FAULT Magazine discuss colorism, fatherhood and new music with Ghetts

 

Ghetts X FAULT Magazine

 

Words: Trina John Charles

Watching Ghetts – or Ghetto as he was known back then, transform from rowdy, ex prison inmate into Ghetts, the most pleasant and respectful man, wonderful father and lyrical genius whose name is now often bandied about in those ‘Greatest MC of All Time’ conversations, is such a joy to behold. Ghetts, the grown man is nothing like what you would expect from his intense stage presence. He is charming, poised, attentive and a very intelligent conversationalist. Here we discuss colourism in the U.K. and raising a dark skinned daughter, the time he had to write a war dub (diss record in grime terms) on Valentines Day and the new album, ‘Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament’.

 

FAULT Magazine: Just from the roll out your new album, “Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament’ looks like a very well thought out project with a lot of time and effort put into it?

Ghetts: Two years. I’ve been recording the music since January. I just wanted to give the campaign the same thought process as I did the music and not just throw it out there. I wanted to have videos that reflected the time we spent on the music and have artwork that represented that as well.

 

FAULT Magazine: The press release is calling this, ‘7 songs to tell his story’ is that an accurate description of what to expect?

Ghetts: It gets deep at times… but then at times it’s light hearted. Everything about me that people already know is packaged in there and then I’ve grown… I am a lot more comfortable in my own skin, so I’m able to dive in deeper and talk about situations that are going on around us now. In terms of ‘gang violence’ and whatnot… not even preaching about the situation, because I understand the various perspectives that contribute to that and why its much more deep rooted than just, ‘I’m going to kill you’. I try to share all the perspectives of the people involved… the different layers.

 

FAULT Magazine: Which brings me to the single, ‘Black Rose’ which is a song about colourism. It’s very interesting and refreshing to see a grime artist talk about colourism in this way, especially in the actual music?

Ghetts: First and foremost, I needed my daughter to understand certain things and even if she doesn’t quite understand yet, I’m just trying to empower her. I guess I can do that at home – and I do that at home – but she understands that I have a platform. It started with ‘Daddy, why do people stop you all the time and take pictures’ and now, when she’s trying to be funny she’ll be like, ‘Ghetts!’ [laughs] So when I realised that was happening and she knew people were listening to me, I thought, ‘nah… I’m at a stage where I definitely have to think about what I’m doing.’ I want her to be proud throughout her life.

As a song, I battled with myself. I fought with myself as to whether I was going to release ‘Black Rose’ first or not. I’ve touched on that topic before, but I’ve never done a full song, a video… I’m thinking, ‘I know my demographic… and if this misses, it really misses’ and it will really fall on deaf ears. I could do it the other way around and get everyone’s attention by doing what I normally do and then drop Black Rose whilst I’ve got their attention, but then I thought, If I do what I normally do, I wont even be able to get back to that place.

 

FAULT Magazine: The feedback has been very positive from women, but I’m curious as to how men have digested a track like this?

Ghetts: Different rappers have seen me and been like, ‘yeah man, that was needed’. Growing up I had a bit of that… [colourist views] It all changed at some point. I don’t know when or how old I was – I’ve been in the lime light for so long – but I know dark skin men were not always thought of like that. Growing up I would never get the most girls and stuff…

 

FAULT Magazine: Do you think that was solely down to your complexion?

Ghetts: What are you trying to say that I was just dead? [laughs]

 

FAULT Magazine: No, but back in the day you were a bit wild. So maybe that put the girls off?

Ghetts: No, I used to get girls because of that. Dark skinned women definitely experience colourism differently from dark skinned men. That song was based on me arguing with my friends about this topic. I have mad arguments on this topic. People know they can’t say certain things around me.

I know that colourism starts from my daughter’s age and even before. The lack of back dolls [mentioned at the beginning of the song] are just one aspect, but we are also influenced by what we see on TV etc… We are now in a day and age where guys like me may look for what they deem as an ‘exotic’ girlfriend to have this super-race child. So if you have that way of thinking, you are going to project that kind of thinking on to my child and she has to go to school with these children – my kid – so if my kid isn’t that strong and doesn’t know where she is from, it is going to affect her.

I’m from Jamaica and when I go back home, I can see that kind of thing in my family already. So watching her [my daughter] I can already see that its a real problem for her.

 

FAULT Magazine: In terms of the journey we witness on the album, which track was the hardest to write?

Ghetts: That would be ‘Jess Song’. My friend had Osteosarcoma, bone cancer. She’s really outspoken, and one day she rang me like, ‘Yo, you p*ssyhole’ and I was just like… [laughs], because  that was so typical of her. Then she said, ‘ you know I’m dying right? no-one survives this’ and I was like, ‘come on Jess, don’t say that. If anyone is going to survive this, it’s you’ and then she was like, ‘anyway, fuck all of that… you see when I die yeah, you’re going to write a song about me, but I’m not really on that I want to hear my song now’. I was like, ‘Jess you’re mad. How can I write a song about my friend dying?’ but she was adamant, so I said I would sleep on it. I slept on it and I came up with a concept. I rang her and I took her to the studio with me and I told her I was going to write from her perspective. She told me her story from the time she found out she had cancer and I just narrated it… Unfortunately, she died last year in January.

There are a lot of deep songs on the album. Songs to make you reflect.

 

 

FAULT Magazine: What about he other side of the spectrum, do you write from that place on the album?

Ghetts: I’m still trying to work out how to write from that perspective. I don’t know how to floss on my community… I’m still trying to work that out, but there is a song called, ‘Houdini’ that is a bit like that where I’m bragging a bit.

FAULT Magazine: Why do you find it hard to do the braggadocious stuff?

Ghetts: It’s not like I have a problem with it I just don’t want it to come from me. I like listening to it, but… I don’t know, my upbringing is really different. I don’t have a big chain yet. I haven’t bought one. Not because I don’t like watches or I don’t like chains, it’s because people that I love are still not in a position where they can come out of where we’re from so it makes me feel guilty. Also, my money only started coming in (in large sums) when I got older, when I could think from a place of maturity, not when I was young.

I’ve got a thing for bikes, motocross bikes. When I’m around I let the kids sit on my bike, because I remember being young and not being able to afford anything like that. It makes me think, ‘I want to build a place for these kids to go and ride motocross bikes.’ You don’t see any young black boys in motocross. It’s a very expensive sport. I just have this thing where I keep thinking, ‘I need to do more with my platform’, I’ve been blessed with this kind of position for a reason.

FAULT Magazine: How long have you felt like this about the platform that you have?

Ghetts: Ages… for a while, still. Just seeing different things and knowing that from my opportunities, should come many other opportunities.

FAULT Magazine: You put a lot of pressure on yourself. How do you feel when you see others with the same platform not really giving things as much thought, or doing unproductive things with the same opportunities you speak about?

Ghetts: It’s one of my business. All these things used to bother me before… other people’s music used to bother me, loads of things… and one day I just let all that go. Everyone is different and no two paths are the same. Not everyone thinks like me and they don’t have to.

FAULT Magazine: There is so much peace in minding your own business…

Ghetts: Trust me! Like now, I don’t care what the next rapper is doing, I don’t care about anybody else.

FAULT Magazine:  You said when you first started to delve into music, you were rubbish. How do you evolve from being rubbish into Ghetts and being in these ‘The Greatest MC of All Time’ conversations?

Ghetts: I don’t really know… I wasn’t shit, I was just shit in comparison. There were a lot of things I had to work on. Being in prison really helped me. When I was in jail I used to read a lot. I think that’s why my style is so descriptive.

FAULT Magazine: What kind of stuff were you reading in prison?

Ghetts: Loads of different things… the Bible mostly. Do you remember that show ‘Babyfather’? I read that book in prison and obviously Lenny and George…

FAULT Magazine: Lenny and George… Do you mean ‘Of Mice and Men’?

Ghetts: That’s Lenny and George, man! George and Lenny and them man there.

I read more in prison than I did in school. I never liked school. School is dead and I even think that now and nothing can change my mind. I feel like different people excel at different things and if you keep teaching them in the same format, you’re going to get children like myself that hate school. In school, they just teach you how to be a good employee. if you follow the structure they implement is school, you’re just training to be an employee in the real world. Why are you not teaching kids about taxes, or even how to grow food? Where are the real life skills? But I’m not dissing anybody that has done well in school, because I understand that takes a certain level of brilliance also, but I left school in year 8 and I was gone.

I was mischievous, I wasn’t bad, but then I got stabbed when I was in year 7. That was a major lesson for me. That’s when I learned that life really isn’t fair. I won that fight fair and then I turned around and someone stabbed me. I would never take that lesson back, because it was a prelude to what the word really is.

FAULT Magazine: That is such a contrast, because you are also from quite a strict church background aren’t you?

Ghetts: Yeah, that’s my thing. That’s why there is ‘Ghetto Gospel’ etc.. I still go to church now. Both sides of my family are deeply involved in church.

FAULT Magazine: Bible Study and everything?

Ghetts: Bible study all now! If I go to my nan’s before 9pm… I’m in the study, whether I want to be or not. Seven Day Adventists. That’s what I was saying earlier, my upbringing is different, my thing is just different.

I walked so many paths, man. I grew up a Seventh Day Adventist, I’ve spent time in jail, I’ve been to different schools, music… there are so many things I have experienced that most people wont have.  

FAULT Magazine: What is the most common thing people say to you when they stop you in the street?

Ghetts: ‘Legend’ …or ‘You’re mad cool, you know’ people expect me to be my onstage presence, or persona, but obviously that isn’t me 24/7. That is me tapping into the emotion that comes with the music, because I mostly do grime music people see the highest level of energy, so they expect me to be gassed all the time. Some people even offer me cocaine. Now can I just say, on my mum’s life, I have never taken coke… in my life, on my mum’s life. At the same time, I can understand why some people think that, because normally people only usually hit my level of energy when they are on drugs, I just hit that level naturally.

FAULT Magazine: What is the most annoying thing people say to you?

Ghetts: When people talk about other MCs, or clashes, or the Bashy clash from years ago… I find that super annoying. Super, super, super annoying, but then I think, I did bring that on myself [laughs]. That is the worse one though, when people start with that I just turn off in my head. You have to look at the timeline, do you think you are the first person to ever say what you are saying to me now about this situation? Just allow me, man.

FAULT Magazine: I heard Nas say something similar about people always bringing up his beef with Jay Z, that beef must be 20yrs old…

Ghetts: I’ve realised clashing is a heightened energy. Anything you do whilst clashing just spreads like wildfire. Most people are surface listeners, so when they see you that is the only thing they can bring up, because they’ve only been listening via the surface. They haven’t got any albums, all they know is clash. That annoys me. My mind is so far from even wanting to play a part in that.

FAULT Magazine: Are you saying you would never clash again?

Ghetts: I’m not saying that. I’m saying, where I am now and how I think, there are so many things I want to do and (lyrically) killing an MC is not at the top of my list. I feel like it overshadows everything else.

FAULT Magazine: It is a lot of time to dedicate to one person…

Ghetts: Thats how I feel and Im’s slo glad you said that. Do you know where I was one Valentine’s Day? writing a war dub… because I had to. Do you know how I felt at that time? At that moment, I was upset. I just wanted to see my girl like everybody else.

FAULT Magazine: Were you writing that and in that space due to pressure?

Ghetts: You have to understand, you see with the war thing, sometimes your career is on the line.

FAULT Magazine: Is it really though?

Ghetts: It is, because unfortunately war is war. If you get someone of the same calibre, people want to see that battle and if you don’t take part, you may as well halve your listeners. That’s the God’s honest truth. People like to see clashes. It’s like boxing, it’s entertainment and remember these same people – the listeners – they employ you. If you are depriving them of something they want to see… it’s mad and it’s just long. It overshadows everything you’re trying to do. Then all of a sudden another man’s name is in your story. This is my story and I take the chapters seriously.

 

‘Not Another Grime Artist’ – Discussing The Transcendence of Yungen

 

It’s no big secret that over the last few years grime music has broken back into the mainstream and been introduced to a whole new wave of listeners and supporters. Despite some scepticism to the rise, it’s undeniable that it has allowed underground and independent artists new and seasoned to flourish.

The case of Yungen is different, however – in truth it’d be wrong to label Yungen as a solely “grime artist”  – his musicality transcends genres and while many have tried to place his music into simple one-size-fits all boxes, it is, in fact, his ability as a songwriter to work in several disciplines of music which has always seen him flourish regardless of the trending musical climate.

Just off a headline show at Jamaica House 2017 and with ‘Bestie’ bursting into the UK Top 20 – we caught up with Yungen to discuss his musical journey, labels and growth.

 

FAULT: As a songwriter, where do you look for inspiration?

Yungen: I get most of my inspiration just being out and driving. When I’m sat down in a writing session, it’s difficult to just start from scratch; I need prior inspiration before I just start.

Has not releasing music which fits into solely one genre made it harder on you as an artist?

I think it’s helped me because when times have changed and music has developed, not being able to put me in a box has allowed me to stay relevant. In the last few years with grime and afro bashment-rave being in, to be able to do everything has helped me release music people are vibing at the time.

 

Is it hard when people say “Yungen, the grime artist” and put you into that one box when you work across a number of different genres?

A little bit – I feel like me being called grime MC is because I came in at its peak. Me doing grime they’d call me grime but years before I was called a UK rapper and now after ‘Bestie’ they’d probably call me an afro-beat artist [laughs]. I don’t mind that I have been labelled as this or that because I know I’m not just one kind of artist and it’s on me to always make that clear.

 

A lot of new fans have jumped on to the grime very quickly – do you think this sharp rise is going to help or hurt the genre in the long run?

I don’t believe that it’s going to hurt the genre. I think grime has just been opened up to a wider audience especially with people like Stormzy who are killing it and giving all the younger MCs coming up more opportunities.

Are you a fan of large stages or do you prefer the smaller venues and session gigs where it’s just you and the music?

I enjoy performing, it’s one of the biggest perks that comes with it. A couple of years ago I went on tour with Naughty Boy across the world, and that was a big experience for me, and it made me see a different side to performing in smaller clubs.

 

What’s been the best part of your musical journey so far?

There have been so many different moments that have been iconic for me. Signing a record deal and being able to put out songs and charting. Being on tour with other people and putting on my tour has been cool.

 

‘Bestie’ has blown up and become one of the hottest records this summer, do you ever worry about topping the high bar you’ve set for yourself?

No, I’m not worried, it just made me excited for my next one. With ‘Bestie’ I had a plan when I made it, and I had a plan of what I want to release after, I didn’t expect it to go as big as it did but I’ve always had a long-term goal, and I’m excited about the next move.

 

What are you listening to at the moment?

I listen to everything really – a lot of R&B and rap and whats popping at the moment.

 

What’s changed the most about you since the debut?

I’d say I’ve grown and learnt a lot about the industry and the strategies of putting out new stuff. Going from being independent and to signing a record deal, it’s good to learn everything involved.

 

If you could give your younger self any advice what would it be?

It’d be to learn more and be smarter on the business side of music – I’ve learnt it along the way now, but it’d have been good to have known how things work from the get go.

 

What is the big dream?

When I first started, I didn’t think I”d be here now, and because I’ve met what my target is so now, I’m just setting myself new goals every week.

 

What is your FAULT?

I don’t like going out much, and I’m antisocial with going out. I’m more happy at home with my boys or in the studio, so maybe I need to start going out and enjoying life a bit more.