Ghostpoet is dropping his beats against the whole rap ‘label’ stereotype and what he’s achieved is addictive electro, reflections on gritty life in Brit culture and hip-hop delivery with panache. But what is the MC like in real life? Jameela Oberman talks to him about song-writing, peanut butter & jam sarnies and ladies footwear …
Ghostpoet is a huge, burly man. Wearing his trademark Granddad taper hat and baggy jumper; he’s standing thoughtfully like a chilled-out, urban bard of dub-poetry while he’s waiting to go on stage at Brick Lane’s Rough Trade East record store. He is leaning to hear me speak, then realises his earplugs are in. “That’s better, I might be able to hear now,” he chortles. He gives the impression of nerves hidden under a cool exterior, a tilt of the head, questioning eyes.
We’re meeting on his single launch of ‘Survive It’; a brilliant chronicle of life during mundane daily hardships, he raps, “it was happy times now it’s happy slaps, times are hard, but I think you’ll get there soon / it’s all mapped out like one of those Sat Navs. I just wana live life and survive it,” the lyrics mirroring to-a-tee the hopes and fears of a 20-something generation. Using minimalist production and spoken-word life-reflection his deadpan swagger on everyday truths in the verses are complimented by singer Fabiana Palladino’s guest vocals in the chorus hook. Ghostpoet chose her because he liked the way her soft voice contrasts with his.
“I was playing it out and it sounded good, it’s all about the experimenting, there’s no real plan. I get the skeleton of a tune and this coming together of the lyrics with the beat. It’s the constant grinding of the creative process – variety is the spice of life,” he says, before divulging on his tunes’ general subject matter; “Everyone goes through bad times, having inner demons and sometimes not even being aware they’re about.”
The song’s music video by an anonymous director has moody visuals of Ghostpoet, cup of tea in hand, strolling through housing estates at night while a monster of a shadow follows behind, sometimes wrapping its long claws around his shoulders. The tune is typical of Ghostpoet’s unique music direction, a chilled delivery of experimental hip-hop with added brooding wisdom that’s cleverly stuffed with Generation Y culture references. While most the tunes on his debut album, Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, are mellow, ‘Finished I Aint’ is more full-on, its sound rushing out like a sheet of rain. ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ has hauntingly sharp electronics with a funky groove, the beat builds up higher and in contrast his voice slurs in shopping queue boredom mode.
It’s more than a tune about a hangover, it’s about craving intimacy after a spate of overdrive and excess, the electronics speed on against conveyer-belt lethargy. It’s not about the ‘fame game,’ either, he spotlights the everyday experience you can relate to, Ghostpoet has gone through all the crises and come out stronger. Glancing over at the ‘Survive It’ single displayed on the counter, Ghostpoet comments, “I’ve only been here once before, I saw Roots Manuva hanging about, second time I’m here I’m playing at the launch of my new single, so this place is pretty cool.”
Ghostpoet, aka Obaro Ejimiwe, is carrying a carton of fruit smoothie, takes a swig and says of his Ghostpoet stage-name, “I put poet in my name to get away from that whole rap label thing really.” It’s clear that GP’s referring to the bitches, bling, gun-slinging power trips, and dime-store psychology about fucking people over if they mess with da ego. It’s not what you associate with Ghostpoet, he’s a for-real, decent kind of bloke, more Frank Skinner of Streets with added Flying Lotus than Lil’ Wayne.
Suddenly coming across as defensive, he says, “I mean what else could I call myself? Dust-bin man, it doesn’t have the same effect.” With an impassive expression, he adds, “ I wouldn’t proclaim myself to be a poet, I’m not a poet. I’m an artist. Ghost,” he explains shuffling on his feet, “comes from when I was younger and I was fascinated with the supernatural. I believed in ghosts then, but now I’m like naaah.”
GP is a man of faith, the only spectres he’s into are the patches of memories he can turn into songs. It’s obvious he’s in his element playing live. If he’s quiet and a tad guarded off-stage, Ghostpoet radiates confidence on stage at Rough Trade. Rather than his quietly-spoken voice on record, he belts out the words with the edge of a spiritual chant. His live show is more energetic and experimental, even more rocky (he’s joined on stage by a guitarist and drummer) than the record and leaves me wondering why he didn’t adopt this style for more of his tunes on his 12 track album which is, at times, woozy enough to disappear into the background. On stage GP’s blasting out his lungs, he implores the audience as his words weave in and out of the air as if flowing from his soul in a stream of consciousness.
He explains the album title ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’; “The record has a feeling of melancholy, with feeling down, and when I’m down I like to peanut and jam sarnies.” For Ghostpoet, food and music are a means to get through life. He grew up listening to old reggae and a West African genre of music called High Life, jazzy, feel-good dance music. He devoured an eclectic selection of alternative tunes on pirate radio, drum n bass, indie and electronic and took bits from all of it to make his own.
“My favourite artist is Badly Drawn Boy,” he confessed earlier. “I discovered his CD when Woolworths still existed; I saw the cover of his first album and was like, ‘What is that?’ Since then on his music’s pretty much been an obsession.” At Coventry university Obaro studied Media Production and DJed at a hip-hop night and started a grind collective of DJs that was popular but insists, “I’ve only really been making music myself properly for two years”.
I quiz Obaro over his statements on Facebook, his artistic influences are… ‘Ladies footwear?’ Sounds more like a fetish. “Yeah I like ladies shoes, the different shapes and sizes,” he smiles. And voyeurism? “Not in a creepy way,” he insists, “observing my surroundings and other people, with the internet it’s become easier to spy on peoples’ lives.”
Obaro is currently set to make appearances at over twenty festivals this summer, that’s an opportunity for a lot of people-watching in the outdoors while he’s performing and he loves it, “ Touring’s great, it’s all new to me and they’re all cool, Newcastle was great, the lads in the audience were loving the music.” It’s a cert Ghostpoet is good at spying and creating sharp tunes that work on record and in a smashing live performance, despite an exhaustive schedule this summer we’re sure Ghostpoet will fit in time for espionage and even a bit of shoe-fetish.
Words: Jameela Oberman
Article originally published in Disorder magazine, http://disordermagazine.com/ghost-poet/music/.