Obaro Ejimiwe is walking his Jack Russell (Stanley) in South London when I give him a call. “Things have gone back to relative normality and London prevails!” he laughs. Only a few weeks after the riots have died down, Ghostpoet says he was in London when the violence was happening. “It was a strange time … it felt like a film.”
It’s a rough, dark side of England that is not unfamiliar to Ghostpoet. His lazy, lilting, heavily-accented chatter over complex, crackling moody beats brought him to the world’s attention last year when he was nominated for The Mercury Prize.
It was in Coventry, though, where Ghostpoet really was born. Sitting just about right in the middle of England, Coventry is a town full of universities, and that’s what brought Ejimiwe there as well for ten years or so. “It’s a mix of different cultures. It’s not too different from London. It’s definitely an interesting place,” he remarks. Although he ended up studying music production, Ejimiwe admits he originally started out with a foundation course in Art & Design – “a combination of photography and art stuff” – and sort of fell into music production from there.
It was there that he was introduced to grime, the style of hip hop readily associated with the likes of Dizzee Rascal. It was at university that he really met the right people. “It was the students who were interested in music, and at the time it was grime music. The people who I came across were into that and wanted to produce and write lyrics in that genre.”
After being part of a grime collective for a few years, Ghostpoet started to feel somewhat trapped by the limitations of the genre and style. “I was getting a bit tired of grime in the sense of just lyrically – I was writing a lot at that point – lyrically it wasn’t really giving enough space to say what I wanted to say. It was quite a structured thing really – 8 bars, 16 bars etcetera – musically I wanted to try something a bit different really, and try something with a bit more of a personal touch. I wanted to try to show myself and my take on things.”
It’s a freedom that has really driven Ghostpoet and really makes his music something exciting and beautiful. His slow-paced, tipsy British rap style draws your attention to every word he utters. It’s an urban poetry written on walls and asphalt, punctuated by streetlights and sirens. It’s freaking great.
“I create the music first,” he explains of his process, “and from creating the music I try to capture something from it in terms of an emotion. That could be a verse or the lines for a verse, or a chorus. It’s definitely music first and lyrics second. I want to create a unique piece of music as much as possible.”
It’s out of this process that Ghostpoet’s unique style of rapping and lyricism was born. “I was just trying to personalize the lyrics to the music I was making, really,” he explains. “It just made sense to kind of experiment with sound and the way I said words, stretching out a line, stuff like that. It helped that I wasn’t constantly thinking about structure. It made sense.”
Despite the laid-back feel of Ghostpoet’s rapping style, there is a definite sense of methodical concision that you can hear in his words, too. For someone who’s never rapped before, I’m curious as to how that effect is produced – does it take a lot of repetition and alteration? “It’s more of a stream-of-consciousness-type thing,” Ejimiwe corrects me. It’s a matter of editing after the fact, though, with less of the detailed approach that one would imagine.
His latest album, Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam draws you into the life of a Gen-Y artist trying to get by in the seedy underbelly of the big city. Ghostpoet’s music touches nerves with its eerie vibes. His video offerings echo the same sentiments – levitating objects and dark backdrops depict a London hipster conjuring magic through music.
“I really want to get my music there as much as possible,” Ghostpoet says of his upcoming trip to Australia, which he’s really looking forward to. I note that it’s going to be interesting to see how music with such a strong cultural identity goes in a new context. “I am intrigued as much as you,” he laughs.