Ghostpoet: Ghosting away from hip hop

It may come as a shock to fans of Ghostpoet’s experimental self-production and sparse trip-hop beats that he’s had something of a musical makeover since his brief hiatus. Ghostpoet’s new album, Shedding Skin, whilst still holding onto his distinctly languorous baritone vocals, has stripped away the electronic production for the bare acoustic bones of a live setup, sandpapering down the bleeps and glitchy metallic sounds from his second album, Some Say I So I Say Light. I ask Ghostpoet, also known as Obaro Ejimiwe, whether this decision to record purely with his touring band is part of a conscious move away from the alternative hip hop and electronic mash up that launched his career, and with which he quickly became identified in the industry. “I guess I’ve been flirting with the idea of this kind of live setup with the last two records, and it just sort of seemed like the right time to do it,” he tells me. “Before, I was using my crappy iMac to produce, but I never saw myself as a hip hop artist. And now the band’s grown and I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with that.”

On the first track from his new album, Off Peak Dreams, Ghostpoet waxes lyrical about the trials and tribulations of the low-paid wage worker, whilst the video for the single was filmed on a budget equivalent to the average UK monthly wage. His knack for turning sharp observations of daily minutia into intelligent lyricism has not been lost, only gaining a more political edge compared with previous songs. “I didn’t really think I was being political until doing these interviews,” he laughs. “I don’t see myself as a preacher or a spokesperson for any particular group. I just like to write about things of the moment, and on that particular track, I guess it was social issues and the issue of high unemployment. These are things that everyone sees going on and the nine-to-five kind of cycle is what everyone goes through.”

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Ghostpoet’s modest nature towards his success reflects his own humble beginnings, having held a nine-to-five job in insurance before releasing his first single aged 28, ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’, followed by his debut album Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Mercury Prize, and gained widespread acclaim in the industry. “I’m very lucky to be making music,” he tells me. “I never envisioned doing one album, let alone three; it was just a hobby. I love listening to music first and foremost.”

But with three albums under his belt, surely Ghostpoet can see himself as a bit of a star now. “I’m not strong enough to be a star. That would require not getting drunk in public all the time,” he chuckles. Asking him what the inspiration was behind his first single, he tells me it was about “drinking a lot” and “using drink as a kind of crutch I guess”. Drink crops up a few times in our conversation. “I’m still drinking a lot, but I’m not an alcoholic or anything,” he reassures me. The drink may have lent him some Dutch courage when he first started out, which he tells me was “quite tricky at the beginning, and took a bit of time getting used to”. But no longer does he get the urge to disappear into thin air and realise his alias. “I can’t wait to go on the UK tour in April. I love touring now.”

Ghostpoet tells me that, music aside, he’s really into photography. “I think it’s good to go out and get some inspiration, but also do something aside from music, so that it’s not all I do and talk about. I think more artists could do with going out, and having an aid for their music, and just another focus really.”

For anyone concerned about Ghostpoet falling under the radar in the last couple of years, his latest album forcefully announces his return, complete with more of his gritty storytelling. I ask him what he hopes for from 2015, with the new album finished. “Well the UK tour, and hopefully some European gigs and festivals,” he says. “Dribs and drabs,” he concludes, his dulcet delivery entrancing me into a lull, before I realise my time is up and Ghostpoet disappears.