Album Reviews Q&A: Ghostpoet
It's not too common an occurrence that a writer is caught out by a new album that genuinely walks its own line, forging a unique groove. But that was the case when Ghostpoet's Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam landed in the lap of BBC critic Adam Kennedy, who wrote in his subsequent review: "You have to go back to The Streets' Original Pirate Material for an album with a similar impact". Truly, this is a record that opens a new chapter in British hip hop. And the record's maker, real name Obaro Ejimiwe - a Londoner who spent his university years in Coventry - kindly discussed its creation with us.
Firstly, congratulations on releasing your debut album. You must be pleased with the reception it's received. How does it feel when something you've worked on so hard connects, seemingly with an instant ease, with so many people?
Why thank you very much. I'm honestly so surprised by the reception! I'm just so pleased that so many varied souls are appreciative of my first effort. It's all I really wanted from my first album, and my music in general - I just want as many people as possible to enjoy the sounds I'm creating.
There's a sense of unease, of melancholy, through the album - making its title all the more relevant. Does it document a fairly 'down' time in your life, one that you're now clear of?
I would say it was a mixture of my mood at the time, the feel of Coventry, and my experiences in and around it. I wouldn't say I'm clear of it, if I'm honest. I guess it's all about managing, staying positive with a stiff upper lip and all that!
How did you come to release via Brownswood? I read on your website that you lost your job and got signed fairly quickly afterwards.
Well, I was introduced to Brownswood via a friend of a friend after they had a listen to my MySpace page. A few more demos were requested, and following on from that I went down for a meeting with the label. We discussed what I was trying to do with my music and Gilles (Peterson, label founder) was of the mind an album would be a good idea. It felt right, so I went with it. It was strange timing, as I had just been made redundant. But losing my job was definitely a factor in getting a move on with it all.
How was the album produced - exclusively by yourself? It's got a warm palette of sounds, far removed from the rather icy, brittle percussion peppering so much hip hop from the US at the moment. Was it key to you to create this sort of enveloping atmosphere?
Yes, the album was produced by myself. I've never really taken notice of US hip hop that much, especially once I got into grime and deeper into UK and world music. I just tried to keep my own counsel as much as possible, and attempt to keep myself on the road of just being me, really. I think, subconsciously, I just wanted to create the sounds that were bouncing around in my head, causing me sleepless nights and slow-mo day dreams.
There are several lyrics in the album about feeling old(er), about being a mature head. Do you think you've life experience enough to make the content of this album of rather more universal, and 'real', appeal than songs about shaking booty down the disco?
I wouldn't say I have ample life experience - I'm still learning everyday! Life is definitely the food for lyrical thought, though. All of us look at things differently; we all have our own unique view from one's castle, and I guess my album is just lo-fi attempts at putting across the world around me as I see and feel it.
A key line on the record is "I got tonnes in my brain, I gotta get it out". Do you see a second album following fairly quickly, as you've a rich pool of ideas to draw on at the moment?
I think a second album will follow when it feels it's the right time to pop its head out from the inner depths of my mind, ha ha. There are definitely ideas milling about, but I just want to take my time with my sound and knead the dough, so to speak.
Comparisons to The Streets and Roots Manuva have appeared in write-ups of the record - flattering parallels, or any worry that such high-profile references might raise expectations amongst your potential audience? To my ears you're not too much like either - there's a greater yearning in your songs, a more palpable desire to do more.
Aw, thank you! It's definitely flattering and an honour to be compared to those artists, as they're both artists that I truly respect. I hope people just have a listen regardless of what they read, and hopefully feel that I'm just trying to be myself. It's all I know and want to be.
You're on tour supporting Jamie Woon - one of the artists featured in this year's Sound of 2011 list. Do you think that sort of recognition can be a hindrance to a new act? If you were on the list, surely many an album review would spend a paragraph on that context before discussing the actual music at hand...
I don't think it can be that a bad thing, being on such a list, as it definitely helps to get you onto the public's horizon quicker. I guess a product of that is the pressure, with the instant exposure, expectation and predictions. But I guess it boils down to how you handle it as a individual. Personally I make music for myself first and foremost, so I hope I wouldn't allow something like that to alter my creativity.
Finally, I always ask what an artist's favourite albums of the year so far are. But it's only February! Still, have there been any highlights of your 2011 so far? And are there any forthcoming albums you're looking forward to?
It has been a crazy year already for music and it is only February! So far the highlights have been The Streets' Computers and Blues and James Blake's LP. Off the top of my head, I'm looking forward to hearing Jamie Woon's long-player, Radiohead's The King of Limbs, new material from Aphex Twin - if the rumours are true, anyway - and also records from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Paul Simon, Dr Dre and Toro Y Moi. Oh, and the Jamie xx/Gil Scott-Heron remix record. I'm sure there will more musical surprises along the way, let's see what 2011 has to bring!