How Ghetts Willed Himself Onto UK Rap’s Mount Rushmore

Ghetts on rediscovering his purpose with his masterful new album…

“You know, what happened with ‘Conflict of Interest’ felt like a checkpoint for me.” Ghetts is in a reflective mood ahead of the release of his new album, ‘On Purpose, With Purpose’. “But then I was like, ‘Okay, what are we doing [now]? Are we chasing success? Is that success fulfilling? Are we chasing something that’s gonna last longer than that?’” 

The East London MC has always been a purpose-driven artist. For a long time, that purpose was to prove himself as the country’s premier MC. Ghetts’ truly wicked wordplay, his conscious, insightful perspective as well as a flow so charged you’d swear that he could summon lightning, has always kept him in firm contention for that number 1 spot. But it was his third album, 2021’s ‘Conflict of Interest’ that saw him finally reach the mountain top, marking a commercial and creative peak in his career – and a high point for UK rap.

Delivering his magnum opus 20 years into his journey was no doubt vindicating. Ghetts finally received the recognition and appreciation he’d long been due. But it also presented him with an existential question: what’s your purpose once you’ve achieved your life-long goal? “This question just kept arising,” he says. “It’s crazy because a lot of things that we want in life, they’re for other people. They’re so other people say “You’re doing your ting” or, “I’m proud of you!” It’s actually mind boggling! It’s for recognition [from] others. Obviously, we’re in the maddest rat race, where we idolise money because of the experiences that money gives us. But it’s made us forget our real purposes.” 

Success is relative, so Ghetts had to shed all external opinion and conditioning to access his internal compass: ““I always like to think: if money didn’t exist, who would I spend my time with? What would I do? What type of person would I be? Because we’ve used job descriptions and money and all of these things as our identities. They are not our identities. So I always just try to think “Yeah, but who are you, really?” And then it’s mad, because I see Fekky farming and I’m rating it! I’m saying ‘Yo, this is it!’” South London rapper Fekky took full ownership of his agency; expanding beyond rap by trading his “big house for some acres” and a farm, and then starting the CC foundation

Thankfully Ghetts won’t be swapping the rap for agriculture any time soon, but his yearning to find his purpose – in music and beyond – was just as pressing as Fekky’s. He began recording his new album immediately after the release of ‘Conflict of Interest’. This contributed to Ghetts’ initial dizziness about the direction of a new body of work. “Normally I’d have a chance to live a little and reflect. I never had that chance in between these projects,” he laments. He’d eventually find his North Star via his late Nan, and her encouragement to realign with God. “I lost my Nan on the day that I shot [the video to ‘Conflict of Interest’s] “Proud Family”. That night my Nan died. She was a super religious person, and I said something in her ear that night, it made me want to keep my promise to really strengthen my relationship with God. I just kept speaking to Him to direct me and I was trying to leave things in His hands.” 

As far back as his 2007 mixtape ‘Ghetto Gospel’ his music has spoken to his Christian faith, so it’s fitting that he’d call on He who bestowed upon him his musical talents, to direct him to the answers. That led him to make a body of work steeped in intention, equal parts conscious and cruddy, its seamless cohesion quite the feat considering how far-reaching the album is with its topics and sonics. 

The last piece of the puzzle was naming the album. “I didn’t have the album’s title for ages, even after the album was made,” Ghetts recounts. “But then I prayed on it. And I was on my way back from Mexico, I’d just listened to my album. And what’s weird is… I had a dream that I saw an ocean – just clear ocean. And it had gold, it was like a layer of gold underneath the ocean. And I remember my Nan used to always say to me that one day when God comes back, we’re going to meet on this glass River. And I don’t know, I just thought ‘On Purpose, With Purpose’, because my purpose is now bigger than me. It’s now bigger than music. It’s now bigger than any worldly success.”

‘On Purpose, With Purpose’ sees Ghetts push himself stylistically further than ever before. His grime beginnings are rightly represented, but ‘Gbedu’ channels ‘Made In Lagos’ era Wizkid, and ‘Blessings’ finds the Newham veteran not so much singing as floating. His use of melody far superior than might be expected, considering this is the same man that made ‘Esco’s Spirit‘ eight years ago. The Sampha-assisted ‘Double Standards’ is a damning indictment of a hypocritical world, and contender for the best song in Ghetts entire discography. And on ‘Anakin (Red Saber)’ his callous, almost haunting cadence never breaks to betray his enjoyment in delivering a punchline clinic. 

Guest stars East London driller Unknown T, alt-rap head honcho Lancey Foux and soultress Pip Millett also bring their respective styles to the project, yet all fit seamlessly. Ghetts credits producer TenBillion Dreams and executive producer TJ Amadi for the project’s cohesion, as well as his own vision to bring them together. “Sometimes being an executive producer is looking at all the people that you’re working with and knowing how we can complement each other. And where we can bring out each other’s strengths,” he says. “So that’s where my gift lies”.

Upon the release of the tracklist, longstanding rap fans would have no doubt been most excited by Kano, Ghetts and Wretch 32 facing off on ‘Mount Rushmore’. The three OGs occupy most UK top 5 MC lists, and with each of them hailing from the ultra competitive era of 2000s radio sets and clashes, that competitive spirit would have no doubt been awakened. But instead of trying to outmatch each other’s chest-beating boasts and self-aggrandising claims, the trio took a different approach. “Even though it’s called ‘Mount Rushmore’, that wasn’t our angle at all,” Ghetts explains. “As you can hear from everyone’s verses; no one spoke on ‘I’m this or I’m that.’ It was more that we wanted to create that feeling without talking about those things. At this point, if you feel like you’re the best rapper, you shouldn’t have to say it. We should hear it! We should just hear it as consumers and be like, ‘Yo my man’s the best!’ Just saying it at this point… you’ve basically wasted a line.”

Being brilliant in a single era won’t land you Mount Rushmore status. Not when the likes of Ghetts continues to set new standards for himself two decades after his debut. To round off our conversation, I ask how he’s managed to maintain his position after all this time. His response is as thoughtful and as honest as his raps. “I think I’ve always just had something to say outside of the norm,” he reflects. “I don’t think I’ve lost anything; I’ve only gained. I think I’ve stayed true to myself throughout the time. And you know, it’s been slow and steady. It’s been so slow and so steady that I just understand my journey. I’ve just always had something to say that others weren’t saying, from a genuine place.”

‘On Purpose, With Purpose’ is out now.

Words: Dwayne Wilks / @inDeeWeTrust_
Photography: Seye Isikalu

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