If you spend more time than is probably healthy reading Hip-Hop-related interviews on the internet, you’ll already know that you could bet your collection of rare rap singles on the likelihood of your favourite emcee, deejay and / or producer using at least one or more of the stock phrases that nowadays appear to be industry-standard responses during said Q&As. You’ll hear MC Kill-A-Man talking about how he’s “keeping it real”, DJ Radio Payola will insist his show is all about “what the streets want”, and Mr. I’ve-Only-Been-Making-Beats-Since-I-Got-A-MySpace-Page will tell you how his forthcoming album is sure to “take the game to the next level”. However, in all honesty, once the overzealous statements and hyperbole have subsided and it’s time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, few individuals are actually able to deliver what they’ve promised.
All of which puts one of the UK’s finest producers, Ghost, in a bit of a tricky position. As you’ll be able to tell after reading the interview below, 2008 is all about progression and moving up a creative gear as far as the London-based beat junkie is concerned. Not content with resting on his laurels following the release of his impressive 2006 debut long-player “Seldom Seen Often Heard”, Ghost has been back in the lab working not just on new music, but also on new directions in which to take his sound. But will the finished product back up his claims of sonic elevation?
With three full-length projects in the pipeline, Ghost is determined to cover a lot of musical ground over the coming months. First, there’s the Invisible Inc set, a collaborative effort with lyrical allies Kashmere and Verb T that Ghost promises will be “something different”. Then there’s the Lingua Franca album with female vocalist Devorah, a release that fans of Ghost’s traditional Hip-Hop sound might not have seen coming, but that the producer says was all about “challenging” himself. Last but certainly not least, there’s the official solo follow-up to “Seldom Seen…”, yet judging by Ghost’s description of the album, even that might not be exactly what’s expected from him.
So the individual responsible for some of the best homegrown Hip-Hop in recent times has definitely set himself some high-standards to live up to, let alone exceed. But unlike those who litter their interviews with empty promises of quality product, Ghost’s previous musical track record and sincere respect for his craft indicates that, in this instance, actions are likely to speak louder than words.
It’s been a couple of years now since the release of “Seldom Seen Often Heard”. In hindsight are you happy with how the album was received and did it achieve what you hoped it would?
No on both counts (laughs). I was really happy to get the album out there and compared to a lot of other releases it did do really well and I’m thankful for that. But I guess what I look at is, had I done that album five years sooner maybe there would’ve been more sales because obviously the whole download thing has taken off and it’s affected everybody.
But looking back it’s all a learning experience and by putting the album out when I did it’s taught me a lot about how the industry works. So a lot of positive things came out of the album and I certainly don’t look back on it in a negative light, but it is disappointing when you know a project had the potential to do better than it did. Still, I can look back and say that I did it and not a lot of people even get that far.
I understand you’ve gained a pretty loyal fan base out in Japan.
Yeah, we got a licensing deal for the album out there. It was weird because I started noticing that people were picking up on the singles over there and they were selling really well. Then we had about three or four labels get in touch saying they wanted to put the album out. So Skeg at Breakin’ Bread hooked up whatever he hooked up and that was that really.
Obviously it’s extremely pleasing to know your music is being appreciated outside of the UK and going forward it looks like the Japanese thing will be an ongoing relationship, which is massive to me. They seem to have an amazing taste in music out there, and without wanting to sound like I’m bigging myself up too much, they seem to be into music that’s got some heart and soul in it, and that’s what I like to think I do.
The Japanese audience is very particular about what they want and I feel very lucky and privileged that my music is in demand out there. The next step is to try to get over there to do some shows and promotion.
Ghost ft. Abstract Rude – “Basic Instinct” (Breakin Bread / 2006)
Your recent single “It’s All Love” has introduced a slightly different side to Ghost than perhaps people have heard before – does the single represent something of a turning point for you as a producer?
In some ways, yes. With that single I wanted to do something a bit different because I’m not someone who can just continually do the same thing over and over again. I like to challenge myself and try new things. The a-side is a real party tune, which is something I’ve never done before. It’s not my regular thing because it’s quite happy and upbeat and very much dancefloor-orientated. The b-side, again, was me wanting to do something outside the box. I still think both tracks have a Ghost sound to them, but within slightly different styles of music than people are used to hearing from me.
It’s always difficult because the Hip-Hop crowd might listen to the single and say ‘What the f**k is he doing? Why isn’t he still doing straight-up Hip-Hop?’ I’m not trying to move away from doing Hip-Hop at all, but as a producer I want to be able to express myself musically and that sometimes means trying different things.
With that in mind, compared to the Hip-Hop scene you came up in, do you think there even is a UK Hip-Hop scene nowadays in the traditional sense of the term?
That’s a very good question (long pause). It’s hard to know what’s going on anymore, really. There doesn’t appear to be much of a structure left. I’ve actually been discussing this with a few people recently and I think the UK scene got to a good level a few years back and I can’t quite put my finger on what happened, but it feels like the ground just fell from beneath it. But that said, there are still artists out there making good British Hip-Hop whose aim is to keep pushing it, keep getting shows, and hopefully ride through the storm a little bit.
It is difficult though, because if you look at what’s happened to the majority of record shops just in London that supported Hip-Hop, the main ones have gone. It feels like the scene has dropped down a little bit. But sometimes that needs to happen so it can regroup, pick itself up and move forward again. But I don’t think the music media here in the UK has ever really taken British Hip-Hop seriously and it’s always been viewed as just a knock-off of the American stuff. Which is really disappointing because there are artists in the UK who’ve made some amazing music but have had to really struggle to get it heard. UK Hip-Hop has never really been in fashion.
Many people are of the opinion that there’s a real generation gap developing between those UK Hip-Hop acts who came up embracing the culture as well as the music, and those younger artists who grew-up with Hip-Hop being this huge money-making mainstream machine. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s a weird situation. I grew-up on the culture of Hip-Hop and it taught me a helluva lot of things, but you don’t see that as much anymore. But you can’t necessarily blame the younger listeners coming up because that’s the type of Hip-Hop the media chucks at them. It’s a sad state of affairs, but I don’t think all hope is lost. I think the key is to try to embrace some of the newer sounds but keep the roots in Hip-Hop, which is partly what we’ve tried to do with the Invisible Inc project that’s coming out.
Ghost ft. Verb T, Kashmere & Asaviour – “Seldom Seen Often Heard” (Breakin Bread / 2006)
So how did the Invisible Inc project with Kashmere and Verb T come about?
After I’d done “Seldom Seen Often Heard” I was sat down twiddling my thumbs thinking about what I was going to do next. “Seldom Seen…” was the culmination of years of me making music, so once I’d put that out I felt that I wanted to try and do something a bit different. The same can be said for Kashmere and Verb T as well in the sense that we’d all finished our respective albums and were looking to do something new. I’d kinda been playing around with some new sounds and I played them some of the music I’d been making and they both said ‘Yeah, we really like this.’
I’m trying to keep the production quite contemporary sounding but with some depth. A lot of the synth-based Hip-Hop stuff you hear can be very cheesy and simplified, but I wanted to use that sound for the Invisible Inc album but give it a Ghost feel, which is exactly what I’ve done. Everything on the album has been played and the only things I’ve sampled are the drums. It’s still very much a Hip-Hop album, but it’s us taking a fresh look at the music.
We’ve been out doing shows together for about three years now, so we’ve all got to know each other really well and have become close friends. We all sort of came up through the scene together at a similar time, and what became very apparent when we started talking about doing a project together was that we’d all reached the same point of wanting to do something different.
I went into this Invisible Inc project without feeling any pressure about what people expect from me. So I definitely felt freer putting this album together and the result of that is a project that I think will stand out from what everyone else is doing. I mean, we might put the album out and perhaps nobody will bite on it, but at least we can sit back and say we’ve recorded an album that doesn’t sound like anything anyone else has done in this country. That to me is a very important thing.
It almost sounds as if recording the Invisible Inc material has been a rejuvenating experience for you.
What I found was that when I was getting caught up in the business side of releasing music, it just took my enjoyment out of making music. It dragged me down so much that I started questioning why I was involved in doing what I was doing. The business definitely took the love out of it for me for a long time. But after I’d had a bit of a breather, went back, and started to think of fresh things to do I rediscovered my love for making music again. Of course, I’d love to make enough money to put food on my table and keep a roof over my head, but I’m not going out there thinking ‘I need to sell records’ anymore. It’s gone back to me just doing it because I love it.
How does the Lingua Franca project you have coming out differ from the Invisible Inc album?
I think the Lingua Franca project is going to be more appealing to some people than the Invisible Inc album will be. Basically it’s a bunch of tracks that I gave to Devorah to write to, and it’s a really nice soulful album. Again, I wanted to try something different and work with a singer on an entire album.
We’ve been busy over the last five months or so rehearsing with a band, so that when we go out to perform we can do all of the tunes live. So it’ll be a drummer, a guitar player, keyboardist, a bass player, and me twiddling about onstage with some knobs (laughs).
Again, it’s all about challenging myself, but still keeping the heart of Hip-Hop involved in the music. The album is a bit happier than anything I’ve done before, but I think that’s perhaps because I’m a happier person now. I think that both the Lingua Franca and Invisible Inc albums have a very positive feel to them. I have high hopes for both projects and they both sound very good.
So with Lingua Franca and Invisible Inc keeping you busy, when can we expect to see a new Ghost solo album?
It’s already done. I didn’t do much else in 2007 but I did record a load of new music (laughs). What I will say about the new album is that it’s more instrumental than vocal this time around. It’s a step further than “Seldom Seen…”.
Sometimes people lose focus of what you can do as a producer when you work with a lot of different guest artists, so I wanted to show that there’s enough depth to my production for me to be able to handle tracks on my own.
If “Seldom Seen Often Heard” is the album that really put you on the map as a producer, what are you hoping the Invisible Inc and Lingua Franca projects will do for your career?
Firstly, I just hope they actually come out this year (laughs). I’m hoping that both projects will allow me to get out and do more live shows, as that’s something I love to do. But I really hope that after hearing both projects people will say ‘Sh*t! Ghost has got a few strings to his bow.’ I’d also like the haters to realise that good music can come out of the UK Hip-Hop scene and that we should be taken seriously. Plus, it would be nice to get some new fans and be able to expand on what we’ve already done.