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Why Skepta’s Mercury win was the only real choice


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Last night, the Mercury Prize made a vital statement in selected the work of Skepta as the best album of the previous year, a statement that flies in the face of an on-going devastation of UK youth culture.


We live in a nation that is increasingly divided (on age, on religion, on class) and racism is on the rise. Under 25s have had their prospects and aspirations shattered by years of anti-youth policies, and the last eight years have seen the ‘gentrification’ and homogenisation of culture progress at rampant levels – streets of Costa coffee shops, wine bars and expensive flats have replaced pubs and clubs that allow music culture thrive, and artists are priced out (and that’s just the capital).

Award ceremonies in general are manifestation of fact our mainstream music industry is an exercise in playing it safe, run largely by white, middle-class men. Take the Brits complete lack of grime, or in fact much of any cultural note, as the case in point.

Grime as a genre is the last truly unique music culture movement we have in the UK, something that has been born from its own location, with its own language, own sound. It speaks directly for people that have been largely ignored by popular culture, and it has smashed its way into national consciousness on its own term – it is the most ‘punk’ music we have right now.

And Skepta is the embodiment of this, as an artist who has achieved huge success with no record label, refusing to do much press and not conforming to anything.

As an excellent MC, with insightful rhymes that speak to people like him, his trump card is that the establishment, the older generation and white middle-class suburbia, on the whole, just don’t get him! In the same way all great music movements in the past have upset the status quo, grime can now join a list that include rock n roll, metal, punk and acid house.

The social media backlash from keyboard warriors stating it is ‘just noise’, ‘not music’ and the ‘lyrics don’t mean anything’ just cement this point.

Music is a subjective thing, and nothing can be taken away from the sheer quality of this year’s Mercury list, how can you knock the exceptional work of acts like Radiohead, David Bowie, Savages or Bats for Lashes? But in terms of impact, freshness and moving music in a different direction the only real choice was Skepta.

Had he been alive today David Bowie would have recognised this fact as a man who throughout his career was an avid promoter of the ‘new thing’.

In a country where conformity, nostalgia and conservatism are increasingly the main cultural currency we have, the Mercury Prize has shined a light on the polar opposite – music that comes from a vital outsider culture (from a neglected part of society) that is making its voice, creativity and inventiveness heard through music.

‘Konnichiwa’ is not just a great album musically, but a great call to arms, proving that if you have something to say, have talent and the drive Britain is still a place where you can thrive and make a different.

Skepta said to day that this is a revolution – let’s hope so.

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