A 1-listen review of Skepta’s new EP, ‘All In’
King Skep makes a concise & typically remarkable return
King Skep makes a concise & typically remarkable return
Back in March, following the release of JAE5’s “Dimension”, Skepta hinted at retirement. In a series of cryptic posts on his Instastories, the grime lord hinted at being “out” after a series of drops lined up for the year. Taking to the same medium earlier this month, he refuted claims that he was planning to stop making music, insisting that he was music personified. It’s hard to discount his claim: in addition to his work with JAE5 and Rema on “Dimension,” Skepta worked on the Fast and Furious 9 soundtrack, collaborating with late New York drill rapper Pop Smoke and A$AP Rocky on a track titled “Lane Switcha.”
His refutation of retirement has also flowed into an announcement of new music, with a synchronized social media post earlier this week signalling a new body of work to be titled All In. Skepta’s first solo project since 2019’s Ignorance Is Bliss, the five-tracker has already caused some excitement on Twitter due to the presence of Alté pioneer, Teezee, on a track alongside rap-punk star, Kid Cudi, as well as a song with Colombian Reggaeton megastar, J Balvin. There are production credits for long-time collaborator, Ragz Originale, and JAE5, with many eager to see what direction Skepta heads towards on one of his shorter projects. For what it’s worth, it is a needed update from one of the most intriguing music figures of the last decade, especially one who has played such a crucial role in closing the chasm between the British music scene and Nigeria’s eruptive cultural landscape.
In the usual 1-listen review fashion, all reactions are in real-time while the music plays. No pauses, rewinds, fast-forwards or skips.
There’s no time for sentiments on this opener, Skepta is going straight into it and I think these are thoughts he’s wanted to get off for a while that has had to wait. I like how the bass is not overpowering his voice, just gliding with it and anchoring his message even if his verse starts out a bit slow. Most rappers usually start these sorts of projects with introspective tracks, but Skepta isn’t necessarily approaching this one like he ever went away. The fade-out effect at the end is also classy, adds something extra to a song about being loyal to your people and living your best life. Great opener.
“Peace of Mind” (feat. Teezee and Kid Cudi)
The one everyone wants to hear. I can’t recognize that sample at the beginning but I love that it switches up for Kid Cudi to come through with that punk energy. It all feels so raw and everyone is trying to get grandiose lines off. I feel like there’s just a sense of organized chaos at the heart of this song, everyone is here for a good time and a line like “I’m not politically correct” just sums it how non-conforming this song is. Skepta’s referenced Sex Education, so he’s up-to-date with pop culture and the bit about Zinedine Zidane is quite cheeky too, would have loved some more spurts of melody but alas I don’t get to make such decisions; asides from that, a delightfully rowdy track
Hearing “JAE5” heave at the beginning almost feels like a promise. This is the one: melodic, tempered rapping from Skepta. That’s what operating in nexus with someone like J Balvin just does. The guitar chords that undergird the track are so subtle but defining, they add a special flavour to the song, shouts to JAE5. Balvin’s voice is so pentatonic and even though I don’t understand Spanish, I just know he’s gone and got into a perfect zone that works for him, his cadence is at a perfect level to enliven the song, too. I’m adding this to my car ride playlist.
In a project of brags, this one stands out but it also feels odd as an attempt to engineer a party anthem. I like the chants but it just isn’t getting that response from me. But I’ll definitely try this one again tomorrow with some alcohol inside me to see how I respond.
Let’s go. There’s ice in Skepta’s vein on this one when he rapped that “we aren’t trying to take any L” line. The energy from the “Showtime Riddim” sample is genuinely brilliant because the way this beat is attacked demands that constant cheering sound and I like the reference to his guys pulling up like it’s Merky Fest. And he’s an African Giant too, so I don’t think anyone wants that smoke. It’s genuinely an uplifting one. I like this, I recommend this, I am replaying this after I write my final thoughts on the project.
It’s hard to imagine that Skepta has anything major to prove musically, after more than 15 years spent at the forefront of Grime and black British music and culture, he’s purely in this for the sport of laying his thoughts on exciting instrumentals like he largely manages to do here successfully. And that lack of worries unburdens the rapper to make a project that leans into themes of opulence and celebration, after the shadowy experimentalism of last year’s Insomnia with Chip and Young Adz. At five songs, All In is Skepta’s most concise body of work and a much-needed statement as his creative output extends beyond music.
Favouring an eclectic mix of soul and dancehall samples across the different tracks on All In, Skepta floats across a number of music styles while accompanied by guests who fit within the narrative of just trying to make the most exciting music they can at this exact moment: think Kid Cudi and Teezee colliding chaotically on “Peace of Mind” and Skepta’s melodic verse flowing into J Balvin’s pristine delivery on “Nirvana.”
A lyric-to-lyric study of All In will reveal little about the intimate details of Skepta’s life but listened to purely as an effort in technicality and presence management, it retains the gritty magnetism that makes Skepta a compelling figure.
Listen to All In here.
@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.