in a rare interview, skepta talks success, envy, and needing a break
Backstage is where the magic chat happens. Join i-D as we catch up with the man that took grime global.
It's been a while since we sat down with our mate Skepta. In the past year, his star has risen insanely fast; Konnichiwa went gold, he made Apple Music's Skepta: Greatness Only documentary with his sister Julie Adenuga, won the Mercury Music Prize, got his own interlude on Drake's mixtape, and threw a party of epic proportions at Alexandra Palace attended by everyone who is anyone in the grime scene, and way beyond.
Redefining British music and building his legacy has understandably taken up a lot of time, so Skepta rarely gives interviews. But backstage, ahead of his charity gig at Islington Assembly Hall (that raised over $37,000 for Shelter), we had a lot of catching up to do. Behind round sunglasses and through gold grills, Skepta told us why society needs to get over the cult of celebrity, what happens when you achieve your childhood dreams, and that he really needs a holiday.
This is such a great event. Why did you choose to partner with Shelter?
I knew they did shows so I told my manager to sort it.
And what are your experiences of homelessness personally?
I've just been around it a lot, I live in London! When you think about how bad life is sometimes, look for your blessings. I don't think it's just up to people in my position to do things, it's all of us. No matter what I've been doing this week, I've been thinking about today.
Are you looking forward to performing?
Yeah, I love it. I love that my music's at a place where even if I'm tired, even if I'm not in the mood, whatever emotion I'm in, my music makes everything okay again, even if it's just for that time. People in the crowd, they come to see me do this thing, and I could be going through anything. It's a proper blessing to be making music that I love.
So do you see it as an escape?
Not now. I wouldn't say it's an escape now because, you know, everything's kind of cool. Everything's okay. So it's not an escape, it's like a party, my own party. No matter what happens in my life, I can put on a party and people come and party with me and I just really, really, really enjoy it. It's sick, everybody that works here was telling me how excited everyone was about it. This show was so quickly done. It wasn't about whether it was sold out, it didn't matter that it's not a 10,000 capacity... shit like this explains everything.
You've got Conor H and Aaron Ferrucci opening for you tonight.
These guys… I did the Levi's Music Project with them. We did a music course and then all performed at the V&A. When I first met them I remember them all staring and I was like, no no no guys, we're on a level. We're gonna do this course and make music and then we're gonna do a show. Just seeing it happen, it was so sick. It was a 360 trip. Anyway, I told them I was doing this event and they said they'd love to come down and open for me. I was scared that it was going to be a course where it was bare rappers and shit because it's me, but there were pianists, guitar players, bassists, keys, rappers, singers, DJs, producers, everyone.
Very cool. Is there any kind of music that you listen to that you think would surprise people?
I listen to everything now. I used to hear songs when I was younger and judge them. I'd think, okay, I don't look like that or dress like that or talk like that, so I don't like that music. But as I've grown, I'm a fucking question mark. I'm anything. I used to be so bent up on things but everything's a drop in the ocean now.
Idris is opening the night for you with a bit of a speech. Did you invite him down?
No! It's the best, man. It comes to a stage when everything is the way it is in my mind: the way I want it to sound, my friends, my manager, my life, where I live, everything. Before, when I wanted things, I didn't let it out that way because I was scared of offending people. But now I'm happy that things are the way I see it, because I do see actors in the same room as artists, coming to say hello, you know? Of course, bro! What was all that shit before? What was all that segregation? What was all that fake shit? My new song, "No Security," that's what it was really all about. I wanna eradicate all that shit, I hate it. People don't even stop me in the streets for pictures no more. You know, it's 2017. It's sick that Idris is here. I hope that everything levels out and it all becomes one sick…
Well, it's never gonna be a big happy family because there's always gonna be jealousy, which is a very bad human trait. But what there will be is a level, you know? There will be a level where people who want to be successful won't see success as something that's away from them. I always used to think that I had to go into Radio 1 to get on the playlist to get with certain people and be a certain way — I thought that success was in there, but actually success was inside me. And it was only inside me when certain famous people didn't act famous to me when I was with them. So the more that people are on a level, everyone will be open to being successful from the inside and having much more confidence to do shit like get up and sing or rap or breakdance or whatever. There's so much talent but it's all locked away from celebrity. Fucking annoyingly by me, because I'm here and I understand what I am.
How do you mean?
I understand. I've had conversations with my friends that I used to hang round with and shit and even how they talk about me. I tell them, you can do this and you can do that, and they say, "well you can say that, but you're Skepta". And I'm like, "woah… I grew up with you. Is that how you see me? You know exactly what I do." There's always that stupid celebrity hierarchy thing that's there but I'm always trying to eradicate it with music. I'm always trying to make sure that everybody says how they feel.
So, things are moving pretty fast for you at the moment?
Life has been going so fast. Too fast. I did have a break just now. I just had time to stand by myself, you know? I got a chance to look at what I've done. Look at it. Really look at it, without being there.
And are you happy with it?
Yeah, really, really, really happy. But it's a weird feeling getting to the point where everything you said that you wanted to do as a kid, you've done it. These aren't material things, they're things I've wanted to do for my city as a musician. I love seeing how things are now; artists sharing stages and collaborating, you know what I mean? It's beautiful.
So now that you've achieved all this, what do you want to do next?
I think I'm gonna try and get a holiday. Even though I haven't been doing anything, I've still been working relentlessly. I get into bed, put my head down on the pillow and realize, oh… you haven't eaten today bruv. You've not even put a croissant in your mouth. I wake up in the morning and do this, do that, go out, go studio, go wherever, go home. I get home and I haven't eaten, and I've probably drunk alcohol. I need to actually have a holiday in the real sense of the word, not holiday where I'm still here. I need a cut off from society as I know it. I still want all that, but I need a holiday.
Maybe have Jamie cook you some good vegan food…
I'm struggling with that. I stopped eating meat but I'm struggling, that vegan shit, you can't do it if you're not dedicating yourself to it. Jamie gets things delivered to his house, you know what I'm saying? I eat a cheese sandwich a day I think. It's cool though, I think if I actually get ill I'll be sad but I have a lot of friends and we cut meat out together but they're all back on it. Back on it like it was a series on Netflix or something.
What do you watch on Netflix?
I haven't been on it for a while you know. I've been on YouTube a lot. I've been watching a lot of shit.
And what can you can tell us about Drake and Top Boy?
I actually don't know anything about what's happening with it! I just found out about it on Twitter.
Finally, what's the last dream that you remember having?
I was in some building and I was supposed to go on stage but we had to wait because the army had to come and search everyone or some shit, so I had to wait for the performance. I remember looking out the window and they were all driving around outside.
Tekst: Frankie Dunn