Their Library: Ghostpoet

Literary influences explored...

Few voices have come close to defining what it feels like to be young, to be British and to be locked in the recession.

But Ghostpoet has. Debut album ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ matched graceful production to his effortless flow – laid back without losing sight of his aims, the rapper had a conscience which went beyond the norm.

Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ was an album born out of experience. Sitting down with Ghostpoet – real name Obaro Ejimiwe, fact fans – ClashMusic probed the lyricist about his literary tastes and discovered a little of the man behind the rhymes.

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What is your favourite book and why?
I think my favourite book is ‘Papillon’ by Henri Charrière. My manager is French, he’ll probably destroy me for the pronunciation. It’s kind of a true story – if you’re not aware of the book – about a guy who is sentenced to a penal colony back in the day.. about the 1800s. It’s the story of his escape –or his escape attempts, really – during this period of time on the penal colony. It was based in French Guanea I think, could be wrong. I’ve read that quite a few times and I like it a lot and I don’t know there’s something about the constant hunger and pursuit of freedom. Fighting for what he believes is right. It’s a book and there’s also a film of it. It’s a very visual book, it’s the kind of book that the first time I read it I was very much able to come up with the images he was describing in the book, and when you have that it’s always a good thing.

What other authors do you like?
I couldn’t really tell you in terms of authors – I like different styles of books. I like biography type books, I like a lot of self-help style books. I couldn’t say I had a favourite author. Although back in the day it would have been Mr Roald Dahl! I liked a lot of Roald Dahl books. I loved Lord Of The Rings as well, I was really into that when I was a kid. I loved all that kind of stuff.

Did you read a lot when you were a kid?
Yeah! I did love the library. I liked a lot of those fantasy books, I liked Lord Of The Rings – anything that involved fantasy. I was really into it. I loved that, as well as Tintin, Asterix – I found those really interesting, for some strange reason. It was a combination of that. I liked the library. I suppose I didn’t have the opportunity to go out and do a lot of activities so the library was my haven. My haven away from home.

Did you begin writing as a child?
I didn’t write any stories. I was writing lyrics from probably around 13.. 13 / 14. For no particular reason, it just felt like the right thing to do. I maybe once tried to write some kind of story, short story but it just wasn’t for me. The writing bug. In terms of books and such like it just didn’t occur to me.

It’s either in you or it isn’t.
I agree. I agree. My hat goes off to novelists and writers because it takes a lot of patience to be able to write a book. Obviously there’s a beginning, middle, end but it’s a case of developing characters, developing a story, a world. I try to do that in my music but it’s a completely different realm. It’s something I highly respect.

Were those early lyrics designed to be poems, or were you already taking inspiration from hip hop?
I guess because back in those days hip hop was the first music I was exposed to. It was definitely trying to emulate the American hip hop music scene or style, the lyrical style. Poetry? Poetry was never my thing. When I was exposed to that at secondary school it was never something that I got into. Maybe it was because the poetry that I was exposed to back in those days was – for me – very traditional and very of a time that I couldn’t understand or comprehend. It never really soaked into the system, so to speak. I guess in the very early days it was the lyrical fodder, so to speak.

Did you connect hip hop lyrics to poetry?
I would say so, I would say that. I listen to so little hip hop nowadays that I could never say I am an expert. I would say that there’s a theme, a connection. They’re both very description styles of writing – or at least, they can be. They can both involve rhyme – or not. There’s definitely a connection between the two. Some argue for, some argue against. I would say there’s a definite connection.

Who were the MCs who inspired a 13 year old Ghostpoet?
People like Nas, Mos Def, Salib Kweli, Notorious BIG, I guess. I guess those people really. I like descriptive writing, I’ve always been into descriptive writing. Once I got into other styles of music – especially indie.. I really got into Patti Smith. I loved how descriptive she was in her music!

Have you read ‘Just Kids’?
No! Someone literally yesterday made me aware of it. I was like “oh, I’ve never read this!” I’m really looking forward to getting a hold of that. Yeah, I really want to get that book. Good to see that she’s writing!

Do you read book reviews?
No. I don’t. I kind of discover books via recommendations from friends. Back in the day, Coventry used to have this book shop, this independent book shop. It was on my route to work every day so I used to pop in and have a look in the window – whatever was in the window and looked interesting I would go in and grab. Book reviews are great, y’know, but I would rather tread my own path.

Do you tend to re-read books?
It depends on the book, really. ‘Papillon’ I’ve read four or five times. Yesterday I was thinking about reading it again! Certain books I will just read again and again and again. I leave it for a time and then go back to it. I may just read it once because that’s all I need to read – something like a self help book, new knowledge. And then I’ll try and put that knowledge into practise.

Have you ever identified with the central character of a book?
Probably when I was a kid… ‘The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole’! (laughs) I guess some of them, but not really. I guess some books you can kind of.. not create an image of yourself but you can see parts of yourself in there –depending on the book. I guess as a kid books – like music –shape your personality depending on what you read. I think maybe books along the way definitely helped shape my ideas in life and the way I go about things but I couldn’t say I identify with one particular character.

Do you read one book at a time?
One book at a time. I tried that a couple of times, having multiple books going on at the same time, and if I’m reading in a word hungry mood then I can do it but I like to take my time over one book at a time and really soak it all in. Me, personally, I have to have enough time to be in the right mood to be reading more than one book. It’s very much a skim read kind of thing. I’d rather focus on one particular book and take it from there.

Is there an author or a poet you would like to collaborate with?
Well.. I wouldn’t say he was a traditional writer in a sense but I really love the work of Steve McQueen. He’s a film maker, but he writes his scripts I believe. He writes the stories that he makes into films. I love what I’ve seen – I loved ‘Hunger’ and I’m really intrigued by ‘Shame’. I know that he’s signed up to do the biopic of Fela Kuti. I’m really interested by his work. I don’t think I would ever collaborate with a traditional writer or poet but a film maker who writes, along the lines of Mr Steve McQueen, would be very interesting.

And finally…How do you think literature achieves timelessness?
It’s a bit early for those kind of questions innit?! (laughs)

I guess because it’s still very much a fabric of life. Until we get to a time when everything has become digitised and we need iPads for work, for school, for play it always remains part of the fabric of life. Wherever you live, wherever your situation. It’s always been a form of knowledge, a form of fantasy, a form of escapism, a form of igniting your imagination. As long as people still believe in that, literature will remain timeless.

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Ghostpoet is set to play the following shows:

13 Cambridge The Junction
14 Norwich The Waterfront
15 London KOKO
17 Leicester Sumo
18 Manchester Sound Control
19 Liverpool Mojo (CANCELLED)
20 Guildford University of Surrey
21 Nottingham Rescue Rooms
22 Dublin Whelan’s
23 Sheffield DQ
24 Glasgow SWG3
25 Lancaster Central Library
27 Newcastle Cluny
28 Wrexham Central Station

Click here to buy tickets for Ghostpoet!

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