The Mercury Prize-winning grime artist Skepta has vowed to be “more mindful” and removed artwork for his upcoming single “Gas Me Up (Diligent)” after it was criticised for alluding to the Holocaust.
Featuring men with shaved heads in matching overcoats, and the slogan “Gas Me Up” tattooed on one of their heads, the artwork was criticised for referencing Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps. The term “gas me up” is slang for hyping someone up by complimenting them.
Skepta posted the image, created by artist Gabriel Moses, to his Instagram account on Monday and it was removed from his social media the same day.
The celebrated British-Nigerian MC, producer, and record-label owner apologised on X/ Twitter: “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,” he said. “I can promise you that was definitely not our plan so I have removed it and I vow to be more mindful going forward.”
In another post, Skepta said: “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.”
The post was accompanied by some pictures from the mood board for the “1980’s UK story” that inspired his sixth album Knife and Fork, which he announced earlier this month. As well as featuring fans of the early-1980s 2 Tone ska movement, the images include British skinheads, one of whom has “skins” tattooed onto his shaved head, and another who has an eagle tattoo reminiscent of the symbol developed by the Nazi Party.
The rapper’s track “Gas Me Up (Diligent)” is due to be released on 26 January and is the debut single from his first album in five years, Knife and Fork.
“It’s been years since I dropped my last album and I want to thank you for all the love during my hiatus,” he said on Instagram. “I’ve seen the messages, tweets and Tik Toks, I’m truly grateful that my music is still resonating with the world, even in my absence.”
Winning the Mercury Prize in 2016 - the second grime artist to win the prestigious award, following Dizzee Rascal in 2003 - Skepta has been praised for pioneering the grime genre and taking it from the underground to the pop charts. Born Joseph Adenuga and raised in Tottenham, he was at the forefront of grime’s commercial resurgence during the mid-2010s when his last two albums, Konnichiwa and Ignorance Is Bliss, were No 2 in the UK charts.
In October, he released a tribute to Amy Winehouse on the house music label he launched with rapper Jammer, Más Tiempo (meaning “more time” in Spanish). The atmospheric track “Can’t Play Myself (A Tribute To Amy)” samples Winehouse’s 2006 single “Tears Dry On Their Own”, and was cleared for release by the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
Skepta recently revealed that he would host his inaugural Big Smoke Festival - a one-day, two-stage event - at Crystal Palace Park in London on 6 July.