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Ivor Novello nominee Ghetts: ‘What I’m doing now is inspirational’

Ghetts has seen a lot of success since bringing "darkness" to grime 16 years ago.

But the 34-year old from east London insists he's not lost that spark of anger mixed with passion that propelled him onto the music scene in 2003 following a stint in prison.

Speaking to Sky News at the Ivor Novello nominations launch in London, he explained: "My music has always been a reflection of where I'm at in my life.

"I do meet some fans that say to me, 'You've got softer over the years'. And I say to them, 'When you first heard me what did you like about me? The honesty, the truth, the passion?'

"It's the same thing now, if I sounded how I sounded when I was 19 and 20, 21, I'd be lying to you. I can't recreate a reflection of that. The whole point of progress is so I don't sound like that.

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"What I'm doing now is inspirational. And you can look back and say 'Wow, he's come a long way from how he first was and how he conducts himself'."

Sitting in the swanky Ivy restaurant in the West End, that teenager from Plaistow has indeed come far.

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Ghetts – whose real name is Justin Clarke – has just been nominated for best contemporary song for his track Black Rose.

It tackles colourism against black women, and begins with his six-year-old daughter asking: "Daddy, how comes there's no dolls that look like me in the shop?"

He says fatherhood has inspired his work: "She's so in tune to my music, she asks a lot of questions. She's aware of who I am and I feel a responsibility towards her."

And the line is far more than a reference to the skin colour of toys: "If you're not represented on TV or other places, where it seems like black women are not represented in an amazing light, it can have a long-term effect on somebody growing up."

Image: Ghetts say he will dedicate the award to his daughter if he wins

If he wins, he will be dedicating it to his daughter "and all the black women who've been though terrible things".

While Beyonce's powerful Homecoming performance blew his mind, he is yet to get round to watching Kanye West's performance at this year's Coachella festival.

Like his daughter, the rapper gets a mention in Black Rose.

The line "These Kaynes have not become important to the Kims yet" was inspired by a lyric in West's Gold Digger: "And when you get on, he'll leave your a** for a white girl."

He explains: "A lot of people see that as hypocritical – not for me, because love is love at the end of the day – but there's layers behind that lyric and a double entendre."

It's important for Ghetts to use his music as a platform for the things he feels truly passionate about.

And it's that truth – which he describes as "purity" – which he says has fuelled the success of grime.

He says it comes from "a vibration that's out there now in the streets", which doesn't come from "radio play" but from an "honesty" in the music.

His early inspiration came from the US: "Coming up, I kind of studied American hip-hop because it was the closest thing to what I was doing. I studied how it changed over the generations. Hip-hop was there in my timeline."

Ghetts
Image: The 24-year-old is a big fan of legends like James Brown and Marvin Gaye

He says grime – as one of the youngest genres of music – has more changes to come: "People like putting things in boxes. So when I came up they called it grime. I was influenced by garage and drum and bass.

"Without the people making that music, my generation wouldn't exist. Now I think drill has evolved from grime. We just keep making up new names."

And he thinks despite its controversial image, drill will eventually evolve and become mainstream too.

Away from grime, he admits, lots of the artists he most looks up to have passed away: "I love James Brown. I love Marvin Gaye. It's weird, I've really taken a liking to a lot of people who are dead."

On the subject of rapper Nipsy Hussle's recent murder aged just 33, he says: "His death wasn't in vain. Everything we've heard about this guy after his death has inspired so many people to do more."

His mother is a teacher, and during half-term he felt driven to give a workshop.

Ghetts said: "I felt like I need to do my community as somebody that's been given this opportunity. I thought, 'Why am I not doing more? Why am I not speaking to more kids in the schools that come from where I'm from? Why am I not being more inspirational?'

"It's really about what you do with your time and what you do with your opportunities."

As well as giving something back, Ghetts knows he's learnt a lot himself, and not least about the music industry.

"In the early stages I thought me not having a deal was the worst thing. Now, 10 to 15 years later I own all my masters and everything like that. It was a blessing in disguise.

"I learned to be self-sufficient. All those hardships were training school for the business."

And it is a business he is excelling in.

Ivor Novello Award winners will be announced on 23 May.

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