Every interview with Obaro Ejimiwe, aka Ghostpoet, mentions how dreary his former hometown of Coventry is. The depressing, sleepy town is a huge influence on Ghostpoet’s debut, which in turn is a depressing, sleepy album. Not that that’s a bad thing.
Ghostpoet is nominally a hip-hop artist, but his music is really a mix of electronica, soul, grime, indie, and hip-hop. Like a lot of British artists, Ghostpoet has no compunction about mixing genres that would never interact in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine a U.S. MC spitting over a trance beat like Ghostpoet does on “Cash and Carry Me Home.” Ghostpoet commits these acts of sacrilege without a second thought, and proves over and over how successful these unlikely pairings can be.
Both the music and lyrics reflect a hazy, dream-like state. Ghostpoet’s rhymes are rolled off in a heavily accented, half-sung moan, sounding like they were recorded at 3:00 am during a fit of insomnia. The music, all created by Ghostpoet, sounds spontaneous, drugged, and off-kilter, like a sleepwaker or someone who has woken up early and hasn’t had coffee. The whole effect is similar to Gonjasufi, who likewise turns sleepiness and sloppiness into sonic gold.
There are similarities to Roots Manuva and Tricky, but Ghostpoet isn’t blunted so much as exhausted and resigned. Most of his lyrics have to do with figuring out his lot in life, late-night regrets after too much whiskey, and the confusion, anxiety, and ennui that accompanies a quarter-life crisis. Ghostpoet has immigrant parents who sent their child to university to make something of himself, and the struggle between the path his parents want him to take and his artistic aspirations is a constant theme throughout “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam.”
While this is a good album, it isn’t a perfect one. The songs all blend together, each following a similar template, and the atmosphere can get oppressive. Listening to “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam” can feel like a fever dream, snippets of reality rolled up and repeated into a hazy nightmare. The listener ends up reliving the bad space that Ghostpoet was in when he wrote and recorded these tracks. Even the more upbeat or beautiful tracks are also uncomfortable and don’t supply much in terms of solace or escape.
The album ends with the “Liiines,” which is almost an indie rock song, with Ghostpoet singing about his craft:
“I keep on scribbling
In the spare room I’m living in
Body’s here but I’m living in
Why do I keep wasting time
I keep on writing, writing
But them folk ain’t biting, biting
Maybe the bait ain’t juicy enough
So I’m switching, chucking spice in, add some flavor
Up the heat, silly rhymes and three-time beats
But that ain’t me
It just ain’t me
So like me or lie me
These are the words that just be true
Sending them out with love and faithfully
Hopefully, they’ll mean something to me cause…
Life is too short to store our grudges
Life is too long to make no plans, plans
I’m counting up time that I ain’t using”
Ghostpoet has since moved to London, so there is every hope that his future records won’t be quite so bleak and insular. While I enjoy the bedroom intimacy of “Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam,” I hope his next album isn’t quiet so downbeat. Ghostpoet is far too talented a guy to spend his time so bummed out. In the meantime, he has created a haunting, unique, and well-realized artistic statement that is the perfect soundtrack for the early hours of the morning.