A Journey Through Skepta’s Music Career, Project By Project

Across 11 albums and mixtapes, grime icon Skepta has remained at the scene’s core. Here, we take a look back at the Boy Better Know star’s influential career.

Image via Complex Original/Artwork by Willkay

Earlier this year—as if out of nowhere—Skepta hinted that he’d be retiring from music and that “Dimension”, his collab with JAE5 and Rema, would be his last. “This Jae5 song/video featuring Rema and myself was recorded and shot last year in Ghana”, he said in an Instagram post, adding, “Any verses of mine you hear this year were all recorded last year. I’ve stopped recording 2021.” Word has it that Skepta’s next move will take him deeper into the fashion world he’s been exploring with his label, Mains, and his SK Air collab with Nike.

But as gutting as it was, you can’t help but be happy for the Tottenham grime legend. Across 11 albums and mixtapes, Joseph Jr.’s remained at the scene’s core. Starting out as a DJ and producer, before picking up the mic as a member of Meridian Crew and later BBK, he became one of grime’s brightest lights and most beloved icons. Like many of the scene’s stars—and the scene itself—it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Skepta, but he’s weathered it all and come out triumphant.

At least as much as Dizzee, Wiley and Kano, perhaps more so, Skepta has been responsible for some of grime’s biggest successes. He wasn’t the first to take grime Stateside (that’s a contested title that Jammer, Plastician, D Double and quite a few others could stake a claim to), but it was Skepta that Diddy called on for his “Hello Good Morning” remix, it was Skepta’s Devilman clash that Drake fell head over heels for, it was Skepta who Kanye called on to rally the troops for that BRIT Awards shutdown, and it was Skepta who fronted the grime scene’s New York invasion. 

But his legacy doesn’t begin and end with grime. As far back as 2008, Skepta was showing off his rap credentials for the BET Awards UK Cypher, and he’s always fostered close relationships with the underground UK rap scene. In recent years, a new generation of British rhymers has emerged, drawing influence from grime and applying it to a new iteration of the sound. With a formidable reputation in both camps, post-Konnichiwa Skepta has been the one to bridge that gap, holding the door open for new talents like slowthai, Lancey Foux and AJ Tracey, and guiding them with the hard-earned experience of a seasoned elder-statesman.

Join us as we take a journey through Skepta’s seminal music career, project by project.

‘Joseph Junior Adenuga’ (2006)


Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta, Jme, Wiley, DJ Target

Features: Jme, Frisco, Jammer, Wiley, Footsie, Big H, Bossman Birdie, Meridian Dan, Cel22, Cookie, Danny B, Dimples, MC Creed, President T, Bear Man, Scorcher, Trim

An unofficial mix CD compiling the future BBK legend’s greatest early moments, Joseph Junior Adenuga saw Skepta grow from a Meridian Crew DJ and producer into North London’s hottest young MC before our very eyes. Pulling together early singles and freestyles, the sound quality is rough and rugged—particularly in the 128K MP3 form that you’ve most likely heard it in—but it remains one of the best ways to re-experience the groundswell of energy that had grime fans eagerly awaiting his official debut. Without a crossover riddim in sight, the collection sees Junior testing and tweaking various bars and patterns that would stand the test of time alongside allies like Jammer, Ruff Sqwad and Wiley, all with an eye on breaking away from the pack of young spitters vying for attention as grime’s radio era began to wane in favour of self-released projects. If you were there, it’s a potent reminder that before the A$AP Mob collabs or even BBK, Skepta was blessed with one of grime’s most commanding voices and was ready to put in work to be crowned King. If you weren’t, this historical artifact is a window into the era where the entirety of grime’s infrastructure was ground-up, from pirate sessions to white label vinyl. —Son Raw

‘Greatest Hits’ (2007)


Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta, Wiley, Rebound X, TNT 

Features: Wiley, Jammer, Jme, Shorty, Footsie, Bassman, Bossman Birdie, Trim, Bear Man, Flowdan, Trigga, MC Creed, Spyda

Skepta wasn’t even 25 when he dropped Greatest Hits, his debut album, and by that title alone he clearly thought a lot of himself. With a title like that, you would have to be super-confident in the fact that what you’re about to give the fans will one day be considered a classic—and, luckily for him, he was right on the money. In 2007, Skepta was still fresh off the block, tearing down raves up and down the country in a bid to put grime and his Tottenham sides firmly on the map. That early rudeboy energy and carefree attitude makes Greatest Hits the UK classic it is with some of Skepta’s most iconic tracks appearing on it, including the jungle-tinged “In A Corner” with Trigga, Bassman and Flowdan, “Doin’ It Again”—another posse cut inspired by jungle—and the Jammer-assisted “I Spy”, the beat for which has become a reload classic all by itself. Despite it rarely being mentioned alongside other great grime debuts, such as Kano’s Home Sweet Home and Dizzee’s Boy In Da Corner, Greatest Hits set Skepta up to be great. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

‘Microphone Champion’ (2009)


Label: Skepta

Producers: Skepta, Jme, Rude Kid, Teddy Music, Bless Beats, Boom Productions, Chad Jackson

Features: Giggs, Jme, Jammer, Tinchy Stryder, Dubz, Jay Sean, Wiley, Trigga, Paper Pabs

Microphone Champion represents Skepta’s second studio album, and although it included the likes of Giggs, Wiley, Jay Sean, Tinchy Stryder and BBK members Jme and Jammer, it still comes out pretty low on the list when ranking his discography. Released in 2009, the album was home to UK funky club-smash “Too Many Man”, which is still played to this day, and the electro-pop single “Rolex Sweep”, which entered the singles chart at No. 89. It’s important to remember that this was a period in UK music that hardly any rapper or MC that’s still active today would be proud of, save for a select few. British lyricism as a whole wasn’t as profitable as it is now and many artists tried to gain crossover appeal and chase the pop bag whether through features, singles or even whole projects. The album started promisingly, with Skepta spitting lines like, “Let me tell you why I’m the king of grime...”, but after just over a third of the way through, it descends into half-hearted hooks and simple bars that were a far cry from the potential he’d exhibited on Greatest Hits, his debut LP. The production is arguably better than his rhyming—not a surprise, considering he’s a producer first and foremost—but Microphone Champion, for a lot of people, was a considerable step backwards from his solid debut album. —Aaron Bishop

‘Been There Done That’ (2010)


Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta

Features: Jewels, Jme, Wiley, President T, P Money, Big H, Scorcher, Blacks, B Live, Bossman Birdie, Cel22, Cookie, Danny B, Dimples, Fem Fel, Frisco, Jammer, Majestic, Meridian Dan, Paper Pabs, Shorty

Many have argued that Been There Done That was Skepta’s last full grime project. The title of the 2010 mixtape is self-explanatory, alluding to Big Smoke’s presence and status during its release, and he maintains his griminess throughout—from production to flows and delivery—which gave us nostalgic blues from his early-00s releases. Tracks such as “UFO”, “Spit Big Bars” and “Over The Top 2” are still some of the finest displays of Skepta’s ferocious mic-spraying and his penchant for dark, screwface-inducing sonics. There was also some controversy surrounding one of the tape’s tracks, “All Over The House”, following the unveiling of its NSFW music video that was basically a few scenes short of a full porno. While it’s a moment I’m sure he would like to forget, you can’t deny it was great promo for Mr Adenuga. —Mimi Itseli

‘Doin’ It Again’ (2011)


Label: Boy Better Know/3Bear/AATW

Producers: Skepta, S-X, BassBoy, BeatGeak, Hot Source, James Davey, Jimmy Joker, Mr. Mitch

Features: BBK, Chip, Agent X, Diddy: Dirty Money, Preeya Kalidas, Majestic, Charlee Drew

Doin’ It Again is the sound of champers and serotonin: a bombastic, extroverted shot from midfield that never comes close to the net, but whose sheer gall you have to respect. It isn’t an easy listen, as Skepta merges grime’s rhythmic foundation to everything from hard dubstep to trap, to rock and colossal pop-EDM, an approach that alienated grime devotees. It’s not that he isn’t shelling—he’s got energy to spare on the mic and his production is fine for what it is—but, to put it bluntly, this sound felt hackneyed and tired when it dropped, and time hasn’t done it too many favours. Yet Doin’ It Again remains an important moment in Skepta’s career as it provided a model to work against. When he doubled down on grime’s original sound in the mid-2010s, it was hard to not perceive the move as a reaction against the type of pop-rave crossover that dominates Doin’ It Again. Garish, bloated and made for an audience that only half-heartedly took it in, it’s a document of a time when being “experimental” didn’t always mean good. —Son Raw

‘Community Payback’ (2011)


Label: Boy Better Know/Daley Entertainment

Producers: Skepta, Carns Hill, S-X, Bassboy

Features: BBK, Jewels, Blade Brown, Lemar, Youngs Teflon, P Money, Wizzy Wow

Let’s be real: the early 2010s were not the best time for grime. Although Skepta gave it a shot in the arm with Blacklisted the following year, in 2011 things were a little different. Rap ruled the underground and many of grime’s leading talents were jumping ship and either trying their hand at more lucrative sounds or transitioning into rap. Which brings us to Skepta’s 2011 mixtape, Community Payback. Helmed by New York DJ and mixtape host Whoo Kid, it was a sign Skepta was exploring different models. Blade Brown and Youngs Tef make welcome appearances, as do Boy Better Know, but perhaps the most notable guest spot comes from Chip. In 2011, it was easy to rubbish the artist formerly known as Chipmunk, but Skepta knew he’d shine; and shine he did. The downsides, however, are big ones. Whoo Kid’s contributions are overbearing and too frequent and the sound quality is far too inconsistent. Sure, mixtapes are supposed to be a bit rough and ready, but there are some major issues with this one’s mixing and mastering. All in all, a lot of grime MCs did a lot worse the year that this dropped so Skepta deserves a hat-tip for his effort alone. —James Keith

‘Blacklisted’ (2012)


Label: 3Beat/AATW

Producers: Jme, Jewels, Raf Riley, Thomas Mellor, Neesha, Matthew Walker, Ralph Hardy

Features: Jme, Jewels, Frisco, Shorty, Etta Bond, Megaman, KJ, Sam Frank, Krept & Konan

Before Skepta famously went back to basics in 2014, he went through a reawakening for all to see. Just after he released Doin’ It Again and Community Payback—both vastly different in their target audience—in 2011, we saw him detail his struggles of being an independent artist, his childhood, and more off-kilter topics in a 25-minute video titled Underdog Psychosis. “Is Skepta okay?” was the question of the day for industry insiders, but it all became clear when he dropped Blacklisted in 2012. The 12-track mixtape, worthy of album status, presented a spiritually-aligned, clearer-minded Skepta. He found his hunger again after getting lost in the pop sauce, and you can hear it right the way through—from the shot-sending “Ace Hood Flow” to the reflective, mood-shifting “Castles”. One of the larger jewels in Skepta’s crown, Blacklisted is one of the most important projects from a Black British artist in the last twenty years. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

‘Konnichiwa’ (2016)

skepta konnichiwa album

Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta, Jason Adenuga, Footsie, Pharrell Williams, Ragz Originale, Blakie

Features: BBK, Wiley, D Double E, Chip, Novelist, Pharrell Williams, A$AP Bari, A$AP NAST, Fifi Rong

There was a time, often referred to as the “Rolex Sweep” era, when things weren’t quite as popping for Skepta. Lesser men might have jacked it in then and there, but instead, he regrouped, got back to basics and then met Meridian Dan’s alley-oop with an era-defining slam dunk that detonated grime’s 2014 explosion. First came the big singles—“That’s Not Me” and “It Ain’t Safe”—and then came Konnichiwa. It’s difficult to put into words just how monumental Konnichiwa was. For the first time in a long time, the US was knocking at our door and looking to the Brits to see what time it was. A$AP Mob, Drake, Pharrell and even Kanye bent over backwards to come to London to get a taste and, because of Skepta, it happened on our terms. It was a snapshot of grime’s heady heights; it featured all of the above-mentioned anthems and spawned a handful of new hits like “Man”, “Corn On The Curb”, “Ladies Hit Squad” and, king of them all, “Shutdown”. Coming with an all-white video and opening with a patois-laden quote from Drake, it was the soundtrack to grime’s global takeover. —James Keith

‘Vicious’ (2017)


Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta, Mystro

Features: Section Boyz, A$AP Rocky, A$AP NAST, Lil B

Skepta released his Vicious EP on October 31, and Halloween was a fitting date for this spooky drop. At six tracks long, Vicious is short but sweet, with a strong sense of menace right the way through—from the sinister synths to bars about gully creepin’ at night. Coming off the back of a super-grime album in Konnichiwa, Skepta showed us more of what he was into at the time—trap-rap—by way of his flows on certain tracks and also how he patterned 90% of his beats. This was also clear in his choice of collaborations: bar an underrated appearance from Croydon’s Section Boyz, it was all US features from Lil B, A$AP Rocky and A$AP NAST. International Skepta was spreading his wings. —Mimi Itseli

‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ (2019)

skepta ignorance is bliss

Label: Boy Better Know

Producers: Skepta, iO, Ragz Originale, IndigoChildRick, Jay Trench

Features: BBK, J Hus, Wizkid, Nafe Smallz, B Live, Cheb Rabi, KEY!, Lancey Foux

Skepta’s life was looking very different in the years following the success of Konnichiwa by the time Ignorance Is Bliss came around. Having become a father, covered GQ with Naomi Campbell and dabbled further in fashion, his next album wasn’t short of content to explore. Expectations were high; the bar had been set and his fifth album delivered, showcasing a more focused and assured artist, buoyed by a newfound sense of purpose and perspective not seen since 2012’s Blacklisted. Since its 2019 release, Ignorance Is Bliss has aged well—Skepta’s at his most versatile, at least sonically, with the majority of the production handled by the man himself, incorporating elements of grime, garage, and trap throughout. Lyrically, whether he rapped about politics, his daughter, life lessons or his relationships with women, this set provided a strong sense of who Skepta is and where he was at on his journey at the time. While the album does a lot of things right and had the enviable task of following on from the hype and weight of expectation laid on from his previous effort, it’s not without its missteps. The second half of the album loses a bit of cohesion, with features and styles being more experimental than the first half. But by the time he hangs up his microphone, time is likely to look kindly on album number five as one of Skepta’s best. —Aaron Bishop

‘Insomnia’ (2020)


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