Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: Ghetts by Adama Jalloh
Words: Dylan Murphy
Photo: Ghetts by Adama Jalloh
Following the release of Ghetts’ cinematic and star-studded Conflict of Interest, we selected 10 essential tracks to get familiar with.
It felt as though Ghetts’ whole career had been building up to his major-label debut Conflict of Interest. Featuring the likes of Stormzy, Pa Salieu and Dave it was likely an introduction to the veteran spitter for mainstream audiences. However, Justin Samuel Reginald Clarke AKA Ghetts has been penning bars since the golden era of UK pirate radio stations, where he cut his teeth in the clashes of a ruthless grime scene.
Having formerly released music under the alias of Ghetto, the East Londoner made his name as part of grime collective N.A.S.T.Y Crew, where he procured a reputation as one of London’s most prolific rappers.
It’s through his relentless work rate he became an intrinsic part of the UK’s diverse musical history and it resulted in a catalogue spanning over 15 years. Additionally, much of his output predated the social media era and some of his most iconic freestyles and early songs can only be found in old DVDs, extinct platforms and deepest of internet rabbit holes.
It goes without saying that it’s impossible to provide a comprehensive overview of the rapper’s career in a few songs. However, in no particular order, we’ve highlighted a few moments and essential songs from his career that provide a gateway into the 36-year-old’s impressive career.
Clashes are a lynchpin in grime’s wider culture. The tit for tat battles informed the production that would form the foundations of songs and the braggadocios punchlines.
Before changing his name, Ghetto’s ‘Top 3′ was an accessible entry point to grime for a lot of rap fans as it favoured a more lyrical approach that is often seen in hip hop. Produced by Rapid and landing in 2007 it stayed true to the East London spitter’s trademark style.
Ghetto’s ‘Don’t Phone Me’ was an innovative example of making use of meme culture before the social media era.
It hit the sweet spot by forecasting elements of modern music’s hyper-shareable humour and lacing it with tried and tested tenants of grime’s sound.
At times, Ghetts can feel like a human Duracell battery. His relentless flow and non-stop energy results in magnetic and riot-inducing tracks built for the live arena. ‘Artillery’ is a lyrical adreniline shot to the arm and his hardest official release.
There’s so much to love about 2014’s ‘Esco’s Spirit’.
A tribute to the late MC Esco, the beat is a reworking of ‘Jackpot’ that popularised Bobby Shmurda’s ‘Hot N****’. The raspy, aggressive vocals feel like the UK’s answer to DMX and coupled with claustrophobic sirens and it’s a dark and ruthless showcase from Ghetts.
We couldn’t talk about Ghetts without mentioning his RISKY ROADZ freestyle. A piece of modern folklore, the series of RISKY ROADZ DVDs showcased MCs spitting bars in their local areas and answering the questions that fans wanted to know.
You only need to look to the Myspace address to know that this was in the days before Instagram swipe ups and Twitter beef.
Though featuring some of the biggest names to come out of the scene, Ghetts’ freestyle will remain one of the best of the lot.
Art, fashion, music and just about creative endeavour is often about reimagining work through your own authentic lens. On ‘Commandments’ Ghetts doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he repurposes the core of Notorious B.I.G’s ’10 Crack Commandments’ to provide a UK drug game survival checklist.
Barking orders over a hypnotic instrumental it’s Ghetts at his peak – raw, ruthless and real.
“Shoot if you have to… Put him in the boot if you have to, for the food and the cash too.”
Featuring on Ghetts’ 653 EP, ‘One Take’ is an exercise in straight spitting, which kicked off a penchant within the scene for this particular instrumental.
Grime has a history of artists jumping on familiar beats and 2016 saw Stormzy, Chip, YUNGEN, Flowdan and more hop on the very same beat for their own freestyles.
Kano’s ‘Class of Deja’ is an O.G crew coming full circle.
Ghetts, D Double E and Kano all featured as part of iconic grime outfit N.A.S.T.Y. Crew and the track pays homage to Deja Vu FM, a pirate radio station that gave the scene’s early players a platform.
It’s also a warning and reminder that they’ve cut their teeth in London’s formative clashes and radio sets and aren’t concerned about being schooled by new school artists.
In an Avengers Assemble moment, Ghetts and Skepta linked up for the first time on a track on ‘IC3’.
Though they’ve clashed and appeared on sets on radio together, the pair hadn’t released a track together until this point. Moreover, they released the track in Black History Month and took the single as an opportunity to reflect on the black experience in Britain.
For his major-label debut, Ghetts revived his old moniker Ghetto as a listed featured artist on ‘Skengman’ with Stormzy. Despite the name change, there are parts of his old self that never left and make up the rich tapestry of his journey. The nod to his old alias is a tacit acceptance of the younger and less polished self that still manifests in his music to this day and a celebration of his imperfections.
Conflict of Interest is out now.
Ghetts plays The Academy 13 November 2021 click here for tickets.