Obaro Ejimiwe (formally known as Ghostpoet), is a singer-songwriter/beat-infused wordsmith originally hailing from Coventry, and later settling in the now coffee-centric depths of East London, who has come to be recognized as one of the most interesting emerging talents of the past few years whose bringing together of poetry and electronic music has quietly intrigued fans and music critics alike, earning him well-deserved (if a little cautious) acceptance from within the mainstream music community.
With his Mercury nominated Brownswood debut, Ghostpoet cemented himself as a much-hyped (and perhaps unwillingly over-hyped) heir to the Mike Skinner street-laureate rap of the 2000s – bringing with him a fleck of the industrial Bristolian Trip Hop of the mid-90s, sewn together with a uniquely dusky voice and soothingly dark electronics. He was chronicling the perils of an ever changing and seemingly engulfing modern inner-city life with admirable ease. Despite the brilliant name, Ejimiwe’s first offering Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam was a solid collection of semi-danceable modern poems that whist intriguing, seemed to lack a little of the focus or musicianship offered up by those who he followed or was often unashamedly likened to. And yet despite the cult success of such singles as ‘Survive it’ and ‘Liiines’ – not forgetting the beautifully unhinged, gruff ode to a lonely late night drink ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’ – it always seemed like Obaro was on the brink of something greater.
With his second offering, the similarly poetically titled Some Say I So I Say Light, Ghostpoet seemed slightly more at ease with his sound but not with himself. A fizzing, gritty, and darkly record of wanted solace and caustic hope, Ejimiwe began to search for a clarity of thought, finding a skew beauty in a toe-tapping Burial-like London of his own making, with a so far unseen urgency. Carrying a more self-assured production style, and thankfully cleaner narrative, ‘Some Says…’ eerie, saddening brilliance was most certainly a welcome progression on all fronts in what felt like a fascinatingly rocky trajectory. Though that’s not to say it was without fault. The record sounded like an artist still in search of a more suited and ultimately more balanced sound – a holy equilibrium between math and english. But with songs like ‘Dial Tones’, ‘Dorsal Morsel’ and ‘Them Waters’, it’s hard to deny that the exceptional use of words on display here showed a continuing and frightfully good knack for storytelling and cadence. The Radiohead and 90s Garage nods permeated the album in a most celebratory fashion.
And yet with 2015’s Shedding Skin, the electronics seem to take more of a backseat in favour of a band. With grittier bass guitars, drums and noticeably less reliance on effects, a change is immediately evident from opener ‘Off Peak Dreams’. With shuffling percussion, drums and funky bass riffs taking centre stage, the simple beat laden with background piano stabs, satisfyingly whiney electric guitar and whirling synths rings out afresh, but with trademark lamentations and colloquialisms left intact.
‘Basically, I have seen / Signs and wonders up in that café / Mugs of teas and bacon sarnies run free / I’m feeling care-free and that / Hold it down, keep it calm / Whining kids will harden up / Maybe a couple quid in your palm / But we both know that ain't enough'
What follows is a series of tracks dedicated to the stab-in-the-dark nature of relationships, maturing, ageing, and identity. 'X Marks The Spot’, with its easygoing production and softly scowled 'I don’t care anymore’ chorus, sees guest vocal contributions from Nadine Shah and sets the tone of the record. From the uncertainty of ‘Be Right Back, Moving House’ to the unfurling lyrical play of title track ‘Shedding Skin’, the album feels like a document of an observant thirty-something in personal transition. Musically, the absence of previously foggy electronics makes the lyrics both more palatable and strident without sacrificing what makes this firmly a Ghostpoet offering. And as a result, it’s great. Natural, painfully self-aware, uncluttered and always candid, Ejimiwe has created his best music yet. Amongst all the chaos divulged, there’s a welcome, albeit doom-laden freshness that’s hard not to like. He has finally found his sound – and perhaps a little more of himself.
It doesn’t all work, however. 'Yes, I Helped You Pack’ feels like a backward step. With forgettable lyrics and plodding production, the song peters out before it’s allowed to flourish. Similarly, ‘That Ring Down The Drain Kind Of Feeling’ feels formulaic – an unnecessary retreading of old ground and something 'X Marks The Spot' just does better.
But with aptly-titled closer ‘Nothing In The Way’, with its slow-burning strings and unusually bare croon, Ghostpoet appears pheonix-like and ultimately resolute. ‘Used to think that this giving up was right / Kinda made sense / Life at times kinda difficult / With counting the pounds / Counting the pence / But it feels cool / Alright/ At this right instance’. This album’s satisfyingly twisty bike-ride through his thoughts and foibles is as pleasant as it is at times testing. But he is right about one thing – it’s cool. Where will he go next? It’s difficult to know. But he is on the right path. At least for now.
Shedding Skin is released March 2nd via Play It Again Sam.
Words by Jamil Dhillon