Grime

Album Review: Ghetts – Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament

On Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament, Ghetts refines his usual sharp staccato sound, moderating his delivery to fit to an eclectic assortment of instrumentals from the likes of Sir Spyro and Nutty P. The album demonstrates the maturity you’d expect from a Grime OG now in his thirties; but is impressive in its scope and its vivid storytelling, as the MC touches on subjects as pervasive as colourism, terminal illness and inherited beef.

Whilst the sound isn’t as radically diverse as Octavian’s recent mixtape or even Bugzy Malone’s album, the production certainly explores the boundaries of Grime, whilst never fully departing from traditional sounds like clanging synths and hissing hi-hats. The exception is on “Hand On The Bible”, a track performed by ‘The Ghetto Gospel Choir’. This use of Christian gospel is the most explicit reference to Ghetts’ faith as a Christian, but it also segues into the next track “Preach” – which uses the lyrics “practice what you preach” and “hand on the bible” sung by the choir, and flips them into a proper Grime banger. Here Ghetts, alongside Donae’o, is at his riveting best, lyrics rattling from his tongue like shells from an LMG. It’s a track on which Ghetts takes aim at those who fail to “practice what [they] preach”, for example those who say “free my niggas in jail” but don’t “send them no dough or no letter”.

The transition into the next track, “Spiritual Warfare”, really showcases the rapper’s versatility – where the beat on Preach is a chaotic melange of strings, synths and drums, Spiritual Warfare begins with vocals that fade into a light stripped back piano melody as Jordy croons “I been ducking phone calls from the pastor…Temptation calling I ain’t tryna answer”. On the verses Ghetts, real name Justin Clarke, is introspective in the extreme. His faith in God appears to bring him conflict as much as comfort, exemplified in the words “Every time I write a grime lyric/ it’s a knife or a nine lyric/God forgive me if I say another crime lyric”. He’s open about how he struggles trying to satisfy the demands and stereotypes of being a Grime lyricist whilst acknowledging his past misdeeds and his current attempt to lead a Christian life. The lines “one of few in Grime that’s God’s property/try steal my soul, you’ll lose your life for that robbery” highlights how confusing and alienating this must sometimes be.

Yet whilst these tracks are such strong indicators of Clarke’s undeniable ability, some of the others lack the focus that these show and end up somewhere in a musical hinterland, lacking his signature savage aggression or any real message. “Halloween” is one of slightly too many examples on this 17 track project of a song that is slightly more filler than substance. Lyrics like “treating labels like models now/ if you wanna holla get your figures right” are offset by ones like “I watched What The Health on Netflix/ them chicken heads can’t meet me again” – which is frankly bizarre, especially to put on a hook. The latter lyric is from “Houdini” a track on which Ghetts calls in the assistance of Suspect, who delivers another impressive feature after several others this year. Neither of these tracks are bad, there isn’t really a bad song on the album, but they lack the infectious energy of past bangers like ‘Peng Tings’ or the hard-hitting realness of certain other tracks on the album…

Of these there are several, but if there were a standout it would have to be “Jess Song”. This track tells the stale of a young mother diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that Ghetts incredibly manages to rhyme with ‘hard shoulder’. As he recounts the story Ghetts fills us with the pain and fear that must face people in such a situation, using heart-breaking lyrics such as “I gotta speak to my son, that’s a next conversation/it’ hard being a mum with death confirmation”. He also, once again heavily referencing his own faith in God, manages to change the tone of the track as the story progresses, the vibe becomes almost uplifting as Jess puts her fate into God’s hands and stops “feel[ing] sorry for [her]self”.

This talent for storytelling is something that Ghetts uses to great effect multiple times in the album, notably on “Window Pain” and “Next of Kin”, which both hammer home messages about a life lived on road and how it’s likely to end up. The rapper himself seems confused as he talks about how the violence can tear lives apart, but tacitly admits that at times it seems unavoidable, as “we don’t speak to no popo” so the only way to react is often vengeance. “Next of Kin” is a particularly striking and genuinely beautiful track, the beat breaks down into a stripped back trumpet and piano duet as he raps as a deceased young man “mum’s the only one that stopped living when I did/ most of my breddas got sons and they live in the nice bits” – the whole track really speaks to the fragility of life and the impacts that the violence has on those that aren’t involved.

The other fantastic component of this album is the intelligent use of features throughout. Suspect is not the only one who brings tracks to life, the standout guest appearance is from Stefflon Don on “Slumdog Millionaire”, a single that actually released all the way back in 2017. The Nutty P produced beat fuses an Asiatic sample with traditional grime sounds, and Steff’s Jamaican infused delivery of the hook – “gunshot inna di air” – perfectly tops off a track which Ghetts also bodies. The final standout is of course Black Rose, the powerful polemic against black guys who go round “disrespecting women that remind them of their mothers”. Speaking about this feminist, anti-colourist angle on Channel 4, Ghetts speaks about how it came about by accident – a perspective that he has gained through his experiences as a father, and the he has used, as he has at various points throughout the album, to craft an intelligent, beautiful track.

Ghetto Gospel 2, the follow-up to what should have been his debut studio album but was eventually labelled a mixtape, is an incredibly ambitious project fuelled by the years of life experience that Ghetts has accrued since that first iteration. At times boundary pushing, and regularly insightful, it could have been condensed into a shorter, punchier project with the omission/alteration of a few tracks. Nevertheless, in a year of brilliant Grime albums, this one is certainly up there.

Rating 3.5/5

Standouts: Slumdog Millionaire, Jess Song, Next Of Kin

 

 

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