Skepta (Finally) Brings North London to Chicago

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Skepta (Finally) Brings North London to Chicago

“There’s rappers…and then there’s us!” Skepta shouted at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall on Monday. While braggadocious, the North London MC’s statement held many truths. As arguably Grime’s alpha artist, the reigning Mercury Music Prize winner (for his stellar album Konnichiwa) is finally getting a chance to show America what pure rapping—devoid of any commercially motivated undertones—still sounds like.

Skepta’s previous run of shows in the US were cancelled due to a well-publicized denied Visa, leading to a missed appearance at 2016’s Lollapalooza. This made this show a particularly cathartic stop on his aptly named “Banned From America Tour” and his kind of energy is seldom seen at hip-hop shows in America in this era.

Skepta roared onto the stage wearing a modest white ball cap to match his long-sleeved white shirt and white kicks. The venue’s thundering bass hit on Konnichiwa’s opening title track and the young crowd raged in splendor. It was a symbiotic moment that not just the artist, but the entire crowd, had waited equally as long for, and the energy in the room was palpable.

In claiming the 2016 Mercury Music Prize, Skepta joined artists like PJ Harvey, Roni Size, Arctic Monkeys and The xx as recipients of the UK’s most prestigious yearly music award, raising his profile to global proportions. Hip-hop’s self-appointed tastemaker, Drake, has been gushing over Skepta’s work for the past few years, and put the rapper on his latest album/mixtape/playlist/whatever, More Life. Yet on stage, Skepta comes across as the type of dude who isn’t concerned with high-profile co-signs. “Fuck celebrities, I hate ‘em!” he shouted midway through the set.

And this was the beauty of Skepta’s set: there was literally no attempt to pander to commercial memes. You can bounce to bombastic bangers like “Man,” “Shutdown” and “That’s Not Me” with the confidence that Skepta isn’t trying to be noticed by a major label rapper in order to claim a feature on their next album. Instead, he brought out UK grime demigod Lethal Bizzle on stage to cement the presence of the greater grime movement in America.

Skepta is the guy who brings North London with him wherever he goes. Skepta is the guy that reps his Boy Better Know label and shouts out to the “energy crew” in the crowd to vibe with him and “this rap ting, this spittin’ bars ting!” Skepta is the guy that has Kanye West’s creative director, Virgil Abloh, open his set because the “That’s Not Me” beat is “named Virgil on my computer!” And while Skepta is the guy that Drake rips off now, he stands on his own as a figment of the UK grime rap scene.

“I came to promote something….that real shit!” Skepta shouted out to enormous approval from the crowd. An hour and a half flew by for the explosion of energy that was Skepta’s first ever show in Chicago and the man leading the charge in the grime movement had finally arrived. He’d waited long enough.