- Words Tom Fogden
A look back at Skepta's 10 most impactful tracks, in honour of his newest creative collaboration with Havana Club.
Skepta is, arguably, the biggest and most important UK MC-slash-rapper around at the moment. He’s certainly the grime scene’s most influential export, linking up with Drake, Burna Boy, WizKid, and A$AP Rocky.
But you already knew that, of course. What is often forgotten about Skepta is just how extensive — and excellent — his back catalogue is. Perhaps Skepta’s most slept-on talent is his prodigious production.
Linking up with Skepta, Havana Club are back this month with a new collaboration that sees the artist create his second limited-edition bottle design. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the best Skepta songs (so far), travelling back in time through the MC’s discography, breaking down the anthems and revisiting some oft-overlooked classics.
"Energy (Stay Far Away)" with WizKid
“They better get used to the flex/ African man, you see the jewels on my neck?” Skepta’s outward embrace of his Nigerian heritage continued apace in 2018 with this legendary linkup with WizKid. It proved a slam-dunk for both, amassing more than 45 million streams on YouTube and almost 75 million on Spotify. The production is laidback, with Skepta adopting a nonchalant flow which is perfectly matched by WizKid’s catchy hook.
"Too Many Man"
“I seen a lot of guys doing this ting/ But none of them flex like BBK” raps Shorty on the intro and, you know what? He’s probably right. The song is an absolute classic, the UK funky beat is infectious and, despite Skepta being completely outshone by Frisco on the verse, the song still slaps. If this song gets played at any motive, it’s guaranteed to go off - regardless of how many girls are actually there.
"That's Not Me"
This song was arguably bigger for the UK than it was for Skepta and with platinum certification in the UK and almost 77 million streams on Spotify, it was huge for the Tottenham-born MC. Everything about the 2014 song was a love-letter to the mid-noughties UK grime scene — when Ghetts was called Ghetto, when Risky Roadz and Channel U distributed the sound to London’s youth. Gone were the Versace shirts and vibrant colours from the ‘Blacklisted’ album and in its place was Skepta, clad in an all-black tracksuit spitting into a headphone, flanked by longtime BBK stalwart DJ Maximum.
"Ace Hood Flow"
Taken from 2012’s ‘Blacklisted’ album, “Ace Hood Flow” saw Skepta fire a broadside at the UK rap scene — “The UK run out of ideas/ Everybody doing covers of American beats”. The song opens with deep, brooding piano notes. It’s slow, but, when reaching the chorus, the pianos are overlaid with stabbing synths and thumping bass. The video is brilliant in its simplicity — Skepta performs on his own with a gravitas and magnetism few UK rappers can rival.
"Skepta UK's biggest ever freestyle - Westwood"
Skepta’s 2008 freestyle on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1Xtra show is remarkable, with 9 minutes of straight bars over unashamedly grimey beats. Skepta’s Ed Hardy outfit might not have aged well but this freestyle certainly has.
As the second single from 2019's Ignorance is Bliss, Skepta's link up with Nafe Smallz introduced a lineup of flawless collaborations to follow - from J Hus to WizKid and Lay-Z, Lancey Foux to Cheb Rabi and B Live.
"Look Out ft. Giggs"
Another seriously old school Skepta tune featuring Giggs, “Look Out” is a legendary link up. Sonically, the song moves away from the grime scene, it’s slower but still hits hard. Lyrically, the two rappers bring their respective A-games with quotable lyrics and sharp wordplay. The video, released some 12 years ago, perhaps hasn’t aged as well. It’s from the real golden age of SBTV and features Skepta proudly showing off his Nissan 350Z and Giggs arriving to the video shoot mob-handed in a silver 4x4.
Winding it back to 2011 and the glory days of N-Dubz - if you didn't know this collab existed, you're welcome.
Another Skepta production, DTI is a brilliant love letter to pirate radio and shows Skepta’s ambition from as early as 2004. The instrumental’s production still holds up with a brilliant range of singles and sound effects. It even includes JME’s trademark “Serious” ad-lib. However, the video takes the biscuit here. It shows two DTI engineers coming to take down a transmitter from the top of a council block before being outwitted by a bunch of local lads following a tip-off. They don’t make beats or videos like this any longer and the world is a lesser place for it.
The now iconic Drake sample and distorted horns make this a modern day grime classic. Skepta’s lyrics are, again, highly quotable and braggadocious: “I was in Paris/ Shut down l’Arc/ New York/ Shut down Central Park”. The video, filmed at London’s Barbican estate, harkens back to the days of Risky Roadz and SBTV freestyles but it shows a level of polish, with colour-coordinated outfits (and Mercedes G63 AMG) and regular setting changes.