,” featuring WizKid and Lay-Z, is by far the least interesting track on the album. Skepta brings it, of course, but WizKid and Lay-Z sound less than inspired on the hook. On the other hand, “What Do You Mean?” shows just how successful Skepta can be with songs like this. It has massive appeal, thanks in part to Skepta’s charisma, J Hus’s god-tier hook and a ridiculous beat with a prominent organ-like synth line. Despite this, Skepta is at his best when he sticks to his own lane without worrying about putting out a hit.

Skepta retains his status as a grime MC on tracks like “No Sleep,” “Same Old Story” and bonus track “Pure Water.” He even pays homage to UK garage on “Love Me Not” by sampling the near-classic “Murder on the Dancefloor” by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. However, he sticks closest to his roots on “Gangsta,” the Boy Better Know (BBK) posse cut featuring Shorty, Frisco, Jammer and Jme. The song is pure, unadulterated grime, featuring some of the best MCs to ever do it. Skepta himself produced the icy, synth-laden beat, over which the BBK crew all talk their shit about the current scene and the posers trying to infiltrate. Perhaps the best part of the song is when Jammer spits, “Run man down like Sloth in Goonies” and then adlibs a distant, echoing “Hey you guys,” paying homage to the 1985 classic film. It’s ridiculous, but that’s the name of the grime game.

If Skepta can manage to balance grime’s ridiculousness with his newfound introspection, his next release will be poised to be even more remarkable than Ignorance is Bliss, and that’s saying something. He doesn’t need to fuss with the crossover hits because he’s going to land himself a hit with every release, regardless. Ignorance is Bliss was a more-than-adequate and, at times, outstanding introduction to a Skepta that is somehow better than he was before. If he continues to improve and learns to trim the superfluous tracks, then Skepta’s next project is sure to surpass even the highest expectations.