Exclusives 23 February 2024
Author: Seth P

How Ghetts Defied The Odds To Become The Greatest Artist Of A Generation

23 February 2024

Music is a capricious beast, which is why the industry can sometimes be a revolving door as artists come and go as the zeitgeists shift. The youth are often the driving force behind these shifts, which is why rap especially, is often referred to as a young mans game; as who better to be elected epochal spokespeople than the youth themselves? As the mainstays of yesteryear are slowly replaced by fresh blood, many of them fade into obscurity, try their hand at other occupations, or cling hopelessly onto their previous positions in office. At 39 years old, conventional wisdom suggests that Ghetts should by now be falling into one of these categories. Instead he’s turned out to be something of an anomaly; with a number two album in tow, he’s just about to release his sophomore major label album, On Purpose With Purpose. 

Before this recent purple patch, Ghetts spent most of his career as an under appreciated genius, who was either ahead of his time, or deemed simply not marketable. The quality of music could never be called into question, from his debut mixtape 2000 & Life (2005), Ghetts has been someone who has always pushed the envelope. The meaty 25 track tape may not be as succinct, and lacks the continuity of his later work, but Ghetto (Ghetts’ previous moniker), was like a mad scientist frantically experimenting on each track trying to catch lighting in a bottle. Despite never quite managing it over the course of the 25 tracks, we’re nevertheless treated to flashes of his brilliance throughout, on standout cuts like “Sycamore Freestyle”, “Over” and “Pride”. 

Being one of Grime’s earliest lyrical proprietors, meant that rather than following a well travelled route, Ghetts himself became the cartographer, figuring out both pathways and pitfalls along the way. This journey into the unknown made Ghetts difficult to place for labels, and he hadn’t yet refined the lyrical ferocity that had quickly become his calling card. Determined to shake the early criticisms levelled at him, Ghetts released Ghetto Gospel (2007), which was widely regarded as his best body of work, until it was dethroned by Conflict of Interest & Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament. I remember first getting my hands on the mixtape from UK Record Shop, a proud moment for me, as I’d only been able to procure a bootleg version of 2000 & Life a few years earlier. When I first laid eyes on the cover, Ghetts with his hands clasped around a rosary, bowing his head in prayer, it was clear that he was once again taking the genre in a new direction. 

Pressing play confirmed just that, as Ghetts draws you into the confessional with each track, giving you more of Justin Clarke, the man behind the personas that have shifted Grime’s tectonic plates. Its the first time we really get to see how multi-faceted Ghetts is; over the 21 tracks, depending on the sermon, the service is lead by either Ghetts, Ghetto or J Clarke, each providing us with something distinctive. Whether its the hell fire summoned for the five and a half minute lyrical barrage on the iconic “Top 3 Selected Remix”, or the nimble quick witted rhyme schemes on “I’m Ghetts”. The quintessential Grime machismo is even traded in for vulnerable introspection on much of the latter half of the tape. One thing that is omnipresent throughout, regardless of who’s in the pulpit, is the water like flows; that bend and curve around parts of the instrumental like you’ve never heard before, coupled with Ghetts’ celestial lyrical capabilities; its little wonder that this wasn’t his Boy In Da Corner moment. 

Although the mixtape went down in Grime’s annals as a classic record, critical acclaim aside, it garnered little else in the way of recognition from the wider music industry. It’s almost as if they were not yet ready to receive his musical blessings. Ghetts’ subsequent releases followed a similar pattern of plaudits from the underground, but never reaching the firmament like fans believed he was capable of. One snub in particular saw Ghetts take aim at these industry heathens for not ranking him in the top 10 MCs in the country. Ghetts was well known by now for his warmongering, so these MTV panelists were just the latest to be put to the sword on his 2011 track “Who’s On The Panel”. 

The late noughties saw many MCs dabble in electro pop, as by this time it was all but accepted that Grime and its offshoots were not going to become profitable pursuits. Ghetts’ own dalliance with the sounds of electro, came in the form of a remix of his track “Sing 4 Me”. Although not the worst song to come out of this period, it felt like the selling point of the track was the instrumental and the catchy chorus, as opposed to what Ghetts really had to offer. The lyrical depth, the wisdom and the mind boggling flows; all in all the compromise hadn’t been worthwhile. But at that time, in order to achieve any sort of widespread success, this was the price MCs had to pay. Some paid in full, and got huge returns. Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal, all emerged victorious from an era that was genocidal for many Great British MCs. For those that refused to pay the toll, lean years awaited them, but the loyal fans they’d accrued during their career thus far did too. 

For me, a member of this plucky band of Ghetts fans who’ve been listening for the last two decades, the last three and a bit years felt like we were witnessing the first refined droplets of a life long distillation process. “Mozambique” was the first song that trickled out, it felt like Ghetts crystallised all the elements that fans had loved about him into one singular track. He’s tried it before, but everything ranging from the way he manoeuvred around the beat, to the way he was putting words together just felt like he’d finally zeroed in on the perfect formula. 

Now with the imminent arrival of On Purpose With Purpose, everyone is eagerly awaiting to see where Ghetts takes things next. Ghetts sounds more conscious, more focused on important messaging, but the vibes are never far behind; as Ghetts as always been an entertainer, as much as he’s an educator. Fans have always been of the impression that Ghetts’ brilliance is wasted on the masses because most people don’t catch the complexities in what he’s saying, there’s too many layers for the passive listener to truly appreciate. 

With this run of releases, Ghetts has polished the process even further, the lucidity in his delivery, alongside the exactness in what he was saying, has finally begun to awaken the masses to a virtuoso who’s been in their midst for over two decades.

Ghetts’ evolutionary journey has been a joy to witness, it’s scary to think that the evolution has only just begun.