“I’ve always been about getting people to relate,” Skepta tells Apple Music. “In the sense that we're all together—even if we might think we’re not, or things make us feel like we're constantly competing with each other. I make music to show that we're going through the same things.” Embodying the bustling, communal ethos of the early grime scene, Skepta’s bold direction and belief earned him membership to “the four best crews in the game” (Meridian, Boy Better Know, Roll Deep, and affiliation with Manchester’s Shadow Demon Coalition) as declared in the opening line of “I Spy” on 2007’s Greatest Hits. More than a decade on from that independently released debut, though, the pandemic enforced a new approach for the team player from Tottenham.
“I just felt weird about making music for people to download at 12:00 on a Thursday night in their houses,” he says. “And then debate about who's better than me, or who I'm better than. That's not really what I do it for. I like to give people moments they can remember, with friends, with music, and for that I also need to perform live.” Skepta found a willing audience on Instagram Live, in a thrilling producer battle against JAE5. After going track for track with each other, the pair launched a new, collaborative chapter that spearheads All In, the BBK frontman’s second EP. The rich, celebratory package of tracks returns Skepta to the fore in style. He floats on airy soul samples with Teezee and Kid Cudi (“Peace of Mind”), recruits Colombian superstar J Balvin for a multilingual anthem (“Nirvana”), and pays homage to classic grime aesthetics (“Eyes on Me”). Still grinding in the studio most days, nights on the road were replaced with a new pastime: poker. “It’s crazy how much of a metaphor the game is to life,” he says. “Starting out with just being lucky and getting good cards. And if you don't, you can bluff and still win. We were playing, and I had some good cards. Like, really good cards. And I said, ‘All in.’ Someone said, ‘That's the name!’ and the room stopped. It just felt right.” Read on for Skepta’s track-by-track guide to the EP.
“Normally I'd like to get more introspective in the lyrics for the intro, but this project doesn’t need a whole story behind it. These are five bangers that will go off and live their own lives, hopefully bigger than me. And when I’m working on a project, I’ll call [British producer and artist] Ragz Originale to come and listen; I trust his opinion. I played him this track. He asked for the files and whipped up something extra at the end. The beat that it changes into, that’s his style really. I love his work.”
“Peace of Mind” (feat. Teezee & Kid Cudi)
“In the studio, people are usually around, nodding, responding to the music, but when we made this one it was completely different. They were standing on the sofas, the desk, it was ridiculous—drinks were spilling everywhere. We ended up leaving the studio, went to a bar, and at every stage we’re getting more and more lit. We came back and [Nigerian rapper] Teezee put his verse on, and I’m looking around the room at this amazing energy. It happens to me sometimes, where I realize, ‘I’ve got something here.’”
“JAE5 is such a hard worker, he never wants to make one song and leave. We had a guitarist in the studio and he was set on making more. At this time, [2020 single] ‘Papi Chulo’ was still ringing, and I really wanted to make a part two to it. I remember me and Jae had a moment in the studio with this song. I sent it to Drake with just my verse on it, but he didn’t respond. I took it as he was busy, or he listened and thought it's not him. As I’m about to lay another verse, JAE5 suggests J Balvin. When I sent it to him, he hit me back in minutes: ‘Yo, I just listened to the song. I love it. I'm going to get in a car and drive around to it.’ The next day, we had his verse—and his lyrics have even helped set out the storyboard for the video.”
“Lit Like This”
“This will definitely be my December-in-Nigeria anthem, and it’s the first track I made with JAE5. We had a [sound] clash over Instagram last year, and there was a lot of trash talk going on. But after we cut off the live [feed], we got on the phone and reflected on how many bangers we have in different spaces of the UK, and decided to start connecting those worlds. We were going through beats, and eventually he made some brand-new shit on the spot. He really plays everything, does all the melodies. And he won’t make the beat and sit on the sofa, he’ll come with more ideas. He stays in that chair [at the mixing desk] and doesn't come off, not until it's time to go home.”
“Eyes on Me”
“The sample running through this song is taken from an old dancehall track [Dave Kelly’s ‘Showtime Riddim’]. But obviously, [London grime producer] Platinum 45 and [London grime producer] Chubby Dread sampled it first on ‘Oi’ by More Fire Crew. I was out listening to a throwback grime set when I heard it again. As soon as it starts, just before the bass comes in, I remember listening to the bounce and thinking how much I wanted to spit on that bounce. So I sampled it. And when Ragz came to the studio, he added a better bass and improved it. This is a good merge of new-school sounds and old-school sounds, to pay homage to the sample and bring it more up to date. I feel like this is where grime is at the moment.”