It seems almost too lazy to tag Ghostpoet with the ‘UK hip-hop’ tag, despite the fact that Obaro Ejimiwe is from Coventry and undeniably dabbles in hip-hop. Yet there’s so much more to Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam that it defies pigeonholing. One thing’s for sure – it’s the very antithesis of Bonkers.
Much championed by Gilles Peterson (and signed to his Brownswood label) Ejimiwe’s debut album is a startling fusion of hip-hop, blues, grime and dubstep. Keeping the whole thing together is Ghostpoet’s lazy drawl of a rap, which perfectly suits the atmospheric, almost doomy vibe that seems prevelant here.
There will be inevitable comparisons with Mike Skinner, another Midlands lad who moved to London, but Ejimiwe’s vocals most draw names like Gil Scott-Heron and Roots Manuva to mind. There’s certainly a relaxed, down-tempo feel to proceedings – only I Just Don’t Know could conceivably be danced to – that conjures up long, menacing nights roaming chilly London streets.
Us Against Whatever Ever, for example, is a shuffling, jittery number with a bass riff that almost tears through the speakers, Ejimiwe muttering, in a bizarrely touching manner, that “I love you like chicken soup and biscuits and lemonade”. Survive It covers similarly melancholy ground, but with more topical social commentary – casting the rapper in the guise of a 44 year old man who’s “been shown the door cos they talkin’ about cutbacks”. It’s as minimal as a James Blake track, with just some female backing vocals to lighten the mood slightly – in its own way, it hits the zeitgeist as perfectly as The Specials‘ Ghost Town did 30 years ago.
The clattering percussion of the superb I Just Don’t Know sees Ejimiwe on more self-analytical territory – “I can’t be a retrospective rapper all the time, so I thought I’d write a simple song with different lines like mine….other MCs want to talk about crime, but that ain’t me”, but the brooding Cash And Carry Me Home sees him on more typical, brilliantly brooding form. Musically, it’s reminiscent of Burial, with its eerie electronica, while Ejimiwe raps like a man at rock bottom (“I’m out of my comfort zone, the liquids wearing off, now I just feel alone”). It’s affecting, compelling and quite brilliant.
Gaaasp is relentlessly bleak to the point of claustrophobia, with a rumbling wall of synths adding to the sense of paranoia, while Garden Path is astonishingly good, from the nonsensical babble at the start of the song to the haunting, hypnotic chorus of “don’t follow me, don’t follow me”. Like all the best debuts, there’s a confidence and swagger here that becomes quite intoxicating.
The closing Liines ends the album on an upbeat note, with the overriding message that “life is too short to store up grudges, life is too long to make no plans” over a backing track that’s almost conventional rock, with ringing guitars galore. It’s an uplifting end to one of the best albums of 2011, one that marks Ghostpoet as a name to keep a very close eye on.