A New Lo-Fi Rapper Drifts His Way to the Top
The English might inhale Marmite, that savory brown spread, rubbed on buttered toast, but mention a filling of peanut butter and jelly and they’ll go green. So fancy the culinary openmindedness of downtempo rapper Ghostpoet, whose debut album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam also shatters notions about what flavors taste good together. In this case, it’s Ghostpoet’s grimey hip hop cadence, crossed with dreamy lo-fi pop and hazy electronic synth. Just try it — it tastes good.
Obaro Ejimiwe might have roots in Nigeria and the Caribbean island of Dominica, but he grew up London, and then spent ten years in Coventry, in central England. In that gray, urban city, he soaked up plenty of the melancholy and blues from his album title. But unlike, say, Tricky’s dark, acid-washed take on Bristol, Ghostpoet’s disaffection goes in a quirky, deadpan direction. And on the way, he skips the ego and aggression common to hip hop MCs, replacing it with an anxious self-awareness that’s broken by moments of philosophy. He’s the superhero version of every thoughtful, overqualified white collar worker, drowning with his eyes wide open.
MC-wise, Ghostpoet delivers like a drugged Wiley, slurring his words and taking things slow. This is music for insomniacs and dawn-greeters who are down to their last nerve endings. But the frazzled have nothing to fear, because this former customer service representative knows a little something about a mellow bedside manner. His second single “Survive It,” about dealing with a dead-end life, balances moodiness with levity — especially the chorus’ gentle humor, sung by soul songstress Fabiana Palladino of Embers: “No, no, no, no, nonono/Ain’t on a license to kill like Double-O/I just wanna live life and survive it.”
In his black-rimmed glasses and straw fedora, don’t mistake Ghostpoet for a Tunde Adebimpe facsimile — except for the fact that he’s bringing something out of left-field for folks, and he is awesome at it. So check this video for his latest single, “Liines” (where he literally paints himself into a corner), and get to know this offbeat addition to the UK hip hop and indie scenes. Not least because when he wins the Mercury Prize next month, you’ll be able to say you totally saw it coming.
Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy James is out now on iTunes.