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Old school ‘grime’ thrives in Chicago

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Concert Review

Skepta+performing+at+Concord+Music+Hall+on+April+24th.
Skepta performing at Concord Music Hall on April 24th.

Skepta performing at Concord Music Hall on April 24th.

Amanda Lafferty

Amanda Lafferty

Skepta performing at Concord Music Hall on April 24th.

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Skepta, part of the UK grime group BBK (Boy Better Know), has seen many obstacles to play in Chicago. He was scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza in 2016 but was unable to make it due issues obtaining a visa. Skepta’s first show in the city on April 24 had high expectations by both new and longtime fans.

According to music publication Pigeons and Planes, UK grime is not an offshoot of American hip-hop and should be considered a separate entity. Grime musicians are most often under the title of MC. Though it has more recently gained popularity in the United States from the likes of Kanye West and Drake, it originates back to 2002 with London grime artist Wiley.

The demographics of the show were expected: young, belligerent teens and college students eager to see one man who had never before played in Chicago. I was one of the few ladies in attendance.

Before Skepta’s performance was a last minute addition to the lineup, Chicago raised DJ Virgil Abloh.

Abloh played a diverse range of tracks, ranging from local favorites by Kanye West to recognizable grime songs by JME. The only dull moment in his set was during a song by UK garage artist Burial, an artist I love, but obviously one that the crowd had never listened to before. As “Archangel” echoed through the concert hall, I felt as if I was the only one dancing — which did not deter me from enjoying myself.

To start off Skepta’s set, recorded female vocals on top of a bass-less instrumental were quietly introduced and started a frenzy in the crowd. Those who knew his catalogue could recognize the song “Konnichiwa” instantly. Screams arose from the crowd and as soon as Skepta graced the stage, chaos ensued.

Though I’ve been to a fair share of rap and hip-hop shows, not one had lived up to this intensity. I started the show towards the mid-back of the crowd and was thrust to the very front, which led me to not only witness the clashing and colliding of mainly 20-something-year old male bodies, but also being thrown in myself.

The setlist consisted of a mix of new and old; most songs performed came from his latest full EP “Konnichiwa.” Yet older hits were also welcomed by the audience. Off of Skepta’s 2013 EP “Blacklist,” “Ace Hood Flow” was performed with vigor and ferocity. Skepta repeated the acronym “BBK,” reminding the crowd of the importance of his grime collective.

The only moment of disappointment came from a lack of special guests. Of course, this would have been a hard expectation to fulfill because even Skepta had past difficulties coming to Chicago.

Skepta carried on the show with crowd favorites such as “Lyrics” and “Shutdown,” both off of “Konnichiwa.” His performance of the the latter was a personal favorite, partially due to a verse that references Kanye West’s powerful and somewhat controversial performance at the 2015 Brit Awards.

West’s performance of “All Day” at the award show included grime artists such as Skepta, Novelist and nearly 40 other musicians all dressed in black outfits and gathered on the stage.  According to The Guardian, some argue that it was a performance which glorified US hip-hop artists while undermining UK grime artists. Others were shocked to see a large collective of hip-hop musicians during a primetime awards show, which Skepta points out as a racist sentiment in “Shutdown.”

Skepta’s first show in Chicago was filled with intense energy, both during his MC-ing and within the audience. Though the set only lasted an hour, Skepta’s first time playing in Chicago, was special and met high expectations.

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Old school ‘grime’ thrives in Chicago