Professor Green has all the ingredients for success – an alias that hides a pretty square real name, a tortured back story and a respected mentor (in the form of The Streets‘ Mike Skinner). And if we want to continue with the Eminem comparisons… he forged a name for himself in rap battles, he had a well-documented troubled childhood, his work’s largely autobiographical, his breakthrough hit featured a heavy dollop of sampling and… well, he’s white.
And, like Marshall Matthers’ The Slim Shady LP, Stephen Paul Manderson’s Alive Till I’m Dead is a ball of tightly wound bitterness, anger and aggression. But it’s also cheeky, playful and almost frighteningly confident and experimental.
But his 8 Mile is Hackney, and the 26-year-old is already creating sizable waves, steaming into the chart at Number 3 with I Need You Tonight, which pinches INXS‘s killer riff while Green bemoans a recent dumping: “It should be me that wants to get rid of you, instead it’s you that don’t give a damn…”. It’s essentially a snotty, stroppy rant over the top of a chorus so ingrained in the part of the brain marked ‘songs not really worth remembering but you do anyway’ that it was always bound to be a hit. But even armed with that knowledge, there’s something fresh and exciting about it. Or him.
Not content with just one ’80s reference, he enlists the help of Lily Allen for a more straight forward cover of The SOS Band‘s Just Be Good To Me. Her oft overlooked pearly pop vocal provides a contrast to his snarl, which reaches its most Eminem-able as he takes inspiration from Beats International, reworking the lyrics to the chorus so he can spit out the glaringly obvious but oddly satisfying “Just be good to Green”.
One of the best ambassadors for the album Oh My God is grimier than the more obvious singles. Unlike the mainstream efforts of grime’s lost boy Dizzee Rascal, it’s dramatic but retains its playfulness: “I guess I’m rap’s George Best, with a lot more sex, a little more liquor and a lot more sex,” he claims.
But it’s not all fun and games being Professor Green, and the last track on Alive Till I’m Dead, Goodnight, is so heartfelt it packs the same punch that the loud, brave opening songs do. A piano-led ode to his late Grandmother who raised him, it’s drenched in drama as he recalls “picking the wrong path”, burying his Nan and putting his Dad “in the earth”. It’s his Stan – startling and shocking in its openness, almost a postscript, explaining the previous 11 tracks.
It’s hard to not rake up the ‘E’ word again but Alive Till I’m Dead grabs you like the first few times you heard The Slim Shady LP. It’s familiar but with an electric, unsettling undercurrent. Expect big things from Stephen Paul Manderson.