We Don’t Deserve Ghetts.

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Carolina Faruolo

When Ghetts stepped into Kenny Allstar’s Mad About Bars arena, a lituation was pending—a bar fest to reach the pantheon of freestyles on the platform since its inception. With ease, as always, Ghetts battered the sparse, grimey instrumental to death with a nimbleness and technique that proves his pen is only getting sharper as he reaches a new twilight in his career. Despite the sternness of his Mad About Bars session, an additional freestyle on No Signal Radio demonstrated his more jovial side, the other side of the coin for the grime legend as he took on DJ Sian Anderson in the first live #NS10v10 clash.

Ghetts is having fun with it these days: from his recent freestyles, to “Mozambique”, to his hilarious world tour in his home over lockdown, the MC is embracing the freedom associated with being an elder-statesman of the UK music scene. Dropping phenomenal bars is second nature as he reaches new levels of consistency and, perhaps now more than ever before, whatever he touches turns into grime-flavoured gold as each new drop from the Plaistow native serves as a reminder of just how great he really is.

The skilled MC has been a constant in UK music since before many of our formative years. As a young Ghetto, his ferocity was his unique selling point, spitting with the intensity of a runaway train as he laid down classic verses, freestyles and tracks. A young me was perplexed listening for the first time—why is this guy so angry, I pondered—but it soon became clear that behind these bars was hardship, the pain of an uneasy upbringing bleeding into his music. Here, Ghetto was harnessing his raw energy and potency into meaningful art, making sense of the world around him. As he slowly became Ghetts, he levelled himself out with calming introspection and an increasingly ambitious worldview, but his charming, deliberate and undeniable style continued to reign supreme. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve, owning it where he has needed to and growing as an artist in real time. But Ghetto is never too far away.

The East London veteran’s catalogue is easily one of the best in grime—from debut mixtape 2000 & Life to latest release Ghetto Gospel 2—a consistency for which many would crave. Not many of his partners in grime can say the same. Ghetto Gospel 2 was one of 2018’s finest, a perfect balance between the perils of life and the faith in God he holds dear. Meanwhile, its prequel is a certified classic, preparing a young Ghetts for stardom. And as the MC and the man has matured, so has his work.

There’s no two ways about it: Ghetts is one of the greatest MCs the UK has ever produced, irrespective of eras. He’s a scientist with the pen, spitting at bullet-fast speed as he warps minds with his lyricism. From his master stroke on “Top 3 Selected” to show-stealing verses on Kano’s “Class Of Deja” and Wretch 32’s “Ina Di Ghetto” via braggadocious flexes like “One Take”, Ghetts has risen to challenges from the very beginning, leaving them in their wake. He could retire from music tomorrow and still have had one of the best careers the grime scene has seen.

It also speaks to his endearing humility that he doesn’t even consider himself a pioneer. He told Loud & Quiet Magazine in 2018: “A lot of what I made has influenced the culture, but I don’t think I invented a sound. I know that I changed the dynamic of how people spit or the way they approach grime music, but I still don’t feel like I made this scene. I think I helped clarify what grime is.” Whether his comments are accurate or not, what is obvious is that grime is all the better for Ghetts’ presence in it. He brought, and he continues to bring, a methodical and dynamic approach to his craft, in a manner that demands the label ‘pioneer’ to be bestowed upon him. He proves you don’t have to have invented a genre to be considered a pioneer. Much like LL Cool J, who offered a new kind of edge in the midst of Run-DMC’s hip-hop monopoly in the ‘80s, Ghetts provided a new version of grime for fans in which to lose themselves, becoming a celebrated artist in the process.

Outside of the music, it’s difficult to imagine grime with a Ghetts-filled void. From his infamous clash with Bashy on top of an estate (and his failed attempt to bring ‘Carlos’ into the fold) to countless magical moments on F*ck Radio with his brethren in The Movement, he helped keep grime’s underground alive when the mainstream thought it was dead. So much so that, unlike some of his more glamorous cohorts who ventured into the mainstream, Ghetts has kept it all the way grime and seen his stature as a purist skyrocket. For this, his uncanny ability and collaborations with many of the old-school (Kano, Wretch, Wiley, Swindle) and the new (Stormzy, Hamzaa, Kojey Radical, Little Simz), he commands the respect of all.

At just 35 years old, Justin Clarke’s best years await him, as well as future classic bars, tracks and projects that will add to his growing legend. With a new project on the way, as he announced in his Mad About Bars freestyle, the stage is set for Ghetts to bring the scene to a standstill, as only one of the greatest can do. The grime scene, and UK music at large, will continue to be in his debt so long as he continues to shell it down.

Posted on July 27, 2020