Overrated. Untalented. Uncharismatic. These are just three adjectives you will never hear when it comes to describing Ghetts. A true pioneer – there are very few artists birthed from Grime’s early days who can cause as much havoc today as they did back then. A crucial part of the genre’s formative years, the East London mic-man has always evolved with with the zeitgeist, continuously picking up new fans along the way. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his longevity is the insistence on maintaining his unique, high-energy style. You know exactly what you’re going to get with Ghetts yet it catches you off guard every time.
Let’s take a quick trip back to the summer of ’07. Tony Blair is in the process of resigning as Prime Minister, ‘Superbad’ has just hit the big screens, and, one of the most iconic albums ever to come out of the UK’s underground – Ghetto Gospel – is released to the world. It’s an album which defined that era of Grime and one which is still highly revered more than 10 years later. The majority of ‘classics’ in the entertainment industry are often best left alone for fear of tainting the legacy (see Jay Z & R Kelly’s follow up to ‘Best of Both Worlds’, or every ‘Terminator’ film after the first one) however if there’s someone who could potentially pull it off, it’s someone with the talent and skill set possessed by Ghetts.
Fast forward almost exactly a decade. Rumblings of a return are rife – rumours of a renewed Ghetts record are resonating round the scene. This was eventually confirmed in November when the premiere of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ dropped, featuring a spirited Stefflon Don. The announcement of ‘Ghetto Gospel II’ came with it, and so too did an article claiming the full album would be released at the top of 2018. Deadlines are like guidelines in this industry, however, and it wasn’t until 30th August 2018 when the official announcement hit the social media streets: ‘Ghetto Gospel II: The New Testament’ would be released in just two weeks time. Along with the announcement came the premiere of ‘Black Rose’; a touching tribute and collaboration with Kojey Radical.
Release day came. Rarely can one artist’s project galvanise a scene filled with so many inflated egos, yet that is exactly what was achieved by Ghetts at the time of release. No matter which corner of the internet you were on, it was seemingly impossible to escape the imminent impact of this album. Was it to be justified? Was the bar set too high? I wasted zero time in finding out.
The intro to an album is always important; doubly so if you’re a rapper. This is your chance to set the tone for the album, usually giving you the freedom of a freestyle (meaning ‘free of style’: no chorus or hook). This was executed to perfection on ‘Caution’ – as to be expected. This is Ghetts in his element. It kicks off with him explaining the juxtaposition between him and others: “You come from a family of wealth / I had to grab it myself”. The hunger is evident all the way through the track, with the trademark flow sitting perfectly in the pockets of a hard-knocking instrumental. Ghetts glides through the beat with punch after punch, switch up after switch up, all the while keeping to the theme of the album exclaiming “My brothers and sisters / welcome to service / you haven’t gotta be Muslims or Christians / to believe or worship”.
After a brief message from Kenny Allstar at the end of ‘Caution’, we are straight into track two. Anticipation builds as we hear the renowned ‘Sounds of the Sir’ tag – belonging to the legendary Sir Spyro – a tag which demands attention and respect based on the producer’s previous outings. The beat features a vocal sample, ‘Pick Up The Phone’, which lends its name to to the title of the track. This formulaic structure is often tried and often failed, however there is a level of ingenuity to this example which makes it stand out. From the more serious nature of someone owing him money to the more jovial notion of him not being able to get through to his Mum, Ghetts weaves in and out of the beat providing entertaining content ridden with voice-note-esque samples. The jazz interludes within Spyro’s instrumental are to be noted as well, adding a real nuance to the song. The feature comes in the form of President T – a fellow veteran and fan favourite – who does not disappoint with his notorious style of delivery. Both Ghetts and Prez incorporate the ‘Pick Up The Phone’ sample extremely well throughout, turning a somewhat overused formula into something to be admired and appreciated.
The eerie beginning of track three is met with church bells as Ghetts enters the fold with his opening line: “They don’t wanna see a n**** shine / so I’m leaving all you n***** blind”. This track, ‘Halloween’, is a reminder to the audience of just where Ghetts comes from. Amongst all the intricate wordplay and choppy flows there’s a melodic chorus (and final verse) which only demonstrates his versatility. The outro consists of a message from one of Ghetts’ female friends who succinctly describes the MC’s powerful style and liberating presence.
Similar to track two, track three – ‘London’ – involves a repeated vocal sample (although this one differentiates as the song progresses). Again, similar to track two, it just works. Describing all four corners of the Capital, Ghetts details experiences and memories pertaining to each one. Couple the Jamaican influence of the sample with the story telling throughout, you get the impression that this track is one to represent Ghetts and the factors which contribute make him the man he is. One of his main allies throughout the journey in music – Wretch 32 – is then invited onto the following track, ‘Purple Sky’. This one begins with an ambient instrumental which is mirrored by both the tone and flow that Ghetts brings. Wretch is only featured on the chorus, which on the face of it seems like a misuse of the wordsmiths skill set, however it complements the rest of the song perfectly (and of course Wretch still manages to incorporate some intelligent wordplay). In contrast to the more hard-hitting songs at the beginning of the album, this track offers a serene atmosphere which paves the way for the rest of the project.
A smooth transition sees the entrance of the Ghetto Gospel Choir on ‘Hands On The Bible’, which bridges the gap between the two sides of Ghetts’ personality. The choral composition provides respite amongst the high-octane energy of the album, with the choir executing each note to perfection. “Said you gotta practice / practice what you preach” the lead vocalist roars, as we make our way to the next track: the aptly named ‘Preach’. With Swifta’s piano-lead instrumental accompanied by Donaeo’s emotive vocals, this one sets the tone early. Ghetts comes through with an aggressive, forceful flow which adds a good contrast to the rest of the song. Along with a meaningful message there’s also some wondrous wordplay, one of my favourite examples being “a man will say family tree / and then branch out with a man’s girl when he leaves”. One recurring line is “I can’t abondon my beliefs” – a noticeable and admirable trait throughout.
‘Spiritual Warfare’, the title of the following track, is a portrayal of the conflict between the streets and the sermons. A smooth sounding hook from Jordy and accompanying vocals from Leah McFall only add to the complexion of Ghetts’ introspection. “What’s the point of a cross if the one on the cross is cross with me” is a standout line from what I would consider a standout song – a true reflection of Ghetts’ mind state going into the album.
We see the return of Kenny Allstar on the intro of ‘Houdini’, ushering in a return of Ghetts’ menacing persona. Focusing on the lyrics and substance over his traditional rapid fire flow, this one has a real potent feel to it. This is accentuated through the introduction of Suspect whose barking baritone reverberates with rhythm. The song concludes with the brief return of Wretch, however the North London lyricist is soon faded out in a very cryptic manner.
The next two tracks detail a reminder of Ghetts’ introspective side. First of all, ‘Next Of Kin’, the melancholic story of a Mother who had to bury her son; perhaps best synopsised with the lines “she said I sound like her son did / I said I wish I could have met him / because he sounds like the one kid I probably could’ve reached before a gun did”. The sincerity of the song is highlighted by another jazz infused instrumental which helps to induce the empathetic emotion felt when listening. The follow up track, ‘No Love’, whilst similarly emotive, consists of a more conventional layout structure. Ryan De La Cruz provides a soulful hook whilst Ghetts gives an insight into the problems of young love, growing, and maturing.
The signature flow makes a comeback on ‘King’, the unrelenting nature of which immediately demands our attention. Whilst other topics are explored, the core theme of the album is never forgotten: “Everyday I ask God for forgiveness / hope he ain’t kept no file on man”. This is a shorter song than the majority of the others – but just think of it as a one inch punch. Very effective, especially when Little Simz sprinkles some sauce on the overlaid hook.
The aforementioned ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ comes through next, giving us an Asiatic vibe from the outset. The hook features a vigorous back and forth between Ghetts and Stefflon Don, blending seamlessly into the meandering verses. Ghetts adopts a more laid back flow on this, sitting comfortably in the pockets and co-ordinating his progression with that of the bullish beat.
Securing a Sir Spyro instrumental will give credence to any project; Ghetts managed to get his hands on two of them. ‘Shellington Crescent’ is a lot different to the initial one, though, and provides a perfect canvas for Ghetts and collaborator Chip to paint their tapestry. We are treated to back to back verses from two of the finest in the UK, and this has to be a favourite from the project. When seeing the line up of these three figureheads you would expect nothing less than a classic: in my opinion that’s exactly what we got. The competitive nature of the two was exhibited in full force and with both of them in fine form, it’s hard to call who came out on top.
As the end of the project draws nigh, Ghetts taps into our emotions once again. In ‘Jess Song’, the MC tells a tale from the perspective of a woman coming to terms with having cancer. A topic close to home for a vast number of people, particularly those in the Grime scene after the untimely passing of Stormin. You can feel the passion in every word said and this is vital for the success of this track. Had it been disingenuous in any way, it would’ve been very transparent. It wasn’t. Kudos to Ghetts for tactfully tackling such a sensitive subject. The emotion is elongated into the next song, ‘Window Pain’, as well. Once again feeding off real life experiences, this is an allegory which has to be heard to be fully comprehended. Another sore subject which too many are all too familiar with – losing a loved one to senseless violence. Aside from the deep meaning carved within the lyrics, Ghetts also displays his skill in story telling – painting a clear picture of the situation and the emotions felt by all those involved.
‘Black Rose’ – the lead single – rounds off the album in appropriate fashion. A healthy combination of substance, meaning and melody; the story of strife felt by dark skin women in today’s society. Starting off with a voice note from Ghetts’ daughter and continuing into an epilogue of hardship, I can see why this resonated with Ghetts to the point where he felt it should be the first glimpse into the album. Kojey Radical does a good job with his part: “They say sticks don’t break no bones / but the words might still hit home” being a memorable moment of the centrepiece chorus.
A cornerstone of the genre, Ghetts and Grime go hand in hand. This is so much more than a typical Grime project though. A number of difficult subjects were brought to light, encouraging healthy discourse in a time where that seems hard to come by. There were moments of happiness, sadness, and moments of clarity: all you’d expect from a high calibre body of work. It would have been so easy to formulate a cut-and-dry Grime album yet Ghetts chose to use his platform to create something substantial. We understand now why it took so long, it had to be perfect; it had to have meaning. There are songs for the car, songs for the rave and songs for the church. Lessons to learn and codes to live by. It was received exactly how it should have been: as a Ghetto Gospel.