GHOSTPOET - SHEDDING SKIN (PIAS)
I'm going to dispense with the strangled introduction; the swipes at easy targets and the haughty utterance of wilfully obscure reference points. I've been searching for an opening shot for a while and given up. Don’t get used to it, but I'm going to tell it to you straight.
This is a fucking fantastic record.
There's a lot of pressure on artists who blend social realism into their music, but that pressure in itself is limiting. "They said I can't rap about being broke no more" summed it up nicely, and that applies to the music as well as the lyrics. Once luxurious sounds start to creep into the records, a lot of people will feel left behind. Betrayed, even. You're not one of us anymore.
Obaro Ejimiwe has always been a fairly despondent kind of guy, so there was no real reason to expect The Sidewinder this time around. In fact, if this is your first encounter with Ghostpoet, you can consider yourself excused if the exclamation "it's a bit depressing, innit?" escapes past your teeth. However, there's a subtle shift in tone that sets Shedding Skin apart from Some Say I So I Say Light - not least a reduction in the need to Google the damn title every time you want to reference it.
Ejimiwe's worldview remains dominated by real-world concerns, and this time the instruments backing him have taken a step closer to the light. Gone are the digital beats and abstract electronica, and in their place are real humans playing real instruments. This is crucial in that it establishes a feeling of collaboration - or, at the very least, a shared burden. Ejimiwe no longer appears to emulate his spectral designation, alone among his elusive compositions. He has company now, and with that comes warmth. (On a completely separate note, I'm fairly certain that "Look, mate, I said I'm ready to roll" is my favourite lyrical aside this year.)
He might be "seemingly a paycheck away from losing it all / straight kicked out of the flat" but when the guitars, bass and drums rise around him a few seconds later, it feels nothing short of triumphant. Similarly, when lamenting the dissolution of another relationship, Nadine Shah is at his side to offer a gently admonishing whisper. I'm a sucker for anything that Shah releases anyway, but her contributions on this record are perfect. To further enhance my adopted hometown pride, Maximo Park's Paul Smith raises 'Be Right Back, Moving House' to heights unattainable on ...So I Say Light.
Paradoxically, Shedding Skin's best moment comes when Ejimiwe strips everything back for the closing 'Nothing in the Way' and delivers the saddest tale of hope you've ever heard from someone once considered hip-hop: "used to think just giving up was right... kind of made sense." It's like Suede's 'Still Life,' if it had some humility, self-awareness and experience of failure.
So stop calling Ghostpoet's music hip-hop. Stop calling it rap. There's no clever portmanteau that can accurately attest to this album's origin, either. While you can point to Tricky, Massive Attack, Roots Manuva or even King Krule as reference points, Ejimiwe is now totally on his own. For the first time in his career, that seems like a good thing.