In his new documentary, Top Boy, Skepta is like a cargo plane that exclusively ships three things: a street lifestyle and sound, his Boy Better Know family that he takes everywhere, and his unwavering self belief. “I got a lot of people to represent, man,” the grime MC said last night in London, speaking in a Q&A following the film’s premiere. “Like, for a long time we haven’t really had that voice, and I feel that I’m it.”
Directed by Alex Hoffman, the Noisey-produced Top Boy follows Skepta during a recent tour of North America, highlighting his stops in Washington D.C., Brooklyn and Boston, and culminating in an appearance at Toronto’s OVO Fest. The documentary begins on a fairly serious tone, showing the kind of self-confidence that's led Skepta to don the captain's armband for grime, and help the once-confined scene to explode worldwide. By the midpoint of the doc, though, it lightens up, with Skeppy telling one anecdote about an experience at a spa which had the theater audience in stitches.
On grime going global
“When we go to places, we’re not trying to link big rappers, or take photos with people who we think look cool to take photos with. Like, we’re really going and working hard on the streets with people who do what we do. I know myself, I know my music, I know who I should be in a venue and spitting with. So, I just went to New York and did it by myself. We don’t do shit that misses the streets—it’s organic. Everybody’s popping now. It’s easy to think it’s grime relative to the U.S., but this is like a raw thing happening everywhere.
“Any art, if you’re being integral to the culture [where] you’re doing and surrounding yourselves with like-minded people—it’s just going to prosper. I just think a lot of time was spent before [with] people that don’t need to hear your music or art. A lot of time was spent trying to gain those fans like, that’s just disgusting in itself. But, a lot of that has stopped. We know who everyone is. Big up the internet, fuckin’ hell.”
On artists who don’t receive enough credit
“Like, D Double E—‘Bidda Bap Bap’ is fucking legendary. That’s sick, that’s his own style. No one else in the world has got it and that should be celebrated. And now everyone in the U.K. is now celebrating each other. Like, ‘oh, you’re a rapper—I’m a designer. Oh, I kick ball.’ You know what I’m saying? It’s not so separate anymore. Everyone’s celebrating, rather than turning their nose up at shit and right now, it’s a good time.”
On British music resonating in the U.S.
“Freestyles that I dropped two weeks ago, before I got to America, they knew the words and shit. It’s not just my music, it’s all the underground music that was released this year—it was big. So like, I was surprised, but at the same time I was like, “Yeah, of course.” Right now, in the U.K., I just think our music is too real.”
On how to get into Boy Better Know
“A lot of people in it don’t know they’re in it. It’s a lifestyle. Like, flying to Ayia Napa with 20 Euros between six of us. We had a show that night, we don’t have no money, we’re tired. [We] get a taxi there somehow, buy KFC, share a bucket between like seven man, sleep at some person’s house that we met at a club. Get the money from the show, try to flip it. Get some T-shirts, put out some music. A lot of people who joined the family this year made it better, made it stronger. In the room right now—you get me. And if you know, and I fuck with you, you’re in BBK. We just have to stick with it and keep pushing. Like, right now, one day, it was a dream. Right now this is the dream. This is what everyone always wanted innit—to put out music and people worldwide wanting to hear it.”
On feeling boosted by fans singing his lyrics
“I’m gassed. It might look like I’m bare comfy, but I’m bare shy to all of this. I can’t believe it bruv. I just dropped this freestyle two weeks ago, how do they know all the words already? But it’s just so reassuring to me. Somewhere inside me I always knew, that if I talked to someone from Amsterdam, they can understand me. China—if I talked to someone from America—they can understand me. I articulate myself properly—you know what I’m saying? Whether I walk into a Turkish shop, see another brother say, ‘Salam Alaikum.’ It’s an English ting. I’ve grown up with every kind of culture, with people in my school. I’m not alien to other people—so, yeah, of course it was reassuring and gratifying.”
On receiving his MOBO award in 2014
"I wasn’t supposed to be there. I mean, I was nominated and I won but I didn’t have a ticket. So, I just went in a tracksuit, took a couple of my friends that were here from America. But when they said my name I was running from so far. When I collected the award in that tracksuit and that hat, that was a good visual for someone to see. Like, someone just picked up an award looking like he just got back from gym? All these preconceptions and illusions that have been set, I love fucking those up. I’m just going to do this ting.”