Hip-hop star is no longer haunted by the past

Ghostpoet went from working in insurance to the Mercury Prize shortlist. Now he's on his second album

Back in 2009, by day, Obaro Ejimiwe, known as Ghostpoet, was working for an insurance company. By night he was writing songs in his Coventry bedroom. His downbeat songs melding electronica, hip-hop, grime and indie, were a way of releasing the ennui of the everyday; an interior monologue to what was going on around him. Little did he know that they would catch the attention of Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson, who, in his own words, "took a risk on a random maverick" in 2010 when he signed him to his Brownswood imprint, and earned him a Mercury Prize nomination the following year with his debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam.

Today, we meet to discuss its follow-up, Some Say I So I Say Light at a private members' club for trendy east London creatives – a world away from his Tooting, south London, upbringing and former life in Coventry, where he studied media production. Ejimiwe is in reflective mode.

"It was very heavy in my heart that I couldn't make music full time," the 30-year-old says, in a chilled-out voice that immediately calls to mind the half-mumbled vocals of his albums. "All those emotions and situations I was facing influenced what I was doing; not really being happy, doing something I didn't really want to do and living an existence that I wasn't completely comfortable with. It was going around in a circle: waking up, working, going home, making music and watching telly, having fish and chips for dinner, going to bed, and doing the same thing every day. Life was in slow motion."

His new album has seen him start afresh, signing to record label PIAS, and moving to an east London flat that had an upright piano on which he laid the foundations for his new sound. Whereas Peanut Butter Blues was produced entirely from his bedroom, Some Say I was created in the studio with co-producer Richard Formby (Wild Beasts), and a raft of collaborators including Tony Allen (the Afro-beat star drums on "Plastic Bag Brain"), Lucy Rose and Gwilym Gold, and sees him push his experimental side.

"I did want to make sure it was in the studio to kick me out of my comfort zone, but the experimental side of things was always going to come because being in music 100 per cent as opposed to a hobby, I soaked up much more music", he explains. "I wanted to marry the two worlds of acoustic instruments and electronica sounds, and I wanted to get involved with strings, brass and more guitars and drums. Working in music full time, I could be freer creatively."

Feeling freer creatively was also aided by his new-found hobby – running. He has completed half-marathons in Paris, London and Amsterdam this past year. Does he run through lyrics in his head as he goes? "No," he sighs. "That was my romantic view of running at the beginning: that I would be taking in the world, and lyrics would just come to me. But what I do love about running is I get time to listen to music. And it did definitely help with the album-making process. I was healthier and more mentally focused than I have been in the past."

Like his debut, the album crosses genres, partly due to his eclectic music tastes. He grew up with his Nigerian father and Dominican mother's collection of highlife, Afrobreat, reggae and Soca, before discovering a new world of music on pirate radio.

These days, he listens to everything from free jazz (Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus) to psychedelic and experimental rock (Gentle Giant, Sister Iodine) and experimental genre-melding artists including John Zorn. "There's not much I don't listen to. If I go down only one genre route, it would just limit my listening experience and my creativity."

That would explain how his album opener, "Cold Win", originally intended as a homage to old-school garage, ended up as something completely different, with a cacophonous brass conclusion.

"That always happens," he says. "I don't normally try to do music in a particular vein because it never turns out how it's supposed to. I'm a massive old-school garage fan, but "Cold Win" ended up being like running through a paint factory with all-black clothing. My music always ends up having more elements that are subconsciously soaked into the fabric of the song; tunes always get dragged from one place to another. All I wanted to do was write songs that would reflect my many moods. It's very of the moment and as abstract and experimental as I can make it."

With a summer filled with tour dates across Europe, life is no longer in slow motion for Ejimiwe.

"If continuing enables me to be creative for many years, then I'll be happy," he states. "That's it, really. I'm quite a low-maintenance person."

The album 'Some Say I So I Say Light' is out now. Ghostpoet tours until 14 June

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game