Skepta’s Search for Inner Peace

  • TextSkepta
  • PhotographyHarley Weir
  • StylingKaty England

From the streets of Tottenham, North London to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, Joseph Junior Adenuga aka Skepta has come a long way. Here, the grime star reflects on a personal mission to find peace in the eye of the supersonic storm

Taken from the A/W17 issue of Another Man.

Love. 

Such a small word. I was overlooking it, thinking there must be a longer word or a more complex answer to all this. But, little did I know, it was right in front of me the whole time, just waiting for me to accept it.

Skepta, Skeppy, Skep, SK.

I still have a little laugh to myself when I remember that, for the first three years of my life (before my brother Jamie was born), I was an only child. Exploring and discovering everything for myself with no older sibling to guide me or to brainstorm with; just me and this brand new concept of time and space to play around in. My parents had high hopes for their children before any of us were even conceived, my Mum always used to tell me: “Junior, I worked hard so your life can be easy. None of my children’s feet will ever touch the ground,” and I would get so confused because I definitely got out of bed every morning barefoot on the floor. But, as I grew up, I slowly realised this was her African metaphorical way of saying her children will live blessed lives and, more importantly, that our upbringing will be better than growing up back home in the villages of Nigeria.

“Struggling to fit in with all the cool kids, I developed a complex and it turned me sour”

I was named after my Dad, Joseph Adenuga, which made me Junior. This is a common thing in Nigerian families and it definitely gave me a pressure to be just as great as my predecessor. When Jamie (JME) was born, the new clothes, toys and gifts started to slow down as there were now two mouths to feed, but I was so fascinated by my new little brother that I didn’t notice any change – not until I looked at pictures later on in life. Even though we weren’t twins, my Mum and Dad used to dress Jamie and I in the same clothes and we loved our Danny DeVito/Schwarzenegger setting. Jamie started growing up and slowly became my partner in exploration. We had puzzles, Lego and lots of other gadgets but we really enjoyed making our own games up, running around the house, making whatever we could from whatever we could find to have fun. There was a magic in creating interesting things from nothing; it kept Jamie and I curious and active.

When I got to school, Winchmore Hill in North London, I think from the very first day I felt there was a real competitive energy in all the children in my class. Whose school uniform was the best quality, what car we were being picked up in after school, where you lived etc. Everybody was already starting to form their small groups and pledging allegiance to the people they related to the most. I struggled to fit into a group: being African in London in the 90s was still seen as some sort of defect. Every day I was trying to make sense of it all because I thought I was the same as everybody else, but when the Jamaican students started to join in and slander Africans I was so confused I just gave up on understanding anybody. I concluded there must be a deeper reason why black people are dissing black people so ignorantly. I would go home and tell my Mum that people were making fun of my name and she would reassure me that our surname Adenuga had a lot meaning and strength in it. This was comforting when I was at home, but it didn’t block or silence any of the taunting I was getting at school. Struggling to fit in with all the cool kids, I developed a complex and it turned me sour.

Later when I left school with a relentless love for music and art, I got into producing. I did this for six years until the police took all my CDs and vinyl in a criminal investigation on the block where I grew up. I was cleared of any involvement but none of my music was ever returned and I was left to find some work for my idle hands. Around this time Wiley heard of JME and I, and got in contact with us about doing some work together at Miloco Studios in South London. We found our way there and Wiley was everything I expected him to be: lively and inquisitive. He asked me about my beats and what I’d been up to; I explained that the police had confiscated my lifetime collection of music and that I was in a really shit place musically – the only reason I was there was brotherly support for Jamie. I remember Wiley being upset about my situation with the Feds, he was reassuring me that it was a minor setback and that I should try writing grime lyrics like my bro JME. At the time, writing in a grime style was a childish concept for me; I was ignorant and dismissive about the idea so Wiley would stop asking me. I brushed the idea off at the studio, but when I got home that night all I could remember was Wiley telling me that being a grime MC was my new path…

“I became this kind of hardheaded activist whose sole purpose on the planet was revenge”

I started to write grime lyrics in my spare time, not thinking anything serious would come from it but, somewhere inside me, I was happy to have this new form of expression after my DJ days had been cut short. Slowly I started to realise this reoccurring theme in my rhymes where I’d be standing up for Africa, all my bars would be about my “Big lips, African hooter” or I would be bragging that I made “Nigerians proud of their tribal scars” in songs. I even did a cover of Prince Nico Mbarga’s Igbo highlife classic Sweet Mother draped in African native clothes for the video. Promoting that I was Nigerian and proud became number one on my agenda when it came to making music; after a while, I could see other Africans becoming proud of their heritage, speaking pidgin English openly, listening to Afrobeats with no reservations. It made me so fucking happy.

I became this kind of hardheaded activist whose sole purpose on the planet was revenge: getting a kick out of winning and seeing my enemies choking on their words; addicted to the feeling of turning away the same girls who had scorned me at school. As good as this felt, it was destructive. I was enjoying the power but it was killing all the natural love I had inside me, and was slowly pushing me into the same ignorant headspace as the people I was battling against. I was surrounded by nice shiny new things, all the spoils of my music, but I felt empty inside. I needed a reality check and it finally came in 2012 with my mixtape Blacklisted.

Blacklisted was a turning point for me, lyrically and sonically. It was the first time I could listen to myself and hear true uncut honesty about the highs and lows of chasing dreams. I still listen to it now; it has timeless teachings on there, teachings that will last after I’m dead and gone. On the cover I wrote the names of people in my life that have brought me nothing but love, I realised that they were the only people I needed around me. Just like that, miraculously, it all became clear. I’d been denouncing love all my life, convincing myself that it didn’t exist, telling myself love was the biggest weakness somebody could have. Little did I know I how wrong I was.

“I’d been denouncing love all my life, convincing myself that it didn’t exist, telling myself love was the biggest weakness somebody could have. Little did I know I how wrong I was”

After this epiphany, I started to change my outlook and approach to Life. I stopped chasing things that I didn’t love or that didn’t love me and, slowly but surely, this rocky, strenuous road I’d been trekking became a stroll in the park. The mission became clear and everything started to fall into place so effortlessly. I’ve since been back to Nigeria several times to visit my family and it is always a sweet dream. We built a house each for my Mum and Dad in their villages; my Mum’s Mum and Dad passed away and are buried in front of my Mum’s house, whilst my Dad’s father (also Joseph Adenuga) is buried beside his house. Looking at my own name on a gravestone was a moment I will never forget. Funny how alien I felt growing up but I got such a strong sense of purpose when I went back home to Nigeria, I sat by the graves of my grandparents, shed tears of happiness and clarity on their stones and it was such a powerful feeling – it made me feel immortal. All I could hear were the crickets buzzing, a few chickens and kids playing, and I started to really appreciate peace.

Being born and working in London for as long as I have, it has become a work place for me. An office. I wish I could tell everybody to stop what they're doing, sit on the grass, eat, enjoy music, share and trade all their necessities, but London isn’t built like that (haha). I’ve learned to enjoy it for what it is, but I also make sure I take time out to find harmony and tranquility to give me the balance I need for a healthy mind.

First, I made my home somewhere I enjoy waking up in. People should feel that if they had to stay indoors all day, it’s not a bad thing. Waking up and feeling that your happiness is outside your place of abode is a recipe for envy and jealousy. Second, I try to take trips to peaceful countries with different cultures and sounds. Removing myself from my comfort zone and turning my phone off is an exercise I love doing so my mind can be in the present; with no outside influence I’m able to appreciate life’s fundamentals and the blessing of just being alive. Thankfully my career has allowed me to travel the world and see many different places, but there was just something about Marrakesh, Morocco. When I got there, the colours, the peacefulness and the energy were perfect. It was just like Nigeria but, with no close family there, I had extra freedom, my limbs were more relaxed. Similar to Nigeria, the Moroccan clothes were practical but the embroidery made everybody look so royal and graceful. It was there that the idea for the tracksuit for my brand MAINS was solidified. Embroidery on casual wear is all you need to travel through time.

The search for solitude and calm continues: where you can see your thoughts individually, where you can make decisions with confidence and where your conscience can relax – we all need to get there in the end. Learning to let go ironically gave me all the control I wanted; life is going to do what it's going to do and I just have to be like water and go with the flow. I can’t control what the world will hit me with, but I can control my attitude towards these events. There will always be a new crisis but as long as you approach it with open arms and are willing to learn, a crisis is nothing but a lesson.

Such a shame I had to lose it to appreciate it: but Love was, is and always will be the answer. Wow.  

5:55am 

From my hotel room in Paris

Amour

Skepta

The A/W17 ‘Modern Mythologies’ issue of Another Man is out now. Purchase a copy here.

Hair David Harborow at Streeters; Make-up Lauren Parsons at Art Partner using Chanel; Set design David White at Streeters; Photographic assistants Gwen Trannoy, Pierre Lequeux, Jordan Lee; Styling assistants James Campbell, Lydia Simpson; Make-up assistant Hannah Wilson; Set design assistants Alice Kirkpatrick, Yasmina Kurunis.