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The 11 best Skepta songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are the 11 best Skepta tracks ahead of Big Smoke 2024

An MC, a genre pioneer, filmmaker, fashion designer, record label co-founder – these are just a few of the accolades that bastion of Black British culture Skepta is known for across his expansive career. And come 6 July, you can add festival curator to that list, as the inaugural Big Smoke Festival takes over Crystal Palace Park. The festival is not only a celebration of Black electronic music and artists, but a chance to see the multifaceted multi-hyphenate artist flex performance skills as both an MC and a DJ. The Big Smoke stage will host artists across grime, Afrobeats, R&B and more; featuring Mahalia, The Streets, Odumodublvck, YG Marley and JME. While the Más Tiempo stage will host an array of DJs including Ossie, SYREETA and Jammer – and Skepta, ever the overachiever, will headline both stages.

Over the years, we’ve seen the rapper expand his sonic artistry, collaborating with artists such as Wizkid, A$AP Mob, Etta Bond and more, moving seamlessly from grime to dance to R&B-tinged productions whilst maintaining his well-known basso profondo and hard-hitting delivery. His bars are permanently etched into the lexicon of UK slang across generations, and in 2023, Skepta was crowned the Best British Rapper of All Time in celebration of Hip Hop 50. But which of his songs in his inimitable catalogue reign supreme? Ahead of Big Smoke Festival, we rank Skepta’s top 11 songs.

11. ‘Skepta’

(Microphone Champion, 2009)

What better way to begin our list than with the eponymous deepcut from one of Skepta’s earlier projects, Microphone Champion. Sampling and interpolating ‘It Takes Two’ by NYC duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, ‘Skepta’ is a great example of how the rapper is in constant dialogue with rap and hip hop history, whilst still making music that is future-facing. And while Skepta has garnered a reputation that precedes him, often not needing an introduction, this song allows the rapper to introduce himself on his own terms – “I’m Skepta and I came to get down / Yeah, I’m internationally known / And I’m known to rock a microphone”. These lyrics may seem simple but are also predictive of a future where Skepta is the international cultural juggernaut that he his today, considering this project was released in 2009. I will note that while the higher charting, more ubiquitous song ‘Too Many Man (feat. BBK)’ is also on Microphone Champion, the song title speaks to why the song does not make this list. There are, quite frankly, too many man on that song, and our focus is the one and only.

10. ‘That’s Not Me’

(Konnichiwa, 2016)

Mercury Prize-winning Konnichiwa is a grime classic, complete with a tracklist where any of the songs could be crowned as Skepta’s best. But we would be remiss if sibling collaboration ‘That’s Not Me’ didn’t make our top 10. Featuring BBK co-founder and Skepta’s younger brother JME, ‘That’s Not Me’ is a celebration of one’s roots, a discard of fickle trends, a return to braggadocio and commentary on the pitfalls of fame – all accentuated in a £80-budget music video. It marked a resurgence of grime for mainstream audiences; bringing in headline festival slots for both JME and Skepta, and a refreshed appetite for more music and art from the BBK camp. A genre and era-defining track – one of many in Skepta’s repertoire. Both brothers are on the Big Smoke Festival line-up, so here’s hoping that we get a live rendition of this anthem on stage at Crystal Palace Park.

9. ‘Mains’

(Insomnia, 2020)

Also the name of Skepta’s ready-to-wear fashion brand – one with the ethos of creating high-quality clothes accessible for the masses – ‘Mains’ comes in ninth on our list, and is our first instance of how seamless Skepta’s collaborations are. Featuring fellow MCs CHIP and Young Adz, ‘Mains’ is the lead single from the three rappers’ joint project, Insomnia – a link-up of grime and British hip hop mainstays and up-and-comers. Summery and jovial in tone, ‘Mains’ is one of 12 tracks that the trio created all through freestyling and bouncing ideas off each other. It was the first beat Skepta sent to CHIP at the start of creating Insomnia, and the first song they made together – and the first time Young Adz and Skepta even met, creating the song first before even having an introductory chat. ‘Mains’ is so cohesive that you wouldn’t even guess that on first listen (or 100th listen, if you’re as obsessed as us).

8. ‘Energy (Stay Far Away)’

(Energy (Stay Far Away) – Single, 2018)

If there was a song to capture the Afroswing summer of 2018, this is it. The first of many collaborations with Afrobeat titan Wizkid, ‘Energy’ shows a more sensual side to Skepta’s flow which, when paired with Wizkid’s distinct vocals, is the perfect summer anthem. Very simply put, “bad energy, stay far away” is the resounding theme of the Sarz-produced track and an easy message to follow, making the song a timeless dancefloor-filler since its release.

7. ‘Shutdown’

(Konnichiwa, 2016)

Yet another genre and era-defining moment for Skepta, and arguably one of his most well-known hits, our lucky number seven is ‘Shutdown’. Much like the rapper himself, the song begs for no introduction as it was crowned “The Best Track of 2015” by the Guardian, dubbed a “musical revelation” by Line of Best Fit, features that all-too-famous Drake sample as its intro, and firmly planted grime as a force to be reckoned with for global mainstream audiences. Produced by Ragz Originale and Skepta himself, ‘Shutdown’ has been featured across multiple forms of media; trainer adverts, video game soundtracks, TV shows – the list goes on. And just like the lyrics in ‘Skepta’, ‘Shutdown’ is once again a prediction of all the accolades and accompanying frenzy that would come to surround him. “Fashion week and it’s shutdown” is a nice nod from 2015 Skepta to 2024 Skepta, who would be shutting down London Fashion Week with his highly anticipated Mains runway show.

6. ‘Text Me Back’

(Konnichiwa, 2016)

A more quietly kept secret from Konnichiwa, our sixth spot is the more emotionally charged and vulnerable ‘Text Me Back’. While the song starts off with a mini skit of a comedic voicemail, it takes us on a journey of trying to achieve big goals on the road while trying to maintain romantic and personal relationships, with Skepta lamenting “I’ve been around the world and back / I ain’t met anybody I wanna be with more than you” to the subject of his affections. Text Me Back’ is the closing track of the album, a tonal shift from the more assertive and macho lyrical delivery throughout the project, and a prime example of Skepta conveying his multifaceted nature as person and artist.

5. ‘Ace Hood Flow’

(Blacklisted, 2012)

A standout track on 2012’s Blacklisted (a project laden with strong contenders), ‘Ace Hood Flow’ is a track that demonstrates one of Skepta’s core pillars – staying true to himself and his identity as a UK rapper and grime artist. “The UK run out of ideas / Everybody doing covers of American beats” is one of the opening lyrics of ‘Ace Hood Flow’, showing the rapper’s longstanding disdain for trend-hopping and UK music’s centring of American sounds and aesthetics over homegrown genres. It’s still an astute observation over a decade later, with music journalists like Elijah calling for UK radio stations to play more UK talents during daytime programming. Similarly to his sentiments on ‘That’s Not Me’ and more, ‘Ace Hood Flow’ denounces the trap of making poor replicas of US hip hop culture over an unabashedly grime beat produced by Skepta himself.

4. ‘No Security’

(Vicious, 2017)

From surprise Halloween release Vicious, ‘No Security’ is number four on our list. Sharp, dark and laced with bravado, the track shows no slowing down for the rapper post Konnichiwa, and is a reminder that none of his releases are a fluke. Featuring eerie synths and an eerier Malcolm X speech sample (“I am a man who believes that I died 20 years ago, and I live like I’m dead already”), the track showcases how the MC doesn’t shy away from the starker realities of his life and history, but thrives in it – like Bane but make it grime.

3. ‘Glow In The Dark (Feat. Lay-Z & Wizkid)’

(Ignorance Is Bliss, 2019)

Could this possibly be an entry where my personal taste outweighed the serious vetting process of our ranking system? Absolutely. But it’s just that good so fairness be damned. Our first foray into 2019’s Ignorance Is Bliss, ‘Glow In The Dark’ marks the first of our top three. The largely self-produced album was Skepta’s triumphant return after his 2016 Mercury Prize-winner Konnichiwa, and a highly anticipated return at that – even though he had released EPs and singles in the interim. Opting for a sound closer to ‘Text Me Back’ than ‘Shutdown’, Ignorance Is Bliss has a more subtle and somber approach in-keeping with the shifts made in his personal life, and with his more mature attitude overall. ‘Glow In The Dark’ explores governmental failures, the experience and perils of being a Black man in the UK (even one as famous as Skepta), and the hard-earned street-smart confidence of it all. Quite different from Skepta’s first collaboration with Wizkid, but a welcome addition to both artists’ catalogues.

2. ‘Man’

(Konnichiwa, 2016)

You’d be hard-pressed to find an Instagram caption in 2016 that didn’t feature lyrics from ‘Man’. From “my mum don’t know your mum, stop telling man you’re my cousin” to “I only socialise with the crew and the gang”, Skepta has a knack for capturing the sentiments of many in just a few short lines. For the grip ‘Man’ had on fans’ internet behaviour alone, it’s no shock that it takes our coveted second spot on this list. However, beyond the captions, the song still poignantly discusses the recent history of race relations in working class communities around London, and how different the landscape was in 2016 as opposed to when Skepta was growing up at the start of his career. It takes a particular artist to be able to create art that serves as both entertainment and ethnography, and there is no one better at it than Skepta.

1. ‘Bullet From A Gun’

(Ignorance Is Bliss, 2019)

Coming in at number one is lead single from Ignorance Is Bliss, ‘Bullet From A Gun’, where Skepta explores personal demons, romantic heartbreak, the joys of fatherhood, and an appreciation of having good support around him. While ‘Bullet From A Gun’ is a lot less in-your-face than his previous breakout single ‘Shutdown’, it features the same production duo (Ragz Originale and Skepta). The track set the tone for what listeners would experience with Ignorance Is Bliss, an evolution and, in many ways, a new stage in life for the fans who’ve grown up with him. It’s equal parts vulnerable and assertive, and features some of the best writing that Skepta has to offer.

Catch Skepta at Big Smoke Festival on 6 July 2024. Find tickets here.