Straight out of Hackney: local rap battle goes all the way to No1

Adam Sherwin on the rise of Labrinth and Professor Green
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The Independent Culture

It is the "battle of Hackney" – a dispute from which the troubled borough can emerge only as a winner.

The artists Professor Green and Labrinth will tomorrow discover which of the local rivals has scored a coveted No 1 single.

The chart, often dominated by American stars, is this week an all-East London affair. Rapper Professor Green, 27, is just ahead of songwriter-producer Labrinth, 22, according to the latest sales figures. Green and Labrinth not only share a postcode, they are both former pupils of Stoke Newington School.

Professor Green's single, "Read All About It", details his father's suicide in 2008 and the media's treatment of that tragedy. Clapton-born Labrinth, 22, is joined by Tinie Tempah on his electro/dubstep track "Earthquake".

For Hackney, scarred by the summer riots and the setting for Top Boy, a controversial new Channel 4 drama series depicting gang crime on the borough's estates, the battle is a welcome opportunity to showcase a more positive image.

Labrinth, real name Timothy McKenzie, isn't giving up on the top spot. "I'm at No 2 but we're just a few sales behind so we can still catch him," he told The Independent.

This is no repeat of the bitter Blur vs Oasis chart battle – there is mutual respect and the pair have even worked together on a track. "Professor Green wants it [No 1] more than I do," said Labrinth. "It's early days in my career but he's on to his second album and he needs a No 1 to kick it off. We both went to Stoke Newington School and I used to see him destroying MCs on stage at a club night."

Labrinth, one of nine children raised by a single mother, was the first signing to Simon Cowell's Syco label who had not been created for a television show. He co-wrote and produced Tinie Tempah's "Pass Out" and has a host of US stars seeking to work with him.

He warns that teenagers in Hackney need the same opportunities to pursue music at school that he enjoyed, if the borough is to avoid further social unrest. "Growing up, there was lots of places I could go to work on my music," he said. "I used to make the music teachers stay behind. I worked for years with Rising Tide [a youth music charity in Hackney]. We need to offer kids on the street mentors and better opportunities. The rioters had nothing to do."

Professor Green, born Stephen Manderson, scored a top five hit with his Lily Allen collaboration, "Just Be Good To Green". Raised by his grandmother, he earned his alias through dealing in marijuana as a youth.

Annie Gammon, headteacher at Stoke Newington School, said: "It's very exciting to have both former pupils at the top of the charts at the same time. The music staff are very dedicated in the time they give pupils after school. The core GCSE and A-Level courses have successfully embraced technology and the students use software to compose."