Review: Skepta, ‘Ignorance is Bliss’

The Tottenham MC is free from distractions on his fluorescent return.

Many critics introduce Skepta as if his career began in 2016. Granted, Skepta’s previous album, Konnichiwa, propelled the grime MC to another level, however it was a moment that was in the making for at least 13 years. The days of the “Bad Boy” label gimmicks were buried far in the dirt and traded for the reason Skepta is where is he is today: being unapologetically himself. As an English veteran and the most international rapper of the country

For the past couple years, it appeared Skepta was momentarily re-influenced by the American scene (cue the opening four bars of “Ace Hood Flow“). On Ignorance is Bliss, Skepta exerts ownership of his style.

Ignorance is Bliss is not without its lulls, but is a refreshing dose of originality in a scene currently lacking in fresh ideas. To those who wanted another Konnichiwa may be disappointed, as its follow-up is far from it. The eski-grime grit of Konnichiwa is exchanged for a palette of synth-grime. In the lead up to the release, Skepta stated “Every song sounds different”. Evidently, the veteran MC’s word is bond. Skepta almost single handedly channels a range of production across the 14 tracks while maintaining their obedience to a particular sound, segregated from the rest of the British scene. It’s not directly grime, but it isn’t your usual hip hop either. Even if every beat doesn’t hit (“No Sleep”), at least Skepta can say it’s distinct.

Although not for the first time in his career, Skepta makes it known he has something to say, right from the jump. The hypnotic opener “Bullet from a Gun” is a birds-eye-view insight into Skepta’s thoughts, whether that is his views on the Internet or his relationship with his dad (“See, it’s too easy to write a sad song about how my dad raised me / ‘Cause I’m lookin’ in the mirror and my dad made me“). There is a sense of determination in Skepta’s bars, a sense he can reach even further than he already is.

The signature Skepta bass appears on the second single, “Greaze Mode”. Nafe Smallz enters unfamiliar territory but ends up complimenting the carefree track, showcasing why more artists should be calling him for hook duties. “What Do You Mean?” featuring J Hus possesses the aura of an early 50 Cent song, smooth yet serious. As always, J Hus inflicts slick one-liners, without the need to spit a verse (“North Korean, Kim Jong-un when I spray the machine”).

Some may say Skepta is a totally new artist these days, but a handful of songs draw influences from his previous albums. “Same Old Story” would fit perfectly on his 2009 Microphone Champion album, while the Boy Better Know posse cut “Gangsta” feels out of the forgotten Doin’ It Again era (specifically a callback to “Cross My Heart”). The Eastern “Redrum” belongs on a deluxe edition of Konnichiwa. These may not be the strongest songs of Skepta’s career but dispel any doubters that believe Skepta’s switched up his style.

Rarely an emotionally expressive artist, “Going Through It” is a therapeutic track benefitting no one else but Skepta. It doesn’t get something off his chest but lets the listener know its existence (“Man, I’ve been going through it / I don’t wanna talk about it / I don’t wanna get into it”). It is a pragmatic statement of a man who doesn’t want to dive into the details of his worries but still needs an imprecise emotional release into the world.

While diverse in its musical palette, Ignorance is Bliss is sporadically one step away from complete satisfaction. “Animal Instinct” is a premature contender for the best song on the album until its ill-matched hook. Empty hooks exist on cuts like “Redrum”, “No Sleep” and “You Wish”, toning down the album’s replay value by a few levels. Acquired taste is required for “Love Me Not” and “Glow in the Dark”, the former being an experimental blend of alternative and 2000s garage.

Konnichiwa was an album placed at the helm of a grime starter pack. Ignorance is Bliss is Skepta in his everlasting zone of artistry, unbothered by opinions and free from distractions. Skepta isn’t back, he was always there.

Rating: 7 / 10

Best tracks: “Bullet from a Gun”, “Greaze Mode”, “Pure Water”, “Gangsta”, “Going Through It”, “Same Old Story”