It’s always refreshing when an artist comes along that doesn’t play by the rules. Ghostpoet, a.k.a Obaro Ejimiwe, seems concerned with neither the sonic restrictions dictated by particular genres, nor the cultural compartmentalisation that they tend to engender. He also doesn’t seem to care about being cool, which is slightly depressing as he could very well be a poster boy for East London hipsterism, despite having only moved to the nation’s capital (from Coventry) recently. Furthermore, his signature look comprises thick rimmed Dev Hynes style spectacles and a fedora, and yet he’s often compared to Roots Manuva. Go figure.
Ghostpoet seems to want to evade all attempts at pigeonholing. Evidently scathing of certain characteristics inherent in grime and hip hop culture (‘Survive It’ utters, “I remember happy times / now it’s happy slaps ‘n’ how big’s your gat / and all that crap”) Ghostpoet seems to be flying the flag for an intellectual breed of spitting not unlike that adopted by Mike Skinner, who coincidentally has championed our poltergeist poet. In ‘Longing For The Night’ he makes it clear that he has ‘got some A Levels / ain’t dumb’.
Although he played in a grime collective at uni, a fact well documented, his vocal style owes more to the slurred, colloquial- yet unflinchingly perceptive- commentary of Jamie T, or the languid vocal extensions of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. In fact, Ejimiwe’s project reeks of trip-hop. I mean this in the sense that it sounds like it was created for late night post party monging sessions, or early morning hungover train journeys back home where the world skitters past as if in slo-motion, along a window surface scratched with tags.
The beats are far less rigid than in trip hop- opener ‘OneTwos’ acts as little more than a heads up to the crooked, never quite syncopated rhythms employed throughout- but it still seems the most fitting label, if stripped of all previous connotations. The jaunty beats and hazy atmospherics provide the “trip”, while the “hop” comes in the form of Ghostpoet’s intricate lyrics, at times poetic and self-referential, at times unashamedly silly. In ‘Longing For The Night’, he states, “have a ciggie for a treat / then it’s right back home, masterchef on the telly”. To twist a phrase from Greg Wallace: Electronica infused hip hop doesn’t get ANY…BETTER…THAN THIS. Despite the songs sounding like they soundtrack civilization a civilization high off Xanax, Obara’s delivery and lyrical flair keep the listener engaged, preventing them from dozing off in the way that an ambient album like, say, ‘Music for Airports’ does.
During ‘Survive It’, Obaro states, ’I can’t be a retrospective rapper all the time / so I thought I’d write a simple song’. This comment speaks volumes about the best cuts from ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’. Although much work has obviously gone into the construction of all the backing tracks, the ones which allow the tracks to breathe a bit more- providing more ambience and space (that dreaded term that has been hot on the lips of all critics since the XX reared their black hoodie covered heads) and more of an atmosphere than a “beat”- are the strongest. The backing tracks which, to the ear untrained to Reason or Logic, sound like they took a matter of minutes- a few synth or guitar notes sprinkled with some reverb, or a snipped up rim click groove- such as first single ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ or ‘Run, Run, Run’, are Ghostpoet’s best.
With two slight exceptions, Ejimiwe succeeds in creating the right atmosphere for his words to be mumbled over, but a few of the tracks- ‘Finished I Ain’t’ and ‘I Just Dont’ Know’- feel too boisterous and visceral in the company of their slumber inducing counterparts. The lackadaisical lyrical delivery doesn’t seem to match the chugging electro synths and tom laden grooves of ‘I Just Don’t Know’. Weirdly, album closer ‘Liiines’ doesn’t suffer this same fate, and despite verging into epic guitar part territory worthy of the National, sounds strangely coherent alongside the sparse electronica of the rest of the album, in a way that the more heavily percussive tunes don’t.
In the penultimate track ‘Garden Path’, Obaro pleads, “don’t, don’t, don’t follow me”. But if more budding MCs did follow his example it could only be a good thing. Ghostpoet’s debut LP exemplifies that rapped music- be it grime, gangsta rap, hip-hop, or whatever other genre label one wants to attribute- can be intellectual without being lame; he shows that skill as a rapper does not equate to the speed or aggression of lyrical delivery, or the regurgitation of generic sentiments about urban struggle that blight much of the current output from British grime and hip hop.