Insomnia, the joint project by UK rap titans, Skepta, Chip and Young Adz dropped last week Friday. The collaboration was one of the most unsurprising surprising collaborations that I’ve seen. It’s rare to such a link up in the UK, in comparison to the US/Canada, which gave us Watch The Throne, What A Time To Be Alive and Without Warning in the last decade.
Despite how unexpected the announcement of the tape was, it makes perfect sense given the nature of the artists and it’s been released at a perfect time since we are in lockdown. So, I’ve had plenty of time to digest the music and form an opinion.
After listening to the twelve tracks once through, I got an idea of the chemistry between the artists. I could imagine the way that they worked – relentless and able to churn out songs quickly. This idea was confirmed by the Insight to Insomnia: The Mini Documentary on GRM Daily, although it seems as if Skepta’s age is catching up with him as Adz asked him to record again at 10:00 in the morning, to which Skepta replied “even a goat yeah, needs to sleep”. This demonstrated the dynamic in the studio with Adz as the hungry kid in the studio in comparison to the OG Skepta who had to keep up the pace.
I feel as if Chip acted as the bridge between the two generations and he had the most chemistry with both Skepta and Young Adz. The middle child for the J Cole fans out there. There were times when I felt that Adz was slightly in awe of Skepta, like when he showed his excitement at Skepta’s “sleeping habits” on Insomnia Interlude and his repeated shoutouts to SK throughout the project. However, this was something seconded by Chip and it was nice to hear the respect that the artists have for each other.
The difference in messaging on the tracks was also interesting to hear. A couple of times, each rapper had different subject matter for the same track. For example, on Waze, Adz raps about trapping while Chip raps about the state of the rap game. At first, this threw me off slightly, especially as Chip comes in after a short Adz verse. However, this comes to be expected as you listen to the album.
The themes on the album are survival, the life that they live and their vices. Although they have similarities, in terms of their exposure to the industry from a young age, their longevity and their divisiveness, they transmit this message in different ways, in terms of delivery and content.
Chip had the strongest verses and to an outsider seems the most “normal” out of the bunch. His vice is weed and he speaks less recklessly, regarding women, drugs or violence, but lets you know that he is in the same sort of environments as both Skepta and Young Adz. He is just trying to confirm why he’s the hardest and he plays his role so effectively, with his immaculate flow.
For Skepta, the narrative is often that he needs to return to his roots or doesn’t know which Skepta to play. However, on the tape he juggles the different Skeptas, with the in your face rap Skepta, the trappy Skepta and the grime Skepta. I think we should stop the comparisons and just accept that he is all of these characters. He has been through so many phases and is still relevant and able to balance rhymes about the trap (which is in the past now), sex and success as he always has. Maybe it’s not as strong as a few years ago but he is still able to hold his own and his experience shows, especially on Golden Brown, with a hook that only he could pull off.
Lastly Adz seemed like the anomaly on the tape. He didn’t come from grime and he’s sonically very different to Skepta and Chip, although they are both versatile, especially Chip who also has the ability to do the wave ting.
Adz set the vibe on a few of the tracks and has some killer lines and cadences, like on St Tropez, where he attempts both an Australian and scouse accent as he impersonates two love interests. I don’t think that he fitted on every tune, like garage/grime inspired Mic Check. Moreover, I personally would have liked it if he displayed his real rap side slightly more because it would have been nice to see him spar with two heavyweights, as he did to some extent on High Road. Nonetheless, he still fitted on the album because he added a vibe that the other two couldn’t.
The beauty of these guys, is that they are not perfect and when they rap you can hear this. They all have demons, with a track even called Demons. Despite this, they keep on pushing and having success, in terms of wealth at least. And, probably in terms of mental health as certain tracks could serve the role of therapy.
The project could have gone deeper admittedly. This is probably testament to the pace in which it was recorded. Sometimes I felt as if they would touch on a subject, like some of the trauma that they’d seen, but wouldn’t go into great detail. This is understandable because you might not want to talk about some of the things that you’ve experienced in depth. So, on the one hand I get it, especially as joint projects are meant to be fun, but on the other hand, I know that they can go there as they have done in the past and they can paint vivid images of what they’ve experienced.
It was very much a showcase piece. If you want to know what Skepta, Chip and Young Adz are like in a nutshell, listen to this. It provides you with enjoyment and doesn’t require you to think too much, which is what I expected. Therefore, they delivered. The replay value is high, with Mains, Golden Brown and High Road being the standout tracks. So, as the name suggests, don’t sleep on this project.