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Mercury Prize: Grime star Skepta wins music award

SkeptaImage copyright
PA

Image caption

Skepta has been called the “godfather of grime”

Grime star Skepta has beaten the likes of David Bowie, Radiohead and The 1975 to win the Mercury Prize.

He won the £25,000 award for self-released album Konnichiwa, which covers topics including police harassment and his anger at British politics.

The record, described by the NME as a “landmark in British street music”, went to number two earlier this year.

“I’m just so thankful. I’ve been trying to do this music stuff and work it out for so long,” Skepta said of his win.

BBC Music News Live: Latest news from the Mercury Prize ceremony

Speaking to the BBC backstage, he said he would use the prize money to help the disadvantaged.

“Something positive, something to help other people feel as happy and as free as me,” he said.

“We’re doing a project right now, actually, building a studio in my old estate to help the young kids do music.”

Media captionSkepta performs Shutdown live at the Mercury Prize 2016

Skepta’s victory meant that bookmakers’ favourite David Bowie missed out after receiving a posthumous nomination for his swansong album, Blackstar.

Judge Jarvis Cocker said the jury had faced a tough decision deciding between the two records, which had been whittled down from a longlist of 12.

“In the end, the winner came down to a contest between two black stars,” he said.

“And we, as a jury, decided that if Bowie was looking down on the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, he would want the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize to go to Skepta.”

Other albums shortlisted for the 2016 prize included Michael Kiwanuka’s Love Hate, and Bat For Lashes’ The Bride – a concept record about a woman whose fiancé is killed in a car crash while driving to their wedding.

Radiohead received a record fifth nomination for their record A Moon Shaped Pool but went home empty-handed again.

Perhaps sensing that the odds were stacked against them, the band were absent from the ceremony, instead sending a video for the ballad Present Tense.

All of the other acts performed on the night, with actor Michael C Hall performing David Bowie’s song Lazarus, which opens with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

Media captionMichael C Hall performs David Bowie’s Lazarus live at the Mercury Prize 2016.

The star of Dexter and Six Feet Under will soon be seen in London in the lead role in Bowie’s musical – also called Lazarus – which premiered in New York shortly before his death.

Hall said it was a great responsibility to be representing the musician on the stage where he had famously “killed” his Ziggy Stardust character.

“I’m trying not to spend too much time dwelling on the reality of the situation for fear that it will overwhelm me. It’s beyond anything I ever anticipated but I’m really humbled and honoured to be asked to do it.”

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Pop group The 1975 won a fan vote, allowing their album to progress to the final round of jury deliberations

Skepta was born Joseph Junior Adenuga 33 years ago in Tottenham, London, and started making music in the early 2000s.

He rode the first wave of grime to a contract with Universal Records, but his sound was watered down and they soon parted ways.

Konnichiwa was the result of a major shift in the star’s life.

“I had friends that died, and I had to realise that I don’t care about certain things I used to care about before”.

‘We all won today’

It prompted him to return to the music he loved, reaching out directly to fans via social media.

In 2014, he released That’s Not Me, a rapid-fire freestyle that atoned for losing sight of his roots: “I used to wear Gucci / I put it all in the bin cause that’s not me.”

Accompanied by a video that cost £80, it went on to win a MOBO award and showed the star he could make it on his own terms.

Accepting the Mercury Prize, he said: “I was like’ let’s do it for ourselves’.

“All these songs, we’ve travelled the world – no record label, nothing. We just did this for us but the love is very appreciated.

“We all won today. Konnichiwa!”

Dizzee Heights

Skepta is the second grime artist to win the Mercury, following Dizzee Rascal’s victory in 2003.

His win marks the commercial resurgence of the genre, with Skepta key in helping recalibrate the sound back towards its inner city roots.

Fellow grime artist Kano was also nominated for the Mercury Prize, and Skepta made sure to recognise him during his awards speech.

“Kane – for life, bro – we did it!”

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