go backstage at skepta’s alexandra palace show
As Apple Music announce their Skepta: Greatness Only documentary, step behind the scenes and into conversation with his friends, family and special guests. Redefining British music, building his legacy... this is greatness.
Ella Dror and Echedex.
Skepta: Greatness Only digs deep into the world of the man currently leading the British grime scene. Written and presented by his sister Julie Adenuga and directed by friend Matthew Walker, the Apple Music documentary follows Skepta in the weeks leading up to the biggest show of his career at London's iconic Alexandra Palace. His album Konnichiwa went gold in November, he just won the Mercury Music Prize, the rest of the world is watching; up close and very personal, this is Skepta's story, told by his inner circle.
During what is bound to go down in music history as a key point in the evolution of the genre, follow Olivia Rose's lens backstage as i-D speaks with the major players in grime to celebrate their brother, discuss what the night means for the scene and predict where things might go from here...
Giggs, Jammer, Lethal Bizzle, Footsie, Dex
What's the importance of tonight?
Giggs: The importance? It's another giant fucking step for the fucking giants!
And what does it tell us about grime right now?
Giggs: That's what I'm saying. It's giant steps and blessings. That's the main thing -- blessings.
Lethal, what's tonight saying about grime?
Lethal Bizzle: The world is watching. They ain't been watching for a long time. Now they've got to watch.
On our terms.
Lethal: The world is watching.
Jammer, how're you feeling tonight?
Jammer: You know how I'm feeling!
Giggs: It's history.
Jammer: Man have been out here, putting in work for ages. But you know what, today feels like everything man's done, all together -- not just one man, everyone -- it's come together to celebrate this day. It's not just Skepta up there, it's all of us. If we look at each other as that from this day on, everything will be upwards. No more hating, it's one. We're doing this as one.
Footsie: There's no hate.
Jammer: No hate. I don't know what that word means.
Jammer: Independent. Greatness only. Big up Newham Generals. Everyone's been treddin' with man. Giggs, all the man there.
When was the first time you remember meeting Skepta?
Jammer: Me and him had a clash [laughs]. Then obviously I said JME's name in the dub so he phoned me and said "Man have to link you because you can't really be saying my brother's name". I said, "Cool, I'm in Leytonstone". So he's come and when we looked at each other we just knew we were bredrins. We just laughed. We've been together ever since then. That's just the powers. God brings you together with people sometimes because you're meant to be together.
How's it feeling as a community right now? Obviously, everyone's here, the whole scene.
Jammer: This is the community. This is how it always was meant to be!
Dex: It's like a playground. You know like that playground, certain people are allowed to come in. But some don't want to come in and watch from the outside. Watch from the outside. The great ones will be inside. Greatness only!
Even yourself Dex, you've been with the crew from the beginning…
Jammer: Since Dex said greatness, and let man know that what man's doing is greatness. The ting is greatness. It's always greatness but it takes for man to let them know. It's greatness.
What is greatness? What do you mean by that?
Jammer: You know what greatness is!
But some people don't get it.
Jammer: Oi, Hyper. Let me be frank.
Dex: A lot of people have different explanations for greatness. But you see what it is, it's a lifestyle. The only thing I could say to you, someone that asked me the same question. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. That's greatness.
It's a way of life. It's a mindset.
Dex: It's a mindset. We always say charity begins at home. If you say you're not scared of your parents you're a madman. You're wicked if you're not scared of your parents. It doesn't matter whether you're taller and your mum is on your waist and she say 'shut up' and you don't shut up immediately, It's over. Charity begins at home.
What's the importance of tonight for grime specifically?
Basically, it's never got to the stage before where we put these things on ourselves. It was always a thing where we had to rely on a bigger organisation than us to book us for shows. Now, the control's in our hands. We've got direct contact with the fans, so we know what we want to do. Before, we were getting told what to do, but now we've got control. I feel like it's important because the youngers are going to see that they can throw big events like this. It's actually possible. Before it seemed like only fucking Coldplay or Jay Z or one of those guys could do shit like this. But now this is our ting.
What do you think this evening tells us about our culture?
That there's a lot of unity because I'm backstage now and I see nuff man from all over. I see pure different MCs...
From D Double to Section Boyz, right?
There's so much love in the air that man are just seeing each other as a respect thing. Before, people didn't know themselves so it was more stand-offish. This is my clique, that's their clique. But now everyone's come together. I feel like we're surpassing other cultures worldwide because their thing's not as tight as our thing. Our thing's real and it's on a major scale. You know that all the teenagers worldwide are looking at us.
I feel like in the last three years, that unity, that community has allowed us to go to a next level.
100%. And that's why the culture's popping right now, because it looks like a real hand-in-hand ting. There's no culture unless everyone's in unison.
Exactly. And is there anything you want to say about tonight?
You know what, I've done Ally Pally before. I done it on a Major Lazer tour and I feel like tonight is even more special because this is our thing. I'm just looking forward to seeing how the real fans react to it. Because they went out and purchased tickets to see us.
Within a day.
Within a day! It's that real. Big up Skepta. Big up all the mandem, Boy Better Know massive. So many names. Hold tight the Tugg Set. My Gs. Love.
What's the importance of tonight?
Tonight is the day when the general public can see that we're finally in control. We've done a few things and we've been like, 'we can do what we want!', but now we're in control. We were always looking up to people like, 'we can't do that, we can't get on there'. We've got to the point where we've realised that we're doing all these things so we can do whatever we want -- so what should we do next? Skepta's the leader of that thought process and he's the one that clocked it first that we can do whatever we want. He'd be like 'JME, what do you want to do? Why don't you do go and do that?' and this is the vision he had and now the public can see that we can do whatever we want. Skepta's been out here for ages but this is the beginning of Skepta and they're going to be seeing a lot more. Today was amazing.
What's been the highlight of your year?
Obviously my wedding was a life changing moment for me, it was like having a child. Apart from the wedding, my highlight of the year... I think to be honest it's highlights. You know how some people judge things on followers or views or whatever; I don't like comments on my videos, I don't like awards, because that's just someone's opinion and I don't really care about that. When we got plaques and Skepta's album went silver, Man Don't Care went silver -- bam! Then Skepta's album went gold -- bam! My wall has plaques on it, and in my head I'm thinking, 'that's not even an opinion, that's facts.' We're actually making music in our bedrooms, for ourselves, and everyone in the world is buying it, loving it and enjoying it. I've got proof and evidence, I can die happy, that's the highlight of this year for me. Seeing the work we've put in and how it's coming back into my house physically. I can see it. When I sit down to make a beat, I look up and it really drives me.
What's the stand-out track or music moment that you've made with your brother?
Skepta has ideas, he has a million ideas, but he would never know how to articulate them and get them out. Me, I'm the guy that is executing stuff. Cover -- bam! Artwork -- bam! But when we sit together, we get that idea and execute it together - we're a sick team but we don't really work together a lot. I usually work on my own and Skepta will work with a team, he'll get his ideas out and they'll help him execute them. But that Rebound X freestyle... both of us on radio with raw energy and working together. It was a freestyle that became a tune. We don't really make tunes together, other than That's Not Me.
But look at what That's Not Me created.
Exactly, we don't do nothing like that but I would say that before That's Not Me, it was the NASA freestyle on Rebound X on Rinse FM. That's me and Skepta's pyramid fucking temple.
D Double E
What's the importance of tonight for the scene and the culture?
It's an important night for Skepta, it's an important night for the UK, it's an important night for the world! It's about time man's recognised for this. Man's been doing this ting for time. And now, every execution is going to be counting on the next level. It's come at the best time. You've got a lot of new people that's gonna be following the scene and supporting it and pushing it even further. It's definitely a mad pinnacle for grime. Just like having a top 10 or #1.
The energy's mad, don't you think?
The energy's mad but it's going to get madder.
What's the most exciting thing about tonight? The anticipation? The guests?
It's just about getting it over and done with. And the Apple side of it as well - being able to be on a platform and to execute that as well.
A few years ago you couldn't even have grime as a category, right? Now it's being streamed live.
That's what I'm saying. Even that there is a record moment. So it's a good night tonight.
Have you performed in Alexandra Palace before? What's the importance of it being here?
This is a landmark. This is like being in Stratford Rex, which is big place in East London where the scene grew. If I could perform there again… it's a special, special venue. It's bringing back a special feeling. It's crazy.
Lastly, when was the first time you met Skepta?
The first time I met Skepta was when I went studio to vocal Serious Thugs with JME. Skepta was quiet. He was a producer then, he wasn't spitting. I was working with JME. Skepta was more of an engineer. When he was clashing Jammer, he did one tune going back to back with Jammer and that was the first time I was aware of him spitting and it was hard.
Sick. So what's it like from that moment to now seeing him on stage?
Oi, it's going to be sick to be on stage and it's going to be sick to watch it. The way it happened is like magic. Yeah, mad.
It's been a really huge year for Skepta. What do you think has been your highlight?
For me, so far, was seeing him do Detox at Wireless. That was sick, but I think today's going to peak it to be honest. This is going to be the highlight of my Skepta reel, when Detox comes on tonight. I wanna see the whole album. It's mad. It's UK music. If you said this 15 years ago, everyone would've laughed, including Skepta.
Even four years ago.
Yeah, we'd been onto stuff but when it started out if you said we could run this but as ourselves… Skepta's a G!
On our own terms.
That's what I'm saying. We're not on nobody else's line-up. It's Skepta's line-up. That's what's important.
What's your favourite Skepta tune or bar?...
Blud, you're not on your deen / And if Selassie saw you he would say / Blud take off the red gold and green.
I'm a rasta, so that's so real.
What do you think tonight says about Skepta's success as a cultural figure?
That he genuinely is an icon. In all senses of the word.
How is tonight important, not just for grime, but for British music on an international scale?
Once they understand that man really did used to rave here when he was young. It's not a joke. And now he's sold it out with his brother and all his friends. It's not a joke. You have to recognise that. That's greatness.
What do you think the importance of community is with Skepta and the team around him?
We're like blood. We're all in the same state of mind. We're all on the same train of thought. There's no bullshit, there's no fakeness. Fame does not exist to us. As long as we're all good. Everything equal. No one's bigger than anyone. That's how it is.
What's the importance of tonight?
I think the importance of tonight is unity. I don't think there's ever been anything like this. You've got so many people from the grime scene and UK rap scene together. There's no trouble, no egos. Everyone's playing their role. This is Skepta's victory lap and he's sharing it with everyone. Even allowing me to hit the stage, he's bringing everyone in it. This is the UK. It's unity.
Do you feel like, in a way, that's what we've been missing for the last few years?
Yeah. I think everybody was trying to do it for themselves, watching over their shoulder.
The industry was trying to make it like that though, right?
I think it's us as humans. The industry doesn't make you do things. The roads don't make you do things. You can't blame any entity. It's you as a human being. If you're not responsible enough to bring your brother or sister or the next man through… We're all the same people, we're all in the same place. It's music that we love and everybody should be trying to make the scene bigger. Everyone should be trying to make a legacy for the kids, for our kids, for the kids of our kids. That's what's happened in America. Hip-hop's 40 years deep. It's a full-blown industry. It's a full-blown culture. There's a legacy of artistry. There's a mentorship. There's a legacy of mentorships such as Dr. Dre. Hip-hop's 40 years deep. Dr. Dre's 40 years deep, but he's brought through generations of artists in his time. From World Class Wreckin' Cru, to N.W.A., to Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, Kendrick Lamar, and the rest of them. You've got a few of those in America and I think over here we haven't got that. But when you look at grime, it's only 13 years deep or 15 years deep depending on where you think the origins came from. So when you look at it like that, we've got a long way to go. But I think we'll definitely get there. This is definitely a significant event which demonstrates how it should be done.
Do you remember the first time you met Skepta?
The first time I met Skepta was probably in Uptown Records.
That was the spot, wasn't it?
Yeah, yeah. Back in the day, for vinyl. I'm pretty certain that was the first time I met him. It was around the time he did the So Solid joint.
We Begin Things?
Yeah, or was it They Don't Know? I can't remember the title, but he flipped 21 Seconds. I think he was messing with Dice Recordings at the time. It might have been like '04 or '05. Then throughout the years I've bumped into him. It's been at festivals, shows, Ibiza... lots of different places. It's dope to see him do well. He's witnessed a lot things and made a lot of mistakes, but he's attained a higher learning. So it's going to be interesting to see what he does and where he takes it next.
Watch Skepta: Greatness Only exclusively on Apple Music. Available to stream from Monday 19 December here
Photography Olivia Rose
Interviews Laura Brosnan aka Hyper Frank