The veteran UK MC Joseph Adenuga, also known as Skepta, returned last month with his new album Ignorance is Bliss after a three-year wait. Skepta’s Mercury Prize-winning 2016 album Konnichiwa marked a comeback of sorts for the grime icon, as it saw Skepta embracing his urban roots, coming back to the glitchy sounds of grime after dabbling with more mainstream pop sounds. Konnichiwa also managed to export grime and UK music, as well as Skepta himself, to the US market, with the help of friend and superstar Drake. However, on Konnichiwa it was clear the American influence was a two-way street, as sounds of drill and trap also managed to land on the album, combining the sounds of two similar but distinct national styles.
Generally, Ignorance is Bliss sees a continuation of the combination of trap and grime presented in Konnichiwa and is executed to a similar degree of quality. The production is sparse, yet hard-hitting; familiar yet experimental. The lyrics are typical Skepta. The delivery is bouncy and effortless, while the subject matter revolves around the themes of identity and growth. The sound and lyrical content for the album as a whole is neatly packaged by the opening track, Bullet from a Gun, which also happens to be one of the standouts. The chilling and meditative opener presents Skepta as a wiser and more fully moulded man than the one he was three years before. He addresses the listener with advice and introspection as he tries to face his mistakes: ‘The world spins round and round, fam lessons have to get learned’.
The second track Greaze Mode, with the recognisable rapid and 808s and bass-heavy trap drums, highlights the American influence, as Skepta continues to bridge the Atlantic. A sure club banger, Greaze Mode combines the percussion of trap with the melodic shimmering synths of grime to great success. Expect this track to be a mainstay on the radio, at least until Autumn.
The rest of the album follows a similar pattern, alternating between a more trap influenced US approach and his London roots. This crisscrossing also boils down to his use of features as well, with the track Redrum employing Atlanta rapper ‘KEY!’ to make use of the sounds on this track native to his hometown. Two tracks later see the darling of UK scene J Hus being employed for a more 90s US West Coast directed effort with the song What Do You Mean?
While the interweaving of the UK and US styles do not necessarily point to a revolution in music, it does point to Skepta’s stylistic versatility, which can also be showcased in two other standout tracks, that employ another staple of the UK sound, garage. On Love Me Not, Skepta returns to a familiar style seen in his Blacklisted album with the now classic I Spy. Sensual female vocal samples float in the background as this mellow track takes a necessary detour to a softer place, following an onslaught of aggression. Similarly, Same Old Story feels like a throwback to the heyday of The Streets, as Skepta dives into some familiar subject matter of self-reflection.
While this album is not ground-breaking, it shows Skepta’s continued presence as a leader of the UK movement, who knows his own scene inside and out, with one eye also set across the pond.