In the Christian Pentecostal movement, the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Ghost are seen as one—each member has their own gifts and abilities, and their own parts to play in blessing the people, but it is all wrapped up in the one creator. Understandably, for some, this might sound baffling; bizarre even. But G.O.D. isn’t the only complex one with three sides to him that each offer up something different and unique to the fold. Case in point: Justin Clarke, better known as the ferocious British MC, Ghetto, and Ghetts.
The grime scene has seen every face of the East LDN veteran over the years; whether it’s Ghetto’s raw and rambunctious bar-slinging in clashes, Ghetts’ lyrical finessing, or simply Justin Clarke on his grown man shit, there’s something there for everyone. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Like with most of the students in grime’s first class, Clarke went through the whole—‘I need to go pop to sell’—career crisis. But he never forgot his roots in doing so, releasing unfiltered grime EPs and mixtapes along the way to chasing that coin. Today, though, in a much more comfy position, G-H is the one calling his grime-fuelled shots and his career is thriving because of it.
After a successful year of club-worthy spinners in “Peng Tings”, “One Take”, and “You Dun Know Already”, 2017 looks set to be the year we see Ghetts elevate to the level many thought he could reach since Ghetto Gospel dropped 10 years ago; a project that, for many, is his magnum opus and one that’s just as important a grime classic as Boy In Da Corner and Home Sweet Home. On the eve of Ghetto’s packed-out Ghetto Gospel concert at London’s Roundhouse, complete with a live band and gospel choir—and featuring the likes of Kano and Scorcher on-stage in support of their long-time friend—we discussed the impact of that album, The Trinity, the absence of Crazy Titch, and whether or not he cares to be called a grime legend.
“It makes me happy to be able to go back and celebrate ‘GHETTO GOSPEL’ properly.”
Who is Justin Clarke?
Justin Clarke... I guess that’s who I am around my mum, and my nan: cool, calm, and collected. Actually, not so much around my mum, because my mum, she’s a teacher—she used to work in youth clubs—so she’s familiar with the behaviour of the youth. But around my nan, I am definitely Justin [laughs].
Who is Ghetto?
I see Ghetto as the raging MC, with nothing but aggression inside of him. That’s Ghetto. The raw aggression, straight-to-the-point stuff—still with the substance, but just a different type of delivery.
Who is Ghetts?
Ghetts is in between Justin Clarke and Ghetto. In terms of people—nowadays, they’re not too different. It’s the styles; they’re different styles. Ghetts and Ghetto don’t really differ, but in style, they’re very different. Ghetts is when I fully learnt the techniques and the art of spitting.
Have you ever been in situations where you’ve struggled to separate the three?
I have, but not anymore. I’m very much comfortable in life right now, and it’s very hard to draw me out [laughs]. My decisions are very calculated but that all comes with age and growing up. I guess those three characters just represent the various stages of my life. And, in terms of music as well. Coming back round to Justin, I guess that represents me just being comfortable with who I am, the person I am behind closed doors when I’m sitting watching TV with my daughter.
Lyrically, do you think you’ve calmed down since your Ghetto days? For example, when I look back at your 2005 clash with Napper, you looked like you just came straight off the block, ready to rumble. Nowadays, though, it seems like you’re a lot more chill—on mic, and in person.
I feel like I had this crazy, raw talent and it’s like learning to air-bend—I can bend the fire inside, but I couldn’t always control it. It was hard to control the fire, bro [laughs]. But that’s how I look at it. Now, it’s much more concentrated. I know when to do it, and when to pull back and go for it.
On the subject of clashing, you’ve had a fair few in the past: one with Wiley, one with Skepta, one with Tempa T. But is it something you’d ever do again? I interviewed P Money last year, someone that you were close to clashing, and he said that he wouldn’t rule it out.
My whole thing is forward thinking, and what I haven’t yet accomplished. I try and dream big. Not even try, I do dream big, very big—but some of it I like to keep to myself. I believe that our paths are very different and sometimes on different paths, you do cross paths with others. But with me, I just love making bodies of work. That’s my thing. In a weird way, I don’t want anyone to be part of my story and I’m actually pissed that I’ve had to clash people in the past. You know when you just want everyone to acknowledge your work and ability... Win or lose, what happens is: “You like Biggie, so you can’t like Tupac.” I realised this from an early stage and I feel like I’ve got so much to offer in terms of music, that I don’t want to give you a reason not to fuck with me. Once people choose a side, they choose a side. But I want everyone to appreciate the music that I’ll be releasing.
Do you see yourself as a grime legend, or do you ever feel like you get counted out in any way?
Nah, man. You know what I’ve realised? I get the props from people who have the knowledge, the ones who know what they’re talking about, so like yourself—someone who’s been in the scene and been around and seen the works—and other people that are bloggers and whatnot, the real bloggers who were blogging when grime wasn’t the hottest thing. So when I see something in a mainstream mag and I’m left out, I’m kinda cool with that. I just put it down to... Well, what’s happened here is that real grime fans saw that and they were like: “Rah, bro, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re void! Your whole article is void!” When a real grime fan reads these things—someone who actually has the knowledge and knows what events have taken place, and what part I played in the grime scene—they’re just like: “Ah, yeah. You don’t really know, though.”
You still get a lot of respect from the younger MCs; Stormzy showed that when he laced “One Take” last year, and I thought that showed much respect.
That’s someone I feel: I feel Stormzy. I think he’s a sick, sick emcee—someone who could’ve existed in the time of man coming up, someone who could’ve been in the room swinging it out with some of the coldest MCs. When I listen to him, I feel like he definitely writes from that perspective. He’s definitely one of my favourites.
Which other up-and-comers are you feeling right now?
There’s a bunch of different people: there’s a guy called Renz that I’m feeling—I think he’s very sick. J Hus, I think is sick; Kojo Funds, sick...
—could you see yourself riding that whole Afrobeats wave?
Not to shut it down and say I would never do something like that, if I could find the perfect balance to it, cos obviously, our thing was more of the tempo specialising... I wouldn’t want people to be like, “Argh! He’s trying it.” I’d rather it just feel natural, like I just took a natural liking and when I touch it, it sounded authentic and real. I definitely like what everyone’s doing right now, though. Santan Dave—just being one of the more lyrical ones out—he’s sick as well. Kojey Radical... bare people, bro. They’re coming through strong and they’re sounding positive, which is great to see.
You’re celebrating 10 years of Ghetto Gospel this year, which is probably still my favourite Ghetts project to date. How does it feel to have such a classic on your hands?
It’s kind of surreal to still be here. It’s not like I’m going back ten years and trying to grab a bit of change. I’m happy to do it, because I didn’t have to do it. It makes me happy to be able to go back and celebrate Ghetto Gospel properly.
Are you re-releasing it?
You know what? It’s funny; I was just talking to someone about this. I’ve got to find out the actual date of when it was released.
I think it was in June. I was looking at it last night.
Was it June, yeah? Say no more.
You’ve got a few more months to make it happen.
100%! I’m gonna do physicals and everything.
“I get the props from people who have the knowledge, the ones who know what they’re talking about.”
Have you got a favourite track from the album? Mine, personally, is “Blessed With A Gift”. It’s just super real and very relatable.
Yeah!? Wicked, wicked. It just proper varies in terms of how I’m feeling, man. It’s got a lot of different moods on that one. If I’m in an energetic mood, “Blessed With A Gift” is probably the last tune I’d want to listen to [laughs]. But If I’m in one of those reflective, looking-at-life type moods, that would be a good one to listen to.
As we discuss this era, for some reason, Crazy Titch comes to mind. Where do you think he would’ve been if he hadn’t gone to prison? Do you feel like he’d be on the same level as yourself, Kano, Skepta etc? You guys rolled deep back in the day.
He would’ve been massive. But you know what? I believe all of our journeys are different. No matter who you are, someone’s always gonna compare you to someone who’s bigger than you and I feel like you have to just appreciate your journey because there’s someone not as big as you, and there’s someone that’s bigger than you—no matter who you are. I just love my whole journey, and I believe there’s so much more to do.
How’s it been having Kano back as your grime wingman? Obviously, he went missing for a while, but it feels like that chemistry between the two of you on stage is still as strong as ever.
I believe that chemistry will always exist—he’s always been fire. It’s good not to rinse it, though. It’s good the way it’s happened naturally; it’s not something that people have grown tired of and it’s a blessing that people say they want a Ghetto and Kano project in 2017. It’s sick that they say that in 2017, especially since he’s been about since 2002 and I’ve been about since 2004.
Time has flown.
Time has definitely gone fast.
So, what’s next for GHE DOUBLE T AND O for the rest of 2017?
The album—and it’s gonna be sick!
What kind of vibe are you going with on the album, and have you decided on a name yet?
I’m still deciding on a name, but it’ll definitely be epic. The first single from it is “Know My Ting”, featuring Shakka, and it will be out by the time this interview drops—so everyone go and cop that. In terms of the vibe, you have to listen to it because I always progress when I’m making projects. I learnt a lot of new things on the journey to making this one, but it’s still gonna feel very, very authentic. People are gonna love this next chapter. Trust me, fam.