Climbing the chart ladder, ‘Conflict of Interest’ finds Ghetts facing new heights. As his third release marks his first record with major label Warner.
15 years into the industry, Ghetts had become a veteran grime emcee, watching the art-form’s surges in infamy and influence from the beginning. The aggression that burnt out of Ghetts’ early work defined the suffrage and rebuttal that birthed grime, yet as his career has evolved, so too has his sound.
As the world of grime battled it’s way into the cultural zeitgeist, there was an unwavering purity at the heart of Ghetts’ discography that stood firm, anchored to a singular artistic vision, refusing to conform to the waves of commercialisation. As grime blazed into the light, Ghetts’ career harnessed the shadows, refraining from the trends that engulfed the genre.
This sense of virtue that coated his output, mixed with the penmanship and self analysis lauded Ghetts with an almost cult following and underground reverence. Moving to Warner could mark a terrifying shift in the future of grime, as a bastion nobility unites with the music conglomerate.
The album’s release was met with murmurs of anticipation to see how a larger label would pollute the fresh clarity of a sound so integral to a specific mindset.
Within the opening track, Ghetts acknowledges the change.
“When I signed to Warner, I was already me,
That’s fifteen years hard work, no breaks or therapy”
These lines are spat with unflinching confidence, as Ghetts challenges his listeners to consume the project and forge their own opinions throughout. Boasting a heightened sound and mentality, Ghetts confronts his audience, urging them to challenge his work ethic or success. Starting the record with this level of conviction places monumental pressure on Ghetts to deliver, yet as ‘Conflict of Interest’ fires through its hefty sixteen tracks, it’s evident that Ghetts has no intention of letting bravado get the better of him.
As the album progresses, Ghetts’ vision for the release becomes evident. As the narrative unfolds, Ghetts recounts his life, chapter by chapter. The cohesive release plays as a singular, complete story. Chronicling his journey, from upbringing, to his love affair with rap, or his celebrated career, Ghetts lets his third record become a historical documentation of the path he has travelled. With the triumphs and disappointments of life being echoed, both lyrically and musically, the album walks with Ghetts, stepping through his voyage.
The first chapter explored on ‘Conflict of Interest’ shows Ghetts at his most reflective. Ruminating on the darkness that plagued his youth, the album depicts the hardships of a black youth in London. With Ghetts influences feeling rife throughout this section, the album almost becomes a testament to the escape and hope which music can provide to the disenfranchised.
Ghetts’ honesty and transparency is quintessential to the album’s success and “Autobiography” sees this pushed to its apex. The storytelling feels organic yet articulate, with this profound sincerity pouring from him. Firing through his struggles and his ascent, the personal lyrics are delivered with such candour, it encourages a personal relationship between Ghetts and his listener. Like a conversation between friends, Ghetts rolls through his life with remarkable frankness, shying away from nothing. The track feels insurmountable, as if Ghetts whole life was lived just to muster the earnest poured into it. The portrait of an artist’s plight that is painted, is set to a cinematic soundscape as strings and progressions elevate this song into something vivid and palpable.
Progressing from this chapter, Ghetts focuses on his present. Contemplating his climb through fame, his contributions to the industry and his current status, this middling chapter sees Ghetts experimenting with sounds and ideas. The array of sounds explored here can feel clumsy and confused, as Ghetts sporadically clutters the album and disrupts the pacing of the release. Not every development is successful, as the downtrodden melodies paired with sloppy vocal manipulations on “10,000 Tears” become a jarring and disconnected change of pace. Ghetts’ cadence across this cut feels fatigued, as this attempt at vulnerability loses the album’s momentum. The Ed Sheeran feature that provides the hook here struggles to salvage the song as it fizzles into the background.
Contrasting this, “Sonya” deals with imperfections and insecurities poetically. At his strongest, Ghetts recounts the tale of discovering the hidden struggles of a close friend. Emeli Sande’s vocals breath the emotional weight and fragility of the lyrics into the melodies of the track. Becoming one of the records most poignant numbers, Ghetts reveals his maturity beautifully. With strings and a delicate piano climaxing into an experience with dramatic conviction and power, “Sonya” becomes one of the album’s greatest assets.
This chapter continues showcasing Ghetts’ dense emotional strength as “Proud Family” reveals an introspection and connection that is rarely flaunted in the genre.
As we approach the final leg of the release, Ghetts coats each track with features from some of the freshest and quintessential voices in the game. If ‘Conflict of Interest’ has focused on Ghetts’ rage and his sadness, then this final sprint is nothing but fun. Watching Ghetts blatantly brandish his cunning and wry penmanship while bouncing off his contemporaries and friends allows the very human release to end feeling triumphant and victorious. These interactions leap into a celebration of the culture, as the ego is exchanged for energy and unity.
Ultimately, ‘Conflict of Interest’ is a synopsis of Ghetts’ growth, put to music. With excellent bars merging with impassioned and emotive flows that interchange and evolve with the moods of the album, Ghetts’ performance is stellar, yet the music itself is the greatest asset of the release. As the album progresses, the album seems to hone in on creating powerful and striking instrumentals that fuel each bar with the hurt, arrogance or whimsy he depicts lyrically.
Several songs get lost in the magnitude of the release, lulling the album into a rut and becoming drained and weary, despite this, Ghetts’ supplies some of the most genuine and raw tracks of his career.