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The Evolution of Ghetts

We linked with London artist Ghetts to talk about his new album ‘Conflict of Interest’, maintaining longevity and the importance of being self-aware.

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Ghetts sits amongst a legendary class of UK rappers who were able to make a global impact during grime’s ‘golden era’ in the mid-2000s. Through his sheer skill on the mic, unmatched confidence and impressive work-rate, a young Ghetts made a name for himself as a champion of grime that was dedicated to the raves, clashes and radio sets that served as the battlefields of the time.

15 years later, the genre is something of a dying art in its purest form, although many elements of grime and UK rap have now seamlessly fused with global sonics and re-emerged as the modern stylings of drill, afro-fusion, dancehall, alté and more—further diversifying the DNA of UK rap and creating one of the most unique and diverse music scenes in the world. It’s slow a metamorphosis that has left many traditional ‘grime purists’ behind in its wake.

Despite having cemented legend status for himself in the grime scene, Ghetts says his willingness to adapt, experiment and push his own boundaries is the key to the longevity of his career. On his latest album Conflict of Interest, we see this ethos put to work—15 years since releasing his debut mixtape 2000 & Life. From the albums opening track ‘Fine Wine’, we hear from an artist whose journey has provided the experience required for him to offer a unique perspective on the rap game and life itself, respectfully pointing out that many of his peers from the grime scene circa-2005 have faded into the background or occasionally worse.

Now, as the dust settles from grime’s initial shockwave, Ghetts remains standing—his legacy serves as a reminder that an artist who can challenge themselves and their audience will likely outlast those who reject progress or refuse change. Throughout the album Ghetts, now 36 years-old, positions himself to reflect on the past while utilising his experience and youthful hunger to thrust himself forward, perhaps even further than ever before.

With his first album making an impact around the globe we find Ghetts showing no signs of slowing his roll, as we catch him during a late-night studio session in London via a zoom call from Melbourne.

Ghetts, how are you?
What’s gwanin my brother, are you good?

I’m great thanks, are you in the studio right now?
Yeah. We’re on lockdown but Boris has got his money already, I’ve got to get mine.

Congratulations on the new album man, it’s no joke. I really mean that.
Yeah, I love it man. Thank you, I appreciate that.

It feels like it was a lengthy rollout due to the pandemic—what was the process of trying to drop music during this time? What were some of the extra pressures and challenges with this one?
Normally you can make a song grow even just from doing festivals, you can see how the songs are connecting. So not having that or having tunes that you feel like are connecting because you see people going mad on the socials or it might hit a million streams or more—but normally when you go out there and you play your new record and you see how it’s touching people, it’s a different feeling. So that not being there anymore is really sad. But it’s made me think harder and pushed me into a more creative realm. Wanting to have a sick campaign but knowing that you can’t do the pop-ups and things like that because of COVID has made me think outside the box so I’m happy with that.

How did Conflict of Interest come together? Was there a theme to the project or a particular approach?
Originally I didn’t have a theme but after listening to different records I’d made for the project—upon reflection, I realised that I’m quite conflicted as a human being, but being conflicted isn’t only me—that’s just us as human beings. I thought of embracing that conflict and making all these versions of you live in harmony, find the best pieces of each version you know? That’s why I called it Conflict of Interest because no matter what you do someone’s always going to be unhappy or happy, even yourself. That’s how I got the name.

I feel like we’ve seen you really evolve, not just as an artist but as a person. I heard you say that you used to take criticism very harshly but you’ve learned to embrace it or even take it on board—can you speak a little more on that? I feel like if it’s constructive criticism—and there’s not much constructive criticism out there, but when there is—I like to think of myself as being a very self-aware human being because it’s only with self-awareness that you can really improve. If you take everything too harshly and don’t look within yourself, you’ll find yourself very stationary. Even from being my own critic and looking at myself and saying they think you’re like this because you’re always in these situations and this is how you present yourself. So don’t be mad when somebody comes along and says ‘Oh that’s what you are’ because that’s what has been presented to them. If you want to change the narrative you have to change the narrative, if that makes sense. So I’m just figuring out ways to accomplish these things and change my mindset and show everybody the man I’m becoming, staying out of certain situations and not igniting the narrative that already existed.

I want to chat about some of the people you worked with on the record. I heard you were excited to work with Dave because he has a competitive side that reminds you of the generation of the guys you came up with?
Yeah, Dave was one of the first people I met from the new generation that has that old venom in his body. In terms of ‘I wanna rip your head off, I want to take your head off on the track, I want to do better than you’. That doesn’t come down to money or numbers or anything, that comes down to sheer talent, and to see that in a younger man, where the scenery is very different now and you can kind of hide behind the money and the numbers. Seeing him throw himself into the fire, I admire that. That’s what type of man I am, so I’m always going to appreciate another artist that’s like that. I’ve never feared that, if anything I’ve been drawn towards that in my career.

The first single ‘Mozambique’ is a standout for me. It’s a sick combination with Moonchild Sanelly and Jaykae on the track. How did that one come together and why did you choose it to set the tone for this rollout?
It’s crazy you know, I’m very spiritual and I believe in God and pray a lot. During this project I believe I’ve been guided by a higher power, I can’t act like everything has been super planned out. You know when people talk about alignment? A lot has just fallen in line for me. So meeting Moonchild Sanelly, I was on a writing camp in South Africa and just fell in love with her vibe immediately, she’s a superstar. So she came by the studio and I was thinking—the grime artists and British artists have more understanding of different genres because we listen to so many different types of music growing up here, so when we collaborate with different artists we come into their world. I had mine and Jaykae’s verse for ‘Mozambique’ and I had a terrible hook that I’d tried to do, but I knew it was terrible so I thought I’d try her on the hook and it was just magic. There’s something about the frequency of her voice. It just hits.

Another standout single is ‘Skengman’ with Stormzy. I noticed the music video credits that track as featuring Ghetto—is that about you tapping into your roots again on the second verse? Has Ghetto become an alter-ego for Ghetts now?
Yeah, It’s just a style of delivery that I don’t really tap into much anymore, but when I do it’s become kind-of golden. I honestly believe J. Clarke, Ghetts and Ghetto are three different artists and three different people, so shout out to Ghetto man he done his thing on there.

I spotted Shaybo and D Double, Mist and a couple of other cameos in the video, too.
Again, it was just things aligning. With that, I wanted to take it to the old-school days of when I used to watch American music videos and I used to see cameos from other artists in the videos.

I saw a video of you with Backroad Gee and Pa Salieu in the studio working on ‘No Mercy’, it looked like there was a lot of energy in the room. How was linking up with those guys and what did you take away from working with new upcoming artists?
I learned you can never know too much. Being in the game as long as I have doesn’t mean that I know everything. There are people who have been in the game for 15 minutes who know things that I don’t. There are different approaches and it’s intriguing for me so I cherish those sessions man, for real.

You’ve seen a long career but yet you seem to stay levelling up as you grow—do you still have the drive to push yourself harder?
Yeah. This is going to sound crazy but I feel like I’m an actual anomaly, where there are so many gears left in me that might not be left in my peers, you know what I’m saying? I feel like at this moment I’m really just finding my direction in terms of how comfortable and confident I am in my individuality. Don’t get me wrong I would never disrespect grime culture but I feel like at this point what we’re trying to do is beyond any genre, it’s beyond being defined by genres. It’s about creating a world that doesn’t exist already and inviting people into that world on some real confident, fearless shit. We’ve seen all the other stuff 100 times, I don’t mind people hearing me for the first time and saying “What’s that? That’s weird!”—that’s a compliment, I don’t wanna sound like these niggas. I don’t wanna sound nothing like them. So when people say it’s weird they just need to give it some time, they are too used to hearing the one type of thing and they’re comfortable but I’m about creating this world and being extremely unique with what I’m doing.

That’s what’s going to see that longevity too, challenging your audience. I think when you spoon feed them too much of the same thing it can stunt your growth as an artist too.
Yeah man, and it did for so long. Yeah, 100%

I just saw the first part of The Evolution of Ghetts series you’ve been dropping, it must have been a trip looking at all that old footage from your come-up and reflect on everything you’ve achieved.
Bro it’s crazy, watching everything back like that feels like—wow, I’ve really evolved as a person and I’m proud of who I’ve become. Some of those moments we put in put I even cringe watching it. Like bro just on some real shit, I’m like why would you like that but that’s what the energy was, that’s what my area designed me to be at that time you feel me?

Ghetts, appreciate you man. Congratulations on the album, hopefully, it’s not too long before we see you on this side.
100% Love and respect my guy, take care man. Good to speak to you as well bro. Manners. You already know.

Follow Ghetts here for more and stream Conflict of Interest below.