Skepta, the popular grime artist from Tottenham in North London, has taken home this year’s Mercury Prize. Nominated for his fourth album Konnichiwa, the 33-year old beat out the likes of Radiohead and – in the first instance of a posthumous nomination in the prize’s history – David Bowie, nominated for his final album Black Star.
Upon receiving the award, which also comes with a £25,000 prize, Skepta expressed his thanks, as well as shock: “Thank you to everybody who was there for me when I was going through depressed times. I don’t know man, I’m so thankful … With no record label we just travelled the world.”
(The eponymous track from Skepta’s Mercury Prize-winning record.)
The Mercury Prize was founded in 1992, and it awarded by panel to the best album of the year released by either a British or Irish musical act. Past winners include musical luminaries such as James Blake, The xx, Antony and the Johnsons, and Pulp. Konnichiwa is the first grime record to receive the prize since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner in 2003.
Grime music has come a long way form its roots, which began in the early 2000s in working-class neighborhoods in London’s East End. Blending characteristics of UK garage and dub, sub-genres within electronic dance music, the movement has also exhibited a distinctly DIY approach to music, earning it a grassroots identity similiar to that which emerged during the heyday of punk.
While the genre’s entry into the mainstream will help broadcast invaluable cultural voices, some fans see a slight contradiction between grime’s origins and its new international stage. As Poppie Platt, penning a student opinion column for The Independent, writes,
I’m not trying to suggest grime was never supposed to branch out and appeal to a wider sector of society, because music is universal, and all that. But it is central to a way of life, a working-class struggle to get by, created by forerunners like Wiley, Kano, and Dizzee Rascal to give a voice to kids who were otherwise marginalised and silenced by a society that didn’t attempt to get to know them.
While some of the exciting magic of grime’s formative years may fade with mainstream attention, Skepta’s big sound and dexterous lyricism captures the genre’s essential ethos, and a new generation of artists promise more inventive albums for years to come.