“I’m not that ‘Ghetto’ person anymore,” Ghetts proclaims about his name change from his previous street moniker. “I’ve grown out of it.” At 24 years of age, Justin Clarke is finally maturing into the artist he has always strived to be; or ‘Grime star’ as he puts it. From Justin to Ghetto to Ghetts, the east London native has seen the lows of being behind bars to the highs of sell out concerts all in a short space of time; the sum of which have contributed to the well rounded individual who is ready to embark on the next stage of his promising career.
Growing up in a Christian household, the sounds of G’s childhood is that of prayer and gospel music. His aunt Andrea sung in the church choir and the soulful hymns left a huge impact on the young Ghetts. His mother recalls him as a three year old jumping out of her arms and running to the stage at a religious camp meeting in front of 15,000 people. It was then she says that she knew he was destined to be performer. Ghetts had also developed a sense of rhythm from his father who surrounded himself with jazz music. Once the beat got into him G would beating out rhythms on the tables and the floor in his house until his mother was driven to the point where she had to get him a keyboard to satisfy his musical curiosity. It was on this that Ghetts first experimented with writing songs as he’d try putting verses together over the pre-set percussion demos.
And it was music that was set to be Ghett’s saviour as his restless nature caused problems for him during his education. Unable to concentrate in class, the Plaistow citizen continually found himself getting into trouble and as a result never really being able to settle at a school. “I couldn’t really concentrate at school,” Ghetts states about his academic unrest. “The only thing I could concentrate on was music, not even girls. It was the only thing I enjoyed.” This soon transferred to the streets and like many who grow up in areas forgotten by the government, Ghetts found himself turning to crime to pacify his inattentive mind. Naturally it was only a matter of time before Ghetts found himself living at Her Majesties Pleasure. At the age of 16 Ghetts was in and out of jail at a scarily frequent rate which made G realise that if things carried on the way they were then his whole life would be spent behind bars. It was then he sought refuge in the only thing he found peace in; music.
At the age of 14 Ghetts visited a day time rave in Leyton to see the Heartless Crew. The experience cemented his ambition to make it in the music world. “I had this thing in my chest,” G reveals about the defining moment. “I could feel my heart beating and I was drawn to the mic. I knew I wanted to do something like that!” At the same time as Ghett’s legal woes, a new sound was emerging from east London. Born out of Garage; Grime was taking over the pirate airwaves and artists such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Kano were beginning to get heard across the capital. Close friends with the Nasty Crew’s Sharky Major, Ghetts began reciting some of his rhymes for the Newham favourite. Sharks soon let G know that he was ready to be heard and Ghetts began recording tracks and performing on radio and at clubs with the collective. The artist known as Ghetto was born.
With a street buzz steadily growing, Ghetts developed a relationship with fellow Nasty Crew member Kano who had just begun promotion for his major label debut ‘Home Sweet Home’. Featuring on two of the tracks from the disc, including the single ‘Typical Me’, Kane took G on the promotional merry go round for the album that included taking part in tours with Nas and The Streets, as well as opening up for Juelz Santana in New York and performing at the MOBO Awards. Around this same time Ghetts released his first mixtape ‘2000 & Life’; a disc which drew on his experiences of growing up on the streets of Plaistow and of being behind bars. Still heralded as an underground classic the disc was full of angry bravado and vicious rhymes that fuelled favourites such as ‘Simple Minded MC’s’ and the anthem ‘Skinny Sort’. The experience of going on tour with Kano however soon showed Ghetts a side of England that he’d never seen before and this resulted in a change of perspective for the young MC. “Going on tour and seeing the people who would turn up the shows and the reaction they would give us, I realised that my ignorant attitude wasn’t gonna get me anywhere,” Ghetts describes of his revelation. “As soon as I got rid of my attitude things started happening for me.” It was then that Ghetts began recording his second mixtape; ‘Ghetto Gospel’.
One negative by-product of touring with Kano had been that G had been labelled as Kane’s hypeman. Wanting to be recognised as an artist in his own right and whilst also dispelling myths that he could only make angry songs; ‘Ghetto Gospel’ was filled with tracks that discussed the pitfalls of living in a deprived area as well as dedicating tracks to his best friend and his mother. “She cried when I first played it for her,” Ghetts recalls of playing ‘Closest Thing To Heaven’ to his mum on Mother’s Day. The mixtape also included a track for which Ghetts would shoot his first video; ‘Top 3 Selected’. The radio favourite sat alongside songs with fellow members of The Movement; a collective of likeminded MCs that included Scorcher, Wretch 32 and Mercston with whom G had released a CD entitled ‘Tempo Specialists’.
Ghetts quickly followed this up with ‘Freedom Of Speech’; another disc of entirely original material which channelled the reckless attitude of ‘2000 & Life’ and combined it with the refined wordplay of ‘Ghetto Gospel’ to make for a truly epic listen. Combining cold, nihilistic moments with bursts of untamed energy, the disc addressed and resolved issues that had arisen between Ghetts and other artists in the scene who had attacked G whilst he moved away from confrontational music during ‘Ghetto Gospel’. Tracks such as ‘Mountain’ and ‘Who’s Got?’ soon reasserted Ghetts as an underground favourite as well as satisfying the new fans he’d acquired from ‘Ghetto Gospel’.
Composing himself as a complete artist, G signalled his growth by changing his performance name to Ghetts and begun work on his debut album which is due for release in 2009. “I’m ready to make the best album I can make,” G affirms of his mind state. “It’s a bit like the TV programme ‘Heroes’. I’m just finally learning how to use my powers.” The first single from the album – ‘Sing For Me’ is already a favourite and has been snapped up by record label All Around The World to come out in early in the new year. As a division of Universal and home to artists such as N-Dubs, the track is set to be Ghetts’ first chart hit and finally propel him into the mainstream – an accolade well deserved and long overdue. “I made this tune for the clubs,” he speaks on the single. “When I’m in there I feel like I wish that it was my tune that everyone was dancing to so that’s why I made that.” And now that he’s had his first taste of success is Ghetts likely to turn his back on the Grime scene that has bred him? “I do Grime!” he proudly boasts. “I love Grime and it’s in my roots. It has been from when I saw Heartless all them years ago. A lot of people ain’t comfortable with that but I’m telling you from now that I’m gonna be a Grime star!”
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