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Ignorance Is Bliss James Ball , June 13th, 2019 09:23

Skepta returns with a new album, but this one's less of a trailblazer, more of a consolidation, finds James Ball

When Konnichiwa came out three years ago, it finally felt like Skepta had settled on something distinctly his. By reconnecting with his early sound, renouncing awkward stabs at pop and connecting with like-minded artists across the world, his music came of age. He also cultivated a look that was razor-sharp, instantly recognisable and extremely influential, spawning several Nike collaborations, his own ‘MAINS’ line and a GQ cover with Naomi Campbell. He was even ordained as a chief of the Nigerian region his parents were born in. Skepta had broken mainstream culture on his own terms and in his own image.

Despite releasing music for over a decade, Konnichiwa had the feel of a debut project, broadcasting a re-energised Skepta, and grime music, to the world. Accordingly, Ignorance Is Bliss feels like its natural successor, a sophomore project of sorts that carries on from where Konnichiwa left off while looking deeper within.

The artist remains in tight artistic control throughout, producing, or co-producing, all but one of the tracks on the project. While some of the tracks boast an Americanised swagger – particularly on the trap-leaning ‘Greaze Mode’ and the noughties rap bump of ‘What Do You Mean?’ – Skepta remains rooted to a UK sensibility.

Accordingly, grime is the album’s prominent reference point, reflected in the range of stripped-back, ear-worm melodies that pockmark the project, most notably on BBK-posse cut ‘Gangsta’, which brims with a similar intensity to Konnichiwa’s ‘Detox’, and ‘Same Old Story’, which bleeps along like a monophonic ringtone. ‘Love Me Not ‘even dips into UK garage with its skittering beat and choppy verse from scene legend B-Live.

What sets this project apart from its predecessors is its embrace of moodier textures, particularly on album opener ‘Bullet From a Gun’, which sees Skepta recall everything from heartbreak and self-empowerment to fatherhood over a deeply melancholic production. ‘Going Through It’ is another fantastically moody track that harnesses the muddy nihilism of early DMX and Mobb Deep with its stormy beat and venomous verses.

If Konnichiwa was Skepta’s coming of age, then Ignorance is Bliss is a comfortable consolidation, one that hints at the changes in the artist’s life without ever delving deep in. Nonetheless, the project comfortably asserts his place in the current moment as a unique figurehead of UK culture, possessing artistic ability in bags and a persona that suggests far more to come.