British rapper Skepta, who won the Mercury Prize, has issued an apology for the artwork of his single “Gas Me Up (Diligent)” after receiving backlash on social media for its unintentional but evident references to the Holocaust.
The piece of art showcases a collection of individuals wearing similar overcoats and sporting shaved heads. One of the individuals has the phrase “gas me up” inked on their head, which alludes to the practices of head-shaving, tattooing, and gassing in Nazi death camps. In modern slang, “gas me up” means to encourage or compliment someone.
The picture sparked backlash on online platforms, prompting Skepta to take it down. He explained on X: “I’ve been anticipating the release of Gas Me Up (Diligent) since teasing it in April of last year. I worked diligently to ensure the artwork was suitable for my album rollout, which tells the story of my parents’ arrival in the UK during the 1980s, as well as the skinhead and football culture. However, it has been perceived as offensive by many, and that was never our intention. Therefore, I have removed it and I pledge to be more considerate in the future.”
In a recent tweet, he stated that he understands how his single artwork could be considered offensive without proper context, especially in the current climate. However, that was not his intention. After some reflection, he feels that he cannot continue as the artist his fans know and love if his art is constantly monitored and censored. He plans to release Gas Me Up (Diligent) on January 26 as originally scheduled, but it is unclear if the artwork in question will still be included.
He presented a collection of pictures that influenced the design of his upcoming album Knife and Fork, which centers around the theme of “1980’s UK story”. The mood board included various images of British skinheads and fans of the 2 Tone movement, featuring both white and non-white individuals. However, it should be noted that the skinhead imagery carries a controversial connotation, as the movement in the 1980s had a significant number of followers with racist and far-right beliefs. Additionally, one individual was seen with a tattoo resembling the eagle symbol used by the Nazi party.
Skepta, whose birth name is Joseph Adenuga, was born in Tottenham, London to Nigerian parents. He is a highly successful and well-respected rapper in Britain, known for his contributions to grime music and recent resurgence in popularity. Recently, the British branch of Complex, a popular pop culture website, named him the greatest British rapper of all time.
His most recent two albums, Konnichiwa and Ignorance Is Bliss, both achieved the second spot on the UK charts, with Konnichiwa winning the Mercury prize. In 2018, he gained worldwide success with Praise the Lord (Da Shine), a track by A$AP Rocky that he both produced and rapped on. Recently, he showcased his paintings at Sotheby’s and also ventured into DJing and producing house music – in 2023, he had a popular club hit with Can’t Play Myself (A Tribute to Amy), which sampled Amy Winehouse’s music.
Skepta, along with co-director Dwight Okechukwu, is set to release a short film called “Tribal Mark” alongside the highly anticipated “Knife and Fork”. The film is described as an origin story that will pave the way for a larger cinematic universe focusing on the character of Tribal Mark and his involvement in the undercover Black Secret Service. Further details will be unveiled later this year. The film boasts a diverse cast and crew, with 90% coming from a global majority background.