The most widely recognised UK rapper is Boy Better Know’s very own Skepta. From pirate radio station days to global stardom, Skepta has led the charge for putting the UK scene on the map. Initially starting out as a DJ and producer, he eventually picked up emceeing, and the rest is history. In the latest edition of Albums Ranked, Mic Cheque tackle the North London icon’s discography in the publication’s quest to document the most celebrated native catalogues.
Skepta has released five studio albums and four mixtapes (not including unofficial mixes). Here are all projects ranked and deconstructed.
9. Doin’ It Again (2010)
Doin’ It Again was a stinker. It is not the worst album amongst the crop of ’09-10 mainstream attempts, but still a record to forget. Matter fact, it feels as if Doin’ It Again is erased from history, never coming up in UK music conversations. This album is the definition of anti-Skepta; the Skepta chasing the trendy hits that were demanded by the clueless record labels at the time. Granted, it worked, banking three consecutive top 40 entries.
Tracks like “Bad Boy”, “Amnesia” and “Do It Like Me” are amongst his all-time worst, caught up in the mess of dubstep and “pop grime” crossovers (whatever that is). Its moments of redemptions come with “Cross My Heart”, “So Alive” and the P Diddy-assisted “Hello Good Morning” remix. Even in Skepta’s eyes, this album doesn’t exist.
Best tracks: “So Alive”, “Hello Good Morning (Grime Remix)”, “Cross My Heart”
8. Insomnia (2020)
Skepta joined forces with Young Adz and Chip for one of the few collaborative albums that exist in the UK scene. Unfortunately, it was a dim release that immediately came and went. With such big household names involved, Insomnia never reaches the heights to match over its 12 tracks. A misplaced spotlight on Young Adz and the tiresome trap template is what ultimately leads to a forgettable album. The linkup is legendary but the music is not.
Best tracks: “Sin City”, “High Road”, “Waze”
7. Community Payback (2011)
Three months after the release of Doin’ It Again, Skepta released Community Payback as a free mixtape. Hosted by the iconic DJ Whoo Kid, it is a trimmed project at just 11 tracks and a 30-minute runtime. Though not a bad tape, it is loosely compiled with no real direction (in true mixtape fashion), not to mention an odd Iyaz sample (remember him?). Regardless, Community Payback has its gems and still channels signature Skepta.
Best tracks: “Expensive Talk”, “Frisco”, “Asian Girl”
6. Been There Done That (2010)
Here is a project close to erased from Skepta’s catalogue. Unavailable on streaming and chronologically sandwiched between one of his best and worst albums, Been There Done That is vintage Skepta to a tee. The signature Skepta production is in full show, backed by solid hooks and standout verses. Aside the 13 standard tracks, it attaches three classic self-produced instrumentals. Been There Done That is right in line with the Tottenham emcee’s claim as the King of Grime.
Best tracks: “Private Caller 2”, “Two Plus Two”, “Over the Top 2”, “Spit Big Bars”, “Red Bull Academy”, “Stupid”
5. Blacklisted (2012)
Blacklisted: the project that refocused Skepta’s trajectory. It famously marked the death of the Doin’ It Again era, a personal awakening that saw Skepta snap out the trance of the mainstream. The 40-minute tape is consistently moody, a true anomaly in his catalogue in terms of sound and subject matter.
Though widely regarded as one of his best works, Blacklisted suffers from being the ‘transitional’ project. It appears to reject mainstream traits, but still embraces them in tracks like “Lay Her Down”, “Somebody’s Everything”, “You Know Me” and “We Begin Things”. Let down by its own hypocrisy, Blacklisted is carried by its highs and let down by its forgettable second half.
Best tracks: “Castles”, “Same Shit Different Day”, “Ace Hood Flow”, “Badman in Tivoli”
4. Ignorance Is Bliss (2019)
In some ways, Skepta’s fifth album is Blacklisted reimagined. On Ignorance is Bliss, Skepta exerts ownership of his style after a brief period of falling back on the words of “Ace Hood Flow”. His thoughts are on wax with “Bullet from a Gun” and “Going Through It”, reminiscent of Blacklisted‘s “Castles”. Even in 2019, Skepta continues to create grime tracks, nailing efforts with “Gangsta”, “You Wish” and “Same Old Story”.
Ignorance Is Bliss 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 always grime, but it isn’t your usual UK rap either (“Love Me Not”, “Glow in the Dark”). Even if every beat doesn’t hit (“No Sleep”), at least Skepta can say it’s distinct.
Best tracks: “Bullet from a Gun”, “Pure Water”, “Greaze Mode”, “Same Old Story”, “Gangsta”
3. Greatest Hits (2007)
It takes some guts to name your debut album Greatest Hits. Released three years after grime’s prime, Skepta’s debut packs plenty grime tracks to make it one of the most memorable debuts of the genre. Greatest Hits is home to “I Spy”, “Duppy (Doin’ It Again)”, “Single” and its title track. When it comes to core grime, Greatest Hits ticks all the boxes: great instrumentals, presence on the track, and plenty reloads.
What truly separates Greatest Hits from Ignorance Is Bliss is its highs. The classic grime cuts are simply too good to depreciate. It is far from perfect, but the raw, grime energy of a youthful, hungry Skepta cannot be topped by any previously listed project.
Best tracks: “I Spy”, “Greatest Hits”, “Single”, “Doin’ It Again”, “I’m There”, “Shape Shifting”
2. Microphone Champion (2009)
As you climb closer up to the top of this list, there should be a realisation of just how much there is a lack of celebration for Skepta albums. Above them all, his second album deserves overdue flowers. Microphone Champion improves Skepta’s ability to craft songs, offering a totally consistent grime album front to back. It opens up with one of the best opening tracks, “Reflecting”, before diving into multiple grime classics: “Gingerbread Man”, “Too Many Man”, “Sticks ‘n’ Stones”, “Over the Top”, and more. “Look Out” with Giggs offers a timeless collaboration with both artists in peak form – a track that tops plenty rappers’ whole albums.
Microphone Champion‘s best trait is its humour. The comical “Skepta” is his most playful tune to date. “Oh My Gosh” is the most unserious song you will hear about an arrest. Then there is “Too Many Man”, the classic posse cut that lives within UK culture to this day. With so much personality on show, Microphone Champion has to be one of Skepta’s best albums.
Best tracks: “Gingerbread Man”, “Look Out”, “Madness”, “Too Many Man”, “Over the Top”, “Sticks ‘n’ Stones”, “Reflecting”
1. Konnichiwa (2016)
If not for its length, Microphone Champion would earn the crown. But with quality, brevity and classic songs on its side, Skepta’s fourth album is his magnum opus. Konnichiwa is a total realisation for Skepta, free from the shackles of Underdog Psychosis. It is an album that was four years in the making, constantly delayed and repeatedly scrapped. The final result is a product that no one can complain with; a unique grime album to the core.
Konnichiwa is the rebirth of Skepta. In terms of the bigger picture, it showed the power of grime to a younger generation. But it also saved Skepta’s career from being forgotten. The consistency of the record speaks for itself. The hattrick of grime hits—”That’s Not Me”, “Shutdown” and “Man”—is a phenomenon that hasn’t been replicated since. “It Ain’t Safe” is the finest example of Skepta’s signature, muddy bassline. “Corn on the Curb” is relentless in its flows and verses. “Lyrics” is like a grime set happening live in the flesh. Granted, even with Konnichiwa there are some minor blemishes (“Numbers”, “Ladies Hit Squad”), but they do not derail the experience.
Konnichiwa is where Skepta is at his best, an album where its legacy lives up to the quality.
Best tracks: “That’s Not Me”, “Shutdown”, “Man”, “Lyrics”, “Corn on the Curb”, “Crime Riddim”, “Konnichiwa”