Drake ‘Views’ / Skepta ‘konnichiwa’ – Review

14 May

From Drake’s Boy Better Know tattoo to the funny impersonation that opens ‘Shutdown’ and his surprise appearance at a post-Brits Section Boyz show – The Drake/Skepta love in goes from strength to strength. Skepta has clear admiration for one of the biggest stars in Hip Hop and Drake clearly feels the same (he’s even signed a kind of deal with Skepta’s indie label BBK). While they’ve been on the scene for a while now, they have achieved differing levels of success and that has influenced how they’ve approached their most recent albums, both released this month. But whilst there is much to bind them, these albums speak more to their differences than their similarities, with wildly different aims and outcomes.

Where Skepta is riled and fully of energy, Drake seems to be running out of new things to say, and by its very nature, Rap requires that you have a lot to say. On ‘Views’ he sounds lethargic, bored by his own success and totally lacking inspiration. Drake has never been the most wordy of rappers but here he leaves far too much space for sub-standard beats while he croons nonchalantly about nothing much at all. Superficially there isn’t too much to differentiate this from past work but it lacks the fierce spark, the desperation, the hunger and the determination. It is truly Drake by numbers.

That said, ‘Views’ contains a handful of song that are as captivating as anything Drake has made so far. The exotic melody of ‘One Dance’, the mesmerising shuffle of ‘Too Good’, the bubble gum hooks of ‘Hotline Bling’ – these are some of the most memorable moments of the musical year. But spending an hour and a half in Drake’s company is almost inexplicably tiring for something that should be so effortless. The best analogy I can think of is that listening to this twenty track album is akin to being on a long haul flight. You are aware of take off and landing but the time in between becomes indistinct and unusual. The everyday routines and signifiers of time don’t mean anything – it could be morning or night, one hour could be five and you feeling slightly nauseous and uneasy. It usually feels pedantic and archaic to talk about album lengths in the age of playlists and Spotify but in this case there is no choice. It’s simply far too long.

The length is far from the only problem. Drake isn’t interested in redefining himself in the way Kanye has done. Instead he seems more likely to travel down the same path as Nas – churning out variations on the same ideas and themes to diminishing returns. It’s a shame because when he does push the boundaries to see what exists outside of his narrow perspective, the results are fantastic. ‘Feel No Ways’ is a brilliantly simple and untamed moment of exasperation. The distorted, loud beat uncomfortably contrasts with the mushy synth as Drake moans ‘I tried with you’. Of course this increasingly persistent bitterness isn’t his most endearing quality and it’s manifesting itself more and more, not always as successfully as it does here, but on ‘Feel No Ways’ it works well.

‘Redemption’ is the most enjoyable old school Drake number and it’s the one that sent waves of remembrance, of that summer I first heard ‘Take Care’. Those moments are few and far between here. Whilst there are many superficial similarities, the sonic palette is generally much harder and colder than on that generously warm and melodic record. The lyrical tone is less endearing and his particularly unique style of self analysis obviously lacks the same impact it once had. Drake is still one of the most dits inactive and important  artists in Hip Hop, there is enough evidence on ‘Views’ to support that, but if he is to reach the lofty heights of ‘Take Care’ once more, he needs to find that spark, that thing to rally against, a goal.

Skepta has a goal, he has a spark and he’s certainly got things to rally against. Whilst ‘konnichiwa’ is not necessarily an explicitly political album, Skepta does crusade against everyday prejudices and injustices in a way that engages the youth, just as  Bob Dylan, The Clash or Billy Bragg once did. Unlike Drake, Skepta’s rise to prominence has been a long and unusual one. For the past ten years he’s been on the slow boil, picking up a loyal and dedicated fan following and in the process he became one of the few grime artists to make a name for himself outside the scene. He’s been canny in his use of social media and whilst his attention seeking antics have sometimes left a bitter after taste (soft porn music videos certainly garnered the wrong type of attention) he’s been successful in building anticipation for this, his breakthrough record, four years in he making.

It helps that Grime is having something of a second wind. Shout outs from Kanye and Drake have certainly helped but the scene’s rising stars – JME, Stormzy, J Hus, Section Boyz – have done plenty to make their own path. Of the bunch, Skepta is hardly the most eloquent, sophisticated or technically gifted. He holds a simple and steady flow, steers clear of alliterative language, half rhymes and metaphors and rarely uses flowery imagery past the odd blunt simile. Compared to big stars like Kanye and Kendrick he is positively simplistic but this serves his purpose as a politically motivated punk.

The hooks on ‘konnichiwa’ come thick and fast, which is the best thing about the record. It’s so enjoyable from start to finish, a complete contrast to the heavy, dark and long winded atmosphere of ‘Views’. In particular, the stretch that runs from ‘Numbers’ through to ‘That’s Not Me’ is one of the most impressive in the recent history of rap. These songs are filled with unusual samples, memorable bars and catchy choruses. His ear for a pop hook is as finely tuned as Kanye’s in 2005 but he never panders to popular taste in the way that unfortunately Dizze Rascal and Wiley started to do. He knows how to turn an obscure Queens of the Stone Age sample In to a menacing backdrop for some of the most brilliant rhymes I’ve heard in yonks on the ridiculously amazing ‘Man’.

One of the refreshing things about ‘Konitchiwa’ Is that Skepta doesn’t resort to indefensible insults and he never uses profanity as a crutch. He rarely refers to bitches and niggas unless it serves a clear purpose and his vocabulary, whilst sometimes crude, is thoughtful throughout. Skepta may not be the most technically talented rapper on the planet and ‘konnichiwa’ lacks the gravitas of the great Hip Hop albums of recent times, but Skepta has persevered and taken his time to build an album that is crammed with intelligence, personality and attitude. Compared to the overlong and overstuffed ‘Views’ it overflows with creativity and shows fine attention to detail. After years doing solid work in the shadows, Skepta is finally getting his due.

Drake ‘Views’ – 6/10

Skepta ‘Konichiwa’ – 8/10


One Response to “Drake ‘Views’ / Skepta ‘konnichiwa’ – Review”

  1. billycoztigan May 31, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Your last paragraph is bang on, good insight about Skepta. Both albums shine amongst the rubbish thats out there these days. Good review, well put together.

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