By Rowan Lees
Ghetts caused shockwaves at the end of August with the release of the ‘Black Rose’ video, beginning with a heartbreaking sample of his daughter asking “Daddy, how comes there’s no dolls that look like me in the shop?” the song and video go on to heartfully explain and explore the sensitive issue of colourism in black communities.
It seemed a world away from the blind aggression of 2015’s 653 EP, a dream team collaboration with producer Rudekid that shook up the grime scene, demonstrating Ghetts’ incredible technique and a warranted cockiness – “If I say I’m the best in a room full of MCs who’s got a problem with that?”. ‘Black Rose’ suggested that the sequel to his seminal debut album Ghetto Gospel might change a few conceptions of the MC whose moments of rage and aggression have been his most famous, just ask Carlos.
The album has an abundance of soul, gospel tunes provided by the Ghetto Gospel Choir, plus RnB angled tunes like ‘Purple Sky’ and ‘No Love’. In a personal favourite, the contemplative centre of the album ‘Spiritual Warfare’, Leah McFall and Jordy bring us beautifully contrasted and entangled vocal tones before Ghetts tears into a three minute meditation on traversing his life on the London roads while the cross on his car’s rear-view mirror reminds him of his religious responsibilities.
The real strength of this album is in its adaptability though, as soon as ‘Spiritual Warfare’ fades out we are met with Kenny Allstar’s booming voice on ‘Houdini’ where Suspect delivers some viscerally threatening lyrics on his feature. This is where we see the stage-show Ghetts that shone on 653 EP, assisted by an all-star cast with the likes of Little Simz, President T and Chip, his impeccable and satisfying wordplay come to the fore. ‘Shellington Crescent’ with Chip in particular pits two of grime’s top talents against each other, the chemistry and flow of their back to back bars building to such an intoxicating climax of machismo Ghetts starts boasting about his ambidexterity with guns.
Contrast that with the empathic and deeply considerate manner of song writing shown in ‘Jess song’, written for a friend suffering from cancer, since passed away. Or ‘Window Pain’, dealing with the heartbreaking deaths of young men in London gangs from the perspective of a mother.
The long awaited album is a satisfying, full, and exciting experience for listeners old and new. It’s a testament to both the ingenuity and the longevity of Ghetts’ craft that longtime listeners of over 15 years can enjoy the same songs as the fresh ears that might find their way to this record. Great care is taken with sound design, with the flow of songs from one to the next; there is a sense that this project was a labour of great love from a great artist and his collaborators. Well worth a listen.