Yesterday afternoon, Skepta and about a dozen of his mandem dropped by The FADER's office in New York to toast to a "whole load of different things": to grime's rising tide; to the fevered fans who have lit up every night of his mini North American tour so far; to all the bigger things they've got in store. Afterwards, talk turned to the MC's long-gestating record, Konnichiwa, his tightening bond with Drake, and the anatomy of a good diss track.
How is the Shutdown Tour going?
It’s just like a dream, ‘cause I’m just going to places like I’m really far from my house, ya know? But selling out these small venues, and I’m standing on stage doing my show and they’re singing lyrics from my mixtape. My mixtape! How the fuck?! They’re going crazy to this shit. I’m still in that part where it’s a dream to me. My career’s been long, but from “That’s Not Me” to here, it’s happened really quick and it’s blowing up fast.
It’s too much to comprehend. If my mind is like apps, I just double tap, I just push the hype and move all that stuff to the side. I leave it open, I don’t like swipe up and close it or nothin’. I just leave it there, ‘cause it’s so much of a dream that if I think about it too much it'll just fuck me up. It’s a blessing, man, and it’s a dream at the same time.
Where do things stand with Konnichiwa?
With the music that I’ve put out, I realized that putting pressure on an album isn’t always the right thing to do for yourself. If I’m touring the world—this isn’t like a massive American tour, but I’ve definitely made some ground out here, and I’m going to go to Australia at the end of the year and do another tour—off my free singles, it’s like, “Yo, why don’t we just like spread the wave?” Then I’ll pick a time to go home and finish my album. I’ve got, like, eight, nine tracks done. But I want to find time to maybe write some deeper stuff, rather than just making stuff that’s always going to get people hype and shit. I want to cut off time next month and just be living experiences—normal everyday experiences, rather than touring. Otherwise, I’ll just be writing about bullshit, stuff that people that don’t do music won’t be able to relate to.
And that’s important to you, to be able to write about real and relatable experiences?
Yeah, very important. Being a star or girls at this front row, that’s cool. But the stuff that got me here is speaking about my life, so I definitely want to just relax in my own world for a little while and finish it. It was my manager’s decision, to be honest with you. She was just like, “Take the pressure off, don’t rush an album out. No one’s going anywhere.” I haven’t just come up with a hit, I’m not like a one-hit-wonder—I’ve been here for ages. No one is questioning my ability, so just enjoy the wave, spread the wave. Make moments around the world of people that will connect to me, so when I bring the album out, people will feel more of a real connection to it because they saw me in a small venue in their city.
So getting an album out isn’t your highest priority at the moment?
It’s gonna come out. It’s gonna make everybody happy, it’s gonna make loads of money, and it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. But I’m making people happy now, and I don’t care about the money. At this point in time, I’m cool with just really touching different places around the world and spreading the “This Ain’t Safe,” “It’s Not Me,” “Shutdown” energy before my album comes out or my next single.
It’s gonna come out. It’s gonna make everybody happy, it’s gonna make loads of money, and it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do. But I’m making people happy now, and I don’t care about the money.
You mentioned in your recent The FADER cover story that you had plans to record with Drake for the album, will we hear that soon?
Yeah, but the first thing we wanted to put out was more something that was speaking to the music. Obviously, he’s from Toronto and I’m from London so we were like, “Where are we gonna take this whole energy we have?” after we did Wireless together. And there was no better feeling than to take it to Africa…
The "Ojuelegba (Remix)"—
Yeah, with Wizkid. And we just wanted to put out something that wasn’t like, “Oh, check out our single and buy it now.” We were just rolling together, chilling. That was the song that we were listening to when we were chilling, so it was like, “Yo, can we just freestyle on this, and just do it how I would normally do it?” I came with that approach and didn’t know how he would take it, but he was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do the song, but we’re gonna drop it as if it was two kids from the street just fucking around on music.” And it makes it much more organic for me, like I’ve always spoken about just being organic and it’s hard being us and trying to make things organic. It's not official, it's just some remix.
But there’s something official coming, as well?
There will be an official Drake song, an official Wizkid song, an official Earl Sweatshirt song. All that stuff is coming, but I really just like music and MC-ing on music. People wait for me to put out a single and I’m just like, “Fuck that—freestyle!” Drop that, then drop “Nasty,” drop anything I want because I want to drop it. I don’t like having all this pressure on me like, “Oh, what’s his next song that’s gonna be a single? Where’s the video?” Fuck that, I hate that. I hate that so much. Even when I say it, I can feel myself getting angry about it. It’s like some fake system that’s been made to put pressure on artists when it shouldn’t be like that. We just have fun on music.
So the album will come when it comes—
It’ll come. It’s gonna come out, and it’s gonna come out the best time that it can come out. It’s gonna come out at a time when I’ve got a lot of time to put time into it.
And you still aren't working with a label?
No. It feels really good. It feels sick. I’ve been in label situations before and everything they could have ever paid for could not amount to this. Everything they did pay for didn’t amount to this. It went in a complete, bullshit direction so to be on my own—well not on my own so to speak, just me and my family and my friends making this dream work—to me is so relaxing and so comfortable. Not to say that I’m going to become nonchalant about putting out my album—it’s definitely coming out—but that pressure of putting it out is not on me no more.
So there is no strict schedule or plan for rollout and release?
I don’t have one. I don't want to go with the conventional label situation, so when I finish the album and I give it to a manager, I want to sort out how it’s gonna come out. You could just wake up one day and it could just be online, like, on iTunes.
Next stop is Toronto, are you excited?
I’ve heard people say that Toronto is like London—the culture and how they speak, how they act, how they move around. And the OVO crowd, when they were in London it was really easy to be with them. I didn’t have to try to do anything because I felt like all the words that we said were the same. Just the way we moved, the way we think about other people. They look at the game just the same way I look at the game. We listen to music over and over on repeat, just chilling, playing songs that no one knows but we like it so we’re just fucking rewinding it, flashing lighters in the air. Just the whole London street, dancehall, African vibe—that’s what they’ve got. It was good, good times. It was a good vibe and I feel like if that’s what Toronto’s gonna be then it’s gonna be fucking sick. I can’t wait.
Beef and battle rap has always been close to the heart of grime. What do you make of the Drake and Meek drama?
I definitely think that my vibe has rubbed off on Drake a bit. Just dropping chews at a man like, “Fuck it, SoundCloud war.” That’s a real London, grime attitude to have. It’s good, it’s battle rapping. If you’re on the mic saying, “I’ve got this and this is what I’m like” or whatever, you’ve got to be ready for the other guy to say, “Well, I’ve got a better one than you.”
Just dropping chews at a man like, ‘Fuck it, SoundCloud war.’ That’s a real London, grime attitude to have.
Drake’s gone twice now, what is your next move if you are Meek?
I don’t have no advice for him. I don’t have no advice for Meek. [laughs] Especially in this rap game, when you say stuff, if it’s a tweet or whatever, you gotta stand by it. You know that you’re saying something that’s gonna warrant a reaction so just stand by it. I hope that he can stand by whatever he’s said or he’s done.
What makes a good diss track?
A good diss track needs to have some facts in it and definitely tell some truth. Like, there’s tracks of people just making up shit and the diss track could be for anyone. If there’s some facts in it, that’s a good diss track. Just like everything else in life, it should be balanced. Making it factual, but making it not so personal like it’s hurting you. It’s a sport. Make sure you’re on the mic just juggling and having fun with it, rather than taking it really seriously. If it’s that serious you shouldn’t be making music, you should be wanting to see a man on site and doing something to them. So if it’s on a record, make it fun, make it lighthearted, make sure you’re saying facts. People need to listen to it and still enjoy it.
What is it like to hear a track aimed at you? What is your first reaction?
I’m not gonna lie, it’s the fucking craziest feeling. Obviously there’s that time when you turn your phone and someone says to you, “Oh my god there’s a diss track out." Or there’s that moment where you open up Twitter and you’ve got more mentions than usual and you’re like, “What is it? Has a naked photo of me leaked? Something’s wrong.” And then you find out it’s a diss track and you’re like, "Oh, shit.” You press play on that YouTube or SoundCloud link and your heart is beating. It’s a scary thing, but it’s good. You should embrace it, like, “OK, let’s go. It’s a fucking fight.” I like to embrace it.
Better a track than a naked photo?
It’s a relief definitely.