Skepta: Feuding like Drake and Kendrick Lamar? That's Not Me

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

Skepta is having a busy year. The grime icon, 41, says he feels like a “headless chicken” with how much he has got on.

Last night, he played a raucous gig for 400 fans with his collective Boy Better Know, celebrating his new clothing line with Puma. This summer, he is putting on his first festival in Crystal Palace, topping the bill himself. And that is all alongside launching his much-anticipated sixth full album, Knife and Fork, coming soon.

He is so busy he doesn’t have time for feuds with other rappers — a subject which has made headlines in recent weeks after stars Kendrick Lamar and Drake suddenly started the biggest spat the genre has seen for years. Lamar has made vicious accusations about Drake’s private life and things have got out of hand. Skepta has often worked with Drake, who once called him a “brother”. What does he make of it all, I ask?

“I’m going to stay out of this one,” he says carefully, before trying to add some calm. “It used to be fun back in the day but now it’s getting a bit serious.” Thinking back on his celebrated grime battles as a young man, he says: “Battling is really good when the two people have nothing to lose. We all got it out of our system when we were younger.”

The rapper, who has two children, adds: “Nowadays, I think it’s bad for business. We’re too old for that, man … Let the kids argue.”

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

“It’s fun when you’re in school, you’re having cussing matches, but nobody cares, you don’t lose anything,” Skepta goes on. “But we’re adults now and we have children and we’re taking care of our families… So battling people can also end in …,” he tails off, before adding: “Personally, I think I’ve done all the clashing and battling I need to do.”

We are meeting to talk about Skepta’s new line of clothing — including a line of iridescent coloured trainers — which was revealed this week. He has been wearing Puma since he started out as a “young G”, explaining that the brand has “always been close to grime”.

He is enjoying the creative control he has in the striking designs. It’s a love for clothes that stems from childhood. He remembers being “broke… walking into stores with my mum wishing that I could buy stuff,” and lusting after shoes, toy cars and football goals in the garden, which they couldn’t afford.

When he did save up to buy a pair of trainers, they stayed near his bed. “I used to leave them where I could see them just to make sure that it wasn’t a dream and they wouldn’t disappear,” he says thoughtfully. “When I go to design shoes, I just go with the magic of how I felt when I was a kid.”

Skepta’s mother Ify moved to the UK from Nigeria in 1980, having first fled the country’s civil war. She worked as a cleaner in the City and met his father Joseph when they worked together at a bingo club. They had four children, all of whom became successful: two MCs, a broadcaster and a graphic designer. Both parents were at the gig lasft night.

Skepta also gets design inspiration from his life now, when he can buy all the clothes he wants, but is often disappointed by what is in his wardrobe. “I will walk past clothes that I bought two weeks ago and I just understand very quickly that I will never wear them again,” he says. “I want it to be a classic, I want it to be like in a vintage store when I’m dead and gone in hundreds of years.”

 (Dave Benett)
(Dave Benett)

He is a visual man: during lockdown, he created a series of impressive paintings that captured his Nigerian roots. “I think people who listen to me like longevity,” Skepta says. “If you like my stuff, subconsciously, you like vintage… you like buying a T-shirt that you can wear for five years.”

“I’m not a throwaway rapper,” he continues, warming to the theme. “I rap very basic, but my nursery rhyme style, or childlike style of creating, will stand the test of time.” Skepta’s longevity is real. More than 20 years ago, he and his brother Jme were at the forefront of the nascent grime scene as part of Meridian Crew. Skepta eventually went his own way, making some record label fodder he prefers to forget, before the classic hits That’s Not Me and Shutdown. When album Konnichiwa won the Mercury Prize in 2016, it was heralded as a crossover moment for grime.

Despite becoming a celebrity, and being linked to Naomi Campbell, he has kept making credible music, and it is that which will keep him busiest this year. He is proud that fans will be flying in from around the world to Crystal Palace Park for his Big Smoke festival in July (although he admits he would have loved it to have been in Tottenham).

Sharing the bill with The Streets and Mahalia, he sounds excited about giving smaller artists like Uncle Waffles their moment in the sun.

Chip, Jammer BBK, Novelist and Skepta attend Skepta x Puma Collection Launch (Dave Benett)
Chip, Jammer BBK, Novelist and Skepta attend Skepta x Puma Collection Launch (Dave Benett)

“These people have been grafting for years, and they need to be on stage with lights,” he says. Fans should get excited about the new album too, his first in five years. Skepta has meticulously curated its sound (he has often done his own production). The star says he recently took a trip to New York, to gain a newfound perspective on UK music and culture.

He is thoughtful on the state of music today, saying that when he grew up grime was a very distinct scene but now there is a new kind of “world music”, where US rapper Ice Spice and British star Central Cee can operate in the same genre, despite coming from the opposite sides of the globe. “I think the days of coming up from a scene are over, I think you come up from your bedroom,” Skepta says, with a little nostalgia but no hard feelings.

And with that, he is off, returning to the fashion and tunes. He ends with a sympathetic message for fans who might be overwhelmed with it all — he certainly is sometimes. “Try and keep up with what I’m doing,” Skepta says. “Don’t get left behind, because I’m running fast.”

Check out Skepta’s new Puma line here

The Big Smoke Festival takes place on July 6; for more details visit