Every so often, musicians whose worlds couldn’t seem further apart collide with each other in the form of collaboration, and for better or worse they create something which pulls their divergent paths closer to one another. Jack White’s Bond theme with Alicia Keys is a fine example of when it works, Metallica’s ten track flirtation with Lou Reed on Lulu…not so much. But it’s the thought that counts, right? The pushing together of seemingly incompatible worlds is always an exciting prospect, and Skepta’s sampling of Queens of the Stone Age is no exception.
The grime veteran has released new single Man (Gang) in anticipation of his upcoming record Konnichiwa, an album which features the likes of younger bro JME, Wiley and a bloke called Pharrell. The QotSA sample comes on the eighth track of the next record, propelling Man (Gang) with its screeching lap-steel instrumentation which loops through the whole track. It’s a subtle move, and without having credited the California band most Skepta disciples wouldn’t know the difference. The sample fits him wonderfully; Skepta sets a typically aggressive tone as he discusses fickle friendships and staying ‘real’ in the transition from being a UK grime artist to fronting the genre on a worldwide scale.
As so much of boxing is built upon talk, it’s much the same with rap (especially grime). Pre-game intimidation and squaring up to the opponent before either silencing the doubters or falling at their feet. Grime has risen from its east London stomping ground and is now hell-bent on stomping across the world. In spite of its humble roots and no small police suppression, it’s made its presence known in the mainstream consciousness. That being said, roots are important to Skepta, as he neglects to mention new-found pals Drake and Kanye in his rhymes but does find time to name-check a “Shoreditch car park” and “Camden Town”. This ambassadorial role is a source of both humour and sincerity, giving lectures to weak rappers and part-time fans on Man (Gang): “I’ll be schooling MC’s / nobody leaves till half-past three”. The headmaster of grime has spoken.
As always, Skepta narrates this growth with wit and a dash of bad blood: “you’re upset cos’ your wife is a fan / she’s done with a little boy now she wants to be with a man”. This sounds like standard rap fodder without the next line: “I told my accountant do me a transfer / cos’ I wanna buy some land”. From Tottenham to Coachella (if it wasn’t for those pesky US immigration controllers) Skepta has made it known that grime is not just a UK delicacy, but something for the whole world to feast on.