Finding a suitable title for Skepta is a task that is far from simple. Generally speaking, rappers blow up in one generation, then are considered throwback artists by the next, before slowly moving towards being obsolete. I guess no one actually explained that to Skepta because from 2006 to today, the grime MC has had a chokehold on the rap game.
Joseph Adenuga’s parents immigrated to Tottenham’s Meridian Estate in 1982 from Nigeria after the youngster set fire to his childhood home via teddy bear. Before Skepta would even touch a mic, he spent his time on decks, mixing tracks for the North London-based Meridian Crew. Before the group dissolved, Skepta would begin to hone in on his lyricism and flow, which would carry on to today.
By 2006, Skepta was a member of BBK, a leading example of just how to run an independent label. Skepta, among names like Wiley and Frisco, began pushing back against mainstream influence, carving a new path for grime. During the same year, Skepta would form a beef with Devilman, a Birmingham MC who would turn out to become Skepta’s most iconic clash.
In 2007, Skepta released Greatest Hits, his debut album under BBK, which shocked the Uk’s underground music scene. To this day, the album stands as one of his most underappreciated projects, featuring songs like I Spy and Doin’ it Again. Fast forward a decade or so, and the music scene watched in awe as Skepta would drop freestyle, after mixtape after album, again and again until we enter today.
Skepta is seen as the UK’s godfather of grime. Although his sound has changed, much still remains consistent in terms of his vocals, lyrics and general flows. However, beats have been updated to fit current trends. His last project, Ignorance is Bliss, featured bars from artists living in their time of “blow up” like Wizkid and J Hus.
Although Skepta’s sound has changed from year to year, one wardrobe staple has remained consistent: Enter the Nike Air Max.
Going into the history of the Nike Air Max pertaining to the UK’s fashion culture could span the length of a philosopher’s lifelong work. However, it’s much easier to go over the basics. What made the Air Max so popular?
Simple. The lifestyle silhouette and ability to match the ongoing clash between sportswear and streetwear allowed the Air Max to remain supreme among fashion connoisseurs. For Skepta, the Air Max silhouette fit his aesthetic which consisted of a lot of matching sweatsuits, workwear and a combination of the latter with sportswear.
As we’ve seen the progression of new athleisure sneakers dominate the sneaker world, it’s easy to forget just how fire some of the recent Air Max’s are. Helping with the cause of Chief Skeppy himself.
Skepta’s first Air Max was the 97, which was released in 2017. The sneaker was inspired by his travels to Morocco and the 1999 Air Tuned Max. The sneaker featured a colour palette that loosely resembled his memories in the African country and a silhouette which Skepta remembers being the first shoe he ever saved up for.
The very next year, he would release two colourways of the 97/BW, which had the upper of the Air Max BW paired with the 97’s pristine Air unit. Paying homage to another city full of memories, the colourways resembled the French flag. Skepta vividly remembers blowing up in Paris after he garnered his well-deserved recognition across the UK.
That same year Skepta would do the Deluxe, a slept-on silhouette that featured a head-turning colourway. The VHS static was emblematic of his music, linking directly to his That’s Not Me single from 2016. Other details like the text on the side reading “NEVER SLEEPS ON TOUR” pays homage to the early days of Grime, where artists would rock Deluxe’s and stay up through the night perfecting bars.
In 2019, Skepta did a Shox TL, which we first saw in the music video for Bullet From a Gun off Ignorance is Bliss. Around this time, Nike was attempting to revive the silhouette globally, pushing pairs through North America by means of Drake and famed Toronto Raptors acrobat, Vince Carter.
The sneaker had a black synthetic textile with a full TPU cage which held an iridescent swoosh. The blood-red shocks are there for a necessary pop of colour amidst a nightmarish black shoe.
In 2021, Skepta dropped two separate pairs of the Tailwind 5. One was a turquoise colour which looked similar to a butterflies metamorphosis. The red pair featured the same explosive design. However, the red added a more ominous look. Both pairs signified Skepta’s growth in both fashion design and his music career as he competed with giants throughout the entirety of both.
Whether we look at Skepta through the eyes of a musician or a sneaker designer, it’s safe to say the 39-year-old has succeeded in both. Not only has he transcended the world of underground grime, making it mainstream in the process. But he’s done something eerily similar with a silhouette that was very close to dropping out of the foreground forever.
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