Ghetts on standing up for women, street politics, and pioneer recognition: ‘Peace is not too much to ask for’ | Ents & Arts News

Mar 5, 2024 | Uncategorized

At his studio on the outskirts of east London, Ghetts is working on new music.

Given his latest album, On Purpose, With Purpose, was introduced to the world just a few days before we meet it seems unusual, but when the ideas don’t stop there is no time for rest.

Ghetts describes his working days “as pretty much Groundhog Day”, with a gym workout at 9.30am then straight to the studio. But this is his sanctuary. “It’s like therapy almost. I’m happy when I’m here.”

One of the UK’s most influential rap artists, Ghetts, real name Justin Clarke, was a teenager when grime emerged in the UK in the early 2000s. He has been in the business for half his life and hailed a trailblazer in the genre, with the mainstream catching up in recent years; in 2019, he received an Ivor Novello nomination, followed by a number two chart position and Mercury Prize nomination for third album, Conflict Of Interest, in 2021.

Ghetts at his studio in east London
Ghetts says working in his studio is like ‘therapy’

At this year’s MOBOs he received the pioneer award, a “crazy” moment that saw him joined on stage by his parents, who have supported him since the start. “I feel like that’s not just a ‘me’ moment, that’s quite an ‘us’ moment, you know, the culture,” he says of the award. “That meant a lot.”

Ghetts is known for delivering sharp, social commentary through his lyrics, and as something of a veteran now he feels more comfortable than ever getting his message across. In On Purpose, With Purpose, he features collaborations with musicians including Kano, Wretch 32 and Sampha, and touches on everything from politics, war, and knife and gun crime, to parenting, abortion laws and postnatal depression. However, he dismisses the idea of it as political commentary.

“I guess it’s just a reflection of the times,” the rapper says. “I don’t think it’s anything political just to state facts… Some of [the songs] are not as controversial as others, but like I said, it’s a reflection of the world, seeing these things happening. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was calling them out. I’m an artist and I’m painting pictures with words.”

Ghetts picked up the pioneer award at the 2024 MOBOs. Pic: PA/ Danny Lawson
Ghetts picked up the pioneer award at the 2024 MOBOs earlier this year. Pic: PA/ Danny Lawson

Postnatal depression and knife crime

In Jonah’s Safety, Ghetts raps: “I know this lady/ Diagnosed with postnatal depression/ She don’t wan hold her baby… Nobody knew that’s how she felt/ She had the smile that concealed it.” It’s an issue discussed openly much more than it was even just 10 years ago, but by women. It is refreshing to hear a male rapper taking it on.

“I heard the beat and the first two lines just came into my head almost instantly,” he tells us. It was a “massive” subject for a man to take on, he adds, “one that deserves research other than just my perspective”.

In Street Politics, he aims to give “a different perspective” to the headlines on youth knife crime, showing “somebody that was a straight-A student fall into a certain way of protecting himself due to fear… I believe it gives a different kind of understanding of why, maybe.”

Having spent time in prison as a teenager, he is aware things could have turned out differently in his own life. “Yeah, sometimes,” he responds, when asked how much he thinks about life’s turning points. “But it’s just testament, you know, to having a vision and living that vision. And being convicted in that vision as well.”

In another album track, Double Standards, the rapper calls out the “structural imbalance” in everything from racism, the justice system and technology, to the different ways he believes the world has reacted to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Rapper Ghetts
Pic: Darkside Media

‘We shouldn’t be scared to ask for peace’

It’s about “the yin and yang”, he says. “A double standard of how people of the world are living in different countries and the punishments that differ also, the treatment that differs also. It’s that left, that right, that light, that dark, and everything in between.”

In the track, he raps: “I was on the phone with a pal of mine / they asked me why they’re helping Ukraine and not Palestine / And I’ve replied brown skin we was so whitewashed.”

In person, he says. “I think that peace is not too much to ask for. That’s what I believe… I think everything plays a part within these things – rich, poor, and so on. Not just race… but I go back to saying peace aint too much to ask for. That’s a powerful statement… we shouldn’t be scared to ask for peace.”

So it does seem political, despite his saying otherwise. In 2019, Ghetts endorsed Jeremy Corbyn “because I believe he’s a genuine person that wants to make things better”, but he doesn’t feel the same way about current Labour leader Keir Starmer. Voting at this moment in time, he says, would be “like voting for a lesser evil, I suppose… I don’t know”.

He also laments cancel culture and “fake rage” in his final track. “I think sometimes that lacks a lot of critical thinking of how we may have got to that point,” he says. “You know, it’s just a million voices in one place and reiterating the same thing over and over again, making it spread.”

Read more from Sky News entertainment:
Raye interview: ‘It’s been a real wild journey’
‘It’s distressing hearing your song at number one when you’re not getting paid’

With Ghetts and his team ready to get to work, we leave it there. Given he had about 50 tracks in the mix for Conflict Of Interest and more that didn’t make the cut for On Purpose, With Purpose, plus his current work, it feels as if there must be a big vault of Ghetts music still waiting to be heard.

“Even though some of these tracks are very good standalone tracks, when they’re together they don’t sound like it’s a journey, it sounds pretty random,” he says. “So that’s the only reason why they don’t make it sometimes.”

Will his fans ever hear them?

“One day I want to do a big release,” he teases. “One day.”

Ghetts is performing in Birmingham, Manchester and London between 22 and 27 March. On Purpose, With Purpose is out now

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