Best Of 2018: Ghetts Perfectly Balanced Life And Faith On ‘Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament’

Words: Yemi Abiade

In 2018, the relevance of grime as a musical and cultural force was questioned time and again. Had it died again? Was the resurgence at its end? How long could grime last? For the heads keeping their ears to the streets as it were, the debate reeked of a lack of knowledge from those unwilling to see beyond the runaway successes from the genre that are more visible on a mainstream level—Skepta, Stormzy, etc. Even some of grime’s legends chimed in on the dead-end debate but offering the most potent example of the genre’s enduring power this year was Ghetts, who dropped the album of the year in Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament.

Serving as a part two to his seminal opus Ghetto Gospel, the pressure would have been on Justin Clarke to produce a body of work that even came close to the maturity and complexity of its original, released over a decade ago. The key difference now is that Ghetts—the man—has matured, as has Ghetts—the musician—and this is telling on The New Testament, a 17-track masterpiece that intersects street politics, bravado and emotional pain with the overarching theme of faith. Throughout the album, the same question is asked: where is the line drawn between professing your faith and leading a life that questions it at every turn?

Despite being a man of faith, Ghetts projects many sides to himself throughout—for every humble brag on speaker-rattlers like “London” and “Houdini”, he paints vivid pictures of the roads and its perils on “Next Of Kin” and “Window Pain”, while “Spiritual Warfare” and “Preach” serve as high-octane professions of spirituality. It’s a tight-rope to walk, either end of which can consume an individual and their mindset, but as someone who has seen both sides and come out intact and more in-tune with his faith, Ghetts straddles the line with finesse, razor-sharp storytelling and a relatability that is ultimately this album’s biggest quality.

The gospel influences that have followed him from his youth are fully realised here, and “Preach”, my personal favourite, is the most beautiful crystallisation of his faith transferring into a sonic work of art. “Houdini”, with its superstar assist from Suspect and catchy interpolation of Beenie Man’s “Who Am I”, and “Shellington Crescent”—a lyrical exercise with Chip—are particular highlights, ones that continue to demonstrate Ghetts’ creative flair and versatility, that his bars and manipulation of words remain his most incisive tool.

Album closer “Black Rose”, with its heart-warming affirmations to black women of all shades and colours, is a wondrous end to what has been an exhilarating ride, one that offers perspective on the position of black women in society and the scale of their importance. The New Testament is grime at its most vulnerable, conflicted, heartfelt and ultimately resilient, because it consolidates a position Ghetts found in the original Ghetto Gospel—a vessel channelling faith, road life and the emotional pain that comes with it into a triumphant expression of self, creating a body of work that can speak to any and everyone.

Ultimately, the album taught me that towing this line Ghetts walks with poise throughout is a daily occurrence; it’s not something that can be ignored but one that is constantly negotiated and confronted. Being a person of God and living a life that directly challenges that—whether it’s carrying a knife because you feel unsafe on the roads without one, or engaging in full frontal gang warfare, an epidemic on London’s streets—is part of the ongoing narrative called life and is what, in essence, makes us human. We all sin and have demons to fight, but God continues to forgive us and our flaws and offer unconditional love, and The New Testament represents one of the ways in which we tackle this internal conflict, firmly choosing the side of the spiritual and placing ourselves in God’s hands.

The album’s symbolism doesn’t end there; it shows that after scene-shifting albums from Jme, Kano, Skepta, Wiley, P Money and D Double E over the last three years, grime’s elder statesmen are continuing to move the genre forward with some of its best ever bodies of work, a sign that as they mature, so does the scene they had the biggest hands in projecting to the world. Ghetts is one of grime’s most thoughtful and complex minds, and The New Testament is yet more proof of this fact.

Posted on December 21, 2018