I picked up the latest copy of NME, flicking through I saw this interview with Gigg. I’ve typed it up as I couldnt see it on their website.
Dont cry for me se15. For all the evil that plauged the south east London area of Peckham last decade – from the murder of 10 year old Damilola Taylor in a council estate stairwell in 2000 to the stabbing of a 13-year-old boy just a mile down the road in Camberwell last July – the troubled postcode might just have found an unlikely saviour in Nathan Thompson, Aka Hollowman, aka Giggs.
You couldn’t exactly call him an angel – the last time we checked , Gabriel never served two years in Prison for gun charges (as Thompson had by his 20th birthday), nor do angels spit coupletes such as ‘the next nigger who fucks with me wont have no movement in his bones’ (as Thompson does in his tune ‘hollowman’.) However this 27 year old currently being paraded by his new label XL as UK rap’s brightest new hope certainly insists he’s a man who’s put the ‘naughtiness’ of his youth behind him.
“I’m proud to be from Peckham,” he said when we meet in the unlikely surrounds of the area’s boho-chic Bar Story, before taking our drinks across the road to conduct our interview by a spluttering gas-stove under Peckham Rye train station railway arches. “But wth the thing with Peckham,” he continues over the first of multiple rum-and-cokes looking around at his surroundings with an almost nervous twitch, “is it’s a hard place to come from. I’m trying to represent so that people know its not just scallywags that come out of it,”
Crucial point, the reason we keep referring to this UK rap, not UK hip-hop or grime , is because there’s a feeling within the scene that his music is ‘wiping the slate clean’ from grime’s failed promises. It’s uncompromising and fuelled by America’s dirrty south. It was this that helped Giggs come to his new labels attention via the fannish championing and personal introductions of scene embassador Mike Skinner – who wrote the duo’s collaboration ‘Slow Songs’ just so he could put the rappers voice out there. They were also no doubt impressed by his regular self-released mixtapes (“Ive been selling 1000,000 of them on my own back, I just want to see if signing with a label means I can take that higher”) and his unique, low frequency, doomy vocal style (for all his proclamations of “not actually doing what I sing about” this is scary, challenging, threatening music). But it was the birth of his now eight-year-old son which Giggs credits with instigating the reassessment of what he wanted from his life.
“its all behind me now,” and thats because I want to give my son something different than what I had.” In fact, it was only upon exiting prison that the new father decided he wanted to try and make a living from music rather than just “dabbling” in it. “I’d already has the idea of making mixtapes, but then I went to Jail. Then when I came out I decided to take it seriously – but I was rubbish at rapping in prison. I used to rap over things on the radio, and it wasnt until my team started to make me my own beats that the songs got any good.’ Then, upon leaving prison, he uploaded a video on YouTube entitled ‘Talkin Da Ardest’ of him and his team performing ‘freestyle’ over a Dr Dre-produced beat under a railway arch not far from where we talk today. The video became a viral sensation (1,125,009 plays and counting), with reports of it even stopping raves – from dubstep to drum’n'bass – mid-set across the country for special screenings. It was true DIY exposure,
Since leaving prison, Giggs has tried hard to stay out of trouble. “That way of being is everyday life for everyone around here, so its hard to change your whole way of living. Obviously I’m always going to have friends and family here and I can’t just stop talking to them. I just try to take myself away from that by doing music.”
But however clean his recent record is, there are still disbelievers to be won over – including those working at Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police Unit set up to investigate and inform communities of gun crime and other violent behaviour in London’s black community.
“When labels were looking to sign me,” Giggs tells us, “and before XL signed me, everyone wanted to have a go. Trident rang up every single one of them telling them about my past, and how they shouldnt have anything to do with me. They shut down my shows. Every single thing I do thats supposed to be positive they fuck up for me. It’s as if they dont want me to make legal money. It’s as if they want me to end up back on streets or something! Why wouldnt you want someone to do something positive? I’ve learnt my lesson and done my time in Jail.” Giggs frustrations were capped when the intervention of Trident last year meant a Lil Wayne support slot had to be aborted.
As if that wasnt bad enough, Giggs’ shop, the SN1 (Spare No 1) outfit located at Unit 24, 48 Rye Lane Market – Set up “almost a year ago” to sell his clothing line, his mixtapes, and music made by other members of the Uk rap scene – is having similar treatment. Rarely a week goes by when the shop isn’t raided. “The shop is great,” he smiles, proudly “We sell everything. Kids’ clothes, boys’ clothes, women’s clothing, music. A lot of music from up-and-coming artists. We dont discriminate, we sell any talent. We’re trying to make the underground thing happen. But the Police raid us all the time. I think they want to make it look like there are bad things going on in the shop so that people won’t come in. Thing is, though, more people come in than they used to becausee of the Trident thing – they support us because they don’t want us to be shut down.’
One place where Giggs is getting the attention he actually craves is America. Last year he travelled to Miami to perform and take home the gong for Best UK act at the BET Awards (the awards ceremony established by the Black Entertainment Television network in 2001), beating Dizzee and Chipmunk in the process. In fact, Giggs actuallly sees his talents as being more suited to an American audience than a UK one.
“Sometimes in the UK I feel like a lot of doors are closed to me,” he reasons. “Just because of my past, and because people don’t really want to hear it how it is. But when I go over to America, a lot of other people have gun charges and stuff so it’s easier – its weird, gangsta rap was so big in the States, It’s strange how it’s never really taken off at home. I think that people in the UK are scared because I’m right on their doorstep. They want to hide themselves away from it and pretend nothing bad is happening. But people are suffering and people need to recognise it. I think Americans are much better at understanding that than British people.”
With that the rapper check’s the time, looks directly at NME and mouths an expletive. “i’ve got to get this round to my son’s house,” he says, holding up a Thomas The Tank Engine rucksack. “Shit! His mum’s gonna kill me!
You hope he makes it to his little boy’s in time. You hope he stays focussed on his flow. Music would be infinitely less interesting without Gigg’s talents. SE15 has a new embassador for ‘real talk’.