Music

SKEPTA 'GAS ME UP' CONTROVERSY EXPLAINED - AND WHY IT’S A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF ARTISTS DEALING HONESTLY WITH CONTROVERSY

SKEPTA 'GAS ME UP' CONTROVERSY EXPLAINED - AND WHY IT’S A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF ARTISTS DEALING HONESTLY WITH CONTROVERSY
Music

SKEPTA 'GAS ME UP' CONTROVERSY EXPLAINED - AND WHY IT’S A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF ARTISTS DEALING HONESTLY WITH CONTROVERSY

SKEPTA 'GAS ME UP' CONTROVERSY EXPLAINED - AND WHY IT’S A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF ARTISTS DEALING HONESTLY WITH CONTROVERSY

Ahead of the January 26th release of his latest single ‘Gas Me Up’, Skepta received criticism from some groups, who suggested the song’s artwork evoked imagery related to the Holocaust. His response was a rare example of artists handling delicate situations with honesty and openness

‘Gas Me Up’ controversy explained

On January 26th, grime artist Skepta is set to release his latest single, ‘Gas Me Up (Diligent)’. The single is the first song to be shared from his long-awaited new album, Knife and Fork.

Ahead of the song’s release, Skepta shared the artwork for ‘Gas Me Up’ on social media. The artwork depicts a group of young men from behind; all the men have shaven heads and all are wearing similar-coloured coats. One of the men has the words "gas me up" tattooed on his head. 

When Skepta first shared the artwork, some social media users compared the photography to the practice of head-shaving and tattooing that was used in Nazi death camps, while the term ‘gas me up’ added to the suggestion that the artwork was evoking images from the Holocaust gas chambers. 

Skepta’s Response

A frequent social media user, Skepta was quick to respond to the comparisons between the artwork and Holocaust imagery. He clarified on January 10th that it was “definitely not [his] plan” to release artwork where that comparison could be drawn. 

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), he said: “I’ve been waiting to drop Gas Me Up (Diligent) since teasing it April last year, worked hard getting the artwork right for my album rollout which is about my parents coming to the UK in the 80’s, Skinhead, Football culture and it has been taken offensively by many and I can promise you that was definitely not our plan so I have removed it and I vow to be more mindful going forward.”

Later that day, he added more details about the artwork, explaining that it was one of several photos from a visual mood board of images from the UK in the 1980s. He posted: 

“I can honestly see how my single artwork without context can be deemed offensive, especially in a time like this but again that was not my intention. But after some thought I don’t feel like I could continue being the artist you all know and love if my art is policed, I have to quit if I can’t express my art as I see it. So to help with context here are some pictures from our mood board for the 1980’s UK story for my album ‘Knife & Fork’ 

“Gas Me Up (DILIGENT) will be out January 26th as planned.”

At the time of writing, ‘Gas Me Up’ is still set to be shared on January 26th, although unclear whether the single will carry the same artwork. 

“Fraught Online Environment” 

Skepta’s ‘Gas Me Up’ response is probably one of the rare recent examples of artists dealing honestly with controversy and criticism. 

In the fraught online environment that we live in, public figures often fall victim to getting either overly defensive or meekly compliant when something they do gets accused of being offensive. 

But the fact is that Skepta didn’t do either of these things. Instead, he addressed public's concerns and talked them through the thought process behind the artwork. This can only be considered a good thing. 

Was Skepta try to evoke Holocaust imagery intentionally? The answer is: almost certainly not. ‘Gas Me Up’ is a fairly common expression that means to get excited about something. And the artwork imagery clearly fits with other imagery he shared from the album’s mood board. With this added context, the suggestion that it has anything to do with Nazi gas chambers is a reach. 

And even if some social media users took it that way - or even if some have suggested that the imagery was poorly thought through - surely Skepta’s clarification, plus the receipts he brought with him, is enough to put the issue to bed?  

We live in a world where division is rife, offence can be taken everywhere, and elements of the mainstream media try to play up controversy as much as possible. Surely the best we can hope for at a time like this is artists such as Skepta - who are willing to genuinely listen to concerns and talk through their process to alleviate said concerns. 

Whether ‘Gas Me Up’ gets released with the same artwork or not, Skepta has done a commendable job of trying to make the story less about the controversy - and more about the song itself (as it should be). 

Skepta’s latest album, Knife and Fork, is set to be released later in 2024.

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