George the Poet – his new EP, tax and benefit cuts, rap being hijacked, homosexuality, region and politics in hip hop.
Here is the recent George interview that the LONDON360 young reporting team did at Universal Music. George is an extremely articulate young man who has alot of strong,informed opinions on things that affect us all. Take a read. Also, take a listen to his new EP here;
Your EP The Chicken and the Egg is set to drop on 20th October, can you tell us a bit more about the record?
The Chicken and the Egg is about the cycle of premature parenthood and particularly in this edition, fatherlessness. I wrote it because I feel like popular culture should align more closely with issues that are more relevant with people’s lives because then you get more informed citizens. With more informed citizens you get more people making better contributions. Firstly, better contributions to society, secondly you’ll get people making better-informed decisions based on their leaders and what they ask of their leaders. So this is a project for me, and I talk about this a lot, so I want to show people how you turn a relevant contemporary issue into a piece of art that people have no choice but to discuss.
Are there any collaborations on there, or is this more of a personal project for you?
There are collaborations on my EP, I’ve picked them personally so it is still a personal project but everyone that I’ve spoken with, I made sure we understood what we’re working towards and they all made great contributions. Big up Mega, an amazing vocalist, my brother Jacob Banks, my brother Knox Brown, JoJo, The Confectionary. Those people, all, 100% bought into what I was doing and went above and beyond to deliver for this project.
What are your expectations for the EP?
I want the EP, like I said, to be a debut of this project, I don’t know what to call the project but the project is getting information, like, stimulating actual discussion. We’re all artists, out here and we’re content with being expected to jump around on stage getting people to clap, like our pictures and buy our products. But, to me that’s BORING, I could have done that any which way I wanted, I could have been pushing another product out here so why would I use this opportunity to use my words for a popularity contest when I can use this whole EP to actually discuss something which is not only relevant, but is ongoing, its perpetual and its great in my community. It’s wearing us down. That’s what I want the EP to do, address that.
So this EP is part of a bigger project, do you have any other details on that project?
2.56 – There’s no bounds to it. I have a view to move towards collating information and the next step is to gain information and engage people on a very literal level man, there’s no game here. Don’t worry about me making money, how I make my money, I’ll take care of myself but as far as I’m concerned my career is a public service to an extent, so the EP is a strand of that. Also I want to pioneer a new way of doing this poetry thing, I got signed as a poet and there has been a lot of pressure on me to conform to standardised music formulas. I’ve experiment when I’ve felt free but at the same time I feel like ‘yo I’m a poet but let me show you how I can do this thing with music’.
What are your thoughts on the recent debates regarding tax cuts and the benefit system currently in place?
Yeah, I do have thoughts on tax cuts and changes to the benefits system. I feel like, there are 2 sides to the discussion. On the one hand, it’s like let’s get people out of dependency, we need a country that is about people who want to work, contribute and that is all well and good. Do that proportionately to the people that can contribute and are able to stand on their own 2 feet. Don’t take advantage of people that can’t fight for themselves, and furthermore, you’re making a mess for yourself further on because if those people don’t get the requisite report, they’re only going to be more of a strain on the economy, on society, you’re setting yourself up for another riot so I do think the situation as it stands is dangerous and we need more informed citizens.
We need more people making important decisions, we need people engaging with the powers. I see a lot of people my age, why am I censoring myself, the conservatives take them under their wing and say OK here is an example of someone from an estate who has done something positive with their lives. This is the only story that you need to know, the fact is that is not the be all and end all. The be all end all is structure and structure really, poverty generates and perpetuates crime. If you’re doing nothing to pull people out of poverty but also help people cope with poverty, reductions to child benefits and tax credits, changes to the welfare system, increasing the cost of education, making the experience of education more exclusive and difficult for different learning types.
Not accommodating for the fact there is difference first of all, secondly there are different levels of difficulty, theres inequality of opportunity. Now if you’re not doing anything about that, you’re completely doing a disservice to the people that you’re supposed to be governing, you’re supposed to be leading. Again, there’s no talk about this,
I go on the radio and people cut it out when I mention the word riots (furthermore, don’t ever do that again) people cut me off when I say riots, like I’m trying to talk. I tweeted the other day, for some reason it’s like the whole country is on the payroll of somebody who employs us to just pretend that everything is fine. Everything’s not fine, everything’s not fine and when the government is ready they talk about the things they think is not fine, ‘Oh benefits, lets talk about this benefits thing’. No, lets talk about what you’re doing to tax the rich, lets talk about the allowance of tax avoidance, lets talk about the fact tax avoidance cost the country £70 billion whereas benefits cost £70 million. Now, is a billion a thousand million, right? OK cool, no one is talking about that and I’m an artist, I’m here holding a microphone, I’m supposed to stand here and hope that you lot clap for me and buy my product and that’s it.
Do you place responsibility on yourself, coming from an area where you do, to tell the story of others that government don’t want to?
I do think there is a bit of responsibility on me, I take on more than I have to take on only because no one else is taking it on, I don’t think I can do it on my own. I don’t want to bash people over the head with a message and make them feel bad about their lives but I’m just saying we could do exactly what we do now, a little bit different and have a better impact on the world. That’s all, I’m not asking you to change your whole life tomorrow, I’m just saying, know the game and play it a little differently because we’re getting mugged off!
You tackle very serious issues in your music, for example your recent EP The Chicken and the Egg takes a look at the cycle of fatherlessness and how that affects the whole community. Mainstream wise however, we hear content which to a lot of people, is not that important or helpful in dealing with their everyday lives so how do you try to overcome the challenge of making conscious rap commercially successful and why do you think that challenge exists in the first place?
Do you know what the problem is? I don’t fit this world. Why is there a category called conscious rap? You tell me what that implies about the rest of rap.(Clip 0050 0.00) Unconscious rap. Do you think I came out here to be unconscious? Do you think I came out here to be unconscious? Do you think that’s in any way acceptable? Like, what? I’m not even on a mission to try and make conscious rap cool. I know people call my stuff conscious and I think that’s the coup, I think that’s what we’ve been tricked into. We’ve been tricked and sleepwalked into thinking this is an acceptable situation, that the radio is full of air. I don’t know what the use of that is, sometimes I think ‘maybe that helps keep the peace.’ If you nullify the people, if you pacify them, maybe they won’t be aware of all the things that are really crazy, maybe people ain’t built for the real world. But then I think to myself, no, people are stronger than that. I believe in people, I’m someone who believes in people so where am I going with that trail of thought? So my mission isn’t even to try and make conscious rap cool, my mission is to talk.
Do you have any thoughts on why the tag conscious rap was created?
I do have thoughts. Rap was hijacked; first thing you need to understand is that rap came from a poor community and as I told you there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. So, a lot of the narration is conscious! I told my friend the other day, one of my favourite rappers who I’m listening to at the moment is Rich Homie Quan and he kinda laughed at me, ‘why you listening to Rich Homie Quan?’ I’m inspired by Rich Homie Quan, I like his story, I like what he’s saying, he’s talking about being self employed, he’s talking about making responsible investments and he’s young so he comes with all of that gas as well. I feel exactly what your saying, but you’re doing it in real time and on a bigger scale because there’s bigger markets in America. If I could, I would do what you’re doing in my own style. It might come out different, it might sound bad and like pure gas but we’re young men and a lot of gas goes through my mind on the daily.
You should have seen me on the way here, I’m in my gym clothes right now, I’m not promoting any kind of crazy lifestyle but like this is real life. So when I’m talking, I’m selective so in the Chicken and the Egg story there’s a lot of sex stories, I’ve accumulated sex stories over the years in my life but I always knew that I came out as George the Poet saying this is an issue, let me talk about the issue, no one knew anything about my life and still don’t, you only know what I give you. But I knew that if I do talk about sex, it’s gotta be in a constructive way, I can’t be out here like an idiot talking about ‘all these chicks on my line’. It’s not stimulating, its not a credit to my community and its not fair to my family, my parents raised me better than that. Yeah I might be gassed, I might be getting myself into certain things, I am autonomous, that means that I have authority over myself, that means everything that goes on over here is my jurisdiction.
So how am I gonna pick up a microphone and make a fool outta myself? I don’t understand this conscious rap concept, why is it OK to be unconscious? All of these artists, when I talk to them individually, they’re unhappy with the state of music. I’m talking real, ask any artist, if you had a conversation with George the Poet, did you or did you not talk about the state of music and how unhappy you were with it? Because no is happy, no one is cool with this, you have us out here tap dancing acting silly, we all feel things, we’re adults. We’re grown people, we’re human beings, we feel things, we see what happens in Gaza, we see what happens, we see kids with their heads open, an eye here and nothing there, you’ve seen these pictures, yet I’ve got to step in the booth and say some silly ish. I’m just tryna talk.
We recently spoke to Wretch 32 and he said that he sees you as a figure of mediation between everyday people on the streets and the government. How do you feel about that and can we expect you to go further down this political route in your music in future?
Wretch 32 said I’m a mediator between the streets and the government, that’s an honour, I didn’t know I would get that role so quickly. When I was younger I thought I was going to have to be an MP.
I was cool, I’ll play the political game, climb up that greasy pole and everything is going to fall into place eventually. But what I realised is that, in the political game there’s too much smoke and mirrors and I can’t deal with that. So, coming into this place where I’m just talking, it’s like real recognise real, I started of narrating experiences, the first poem of mine that ever got popular I was talking about how much I hated my area. I was talking about like, I don’t want to be here anymore, just before I went to Cambridge University I’d got my acceptance. There’s not a robust interface between my community and power, there’s not. You can get people who look like me, you might even get people who sound like me but there’s not the informed. There’s not the connected, community that we need in order to advance our agenda. That’s not a racial thing, it’s definitely a class thing, definitely.
So I just feel at this point, we need a healthy conversation, a fairer conversation right now , so I embrace that role. If I can be a mediator, in any way mitigate. It’s embarrassing man, you go on prison visits and the rooms full of, race is a sub heading under the issue that it is, it’s have and have not’s. You go prison on a visit and the room is full of black guys. What? You go anywhere else in the country, you can’t find that. What’s that about? You think genetically we’re incapable of getting it together? No, there’s no robust interface between my community and the powers that be and we need to star engineering that deliberately. It’s not about ‘hopefully I can get a good job at a bank’ ‘hopefully I can make it as a doctor’ because what happens is you get integrated into the existing order. That’s cool, that’s not necessarily a deliberate or a malicious thing, but it’s like when that happens, you’re not in a position to talk how you want to talk.
I went Cambridge, I was there, no one around me talked, looked, sounded, felt like me. That’s not their fault, in society we just need pluralism, we need a mix of experiences and opinions, we need that but we need that to matter. That’s the only way we can have actual democracy, live real time democracy and we’re so far off that now that we still have categories like conscious rap. A rapper being conscious is an anomaly.
From your own experience, or from the careers of other artists over here or in America, to what extent do you feel being a conscious rapper is a burden and do you feel you would be compromising yourself to create music solely for monetary gain or chart success?
Do I think I would be compromising myself to make music purely for monetary gain? I think I’ll start compromising myself when I stop pushing a message. Music is a funny thing because people receive it differently, and to me to be honest, my whole presence in this music game is a move, a strategic move. I love music, but I tell people all the time, this is not the job to get into if you want to be taken seriously.
I f you consider yourself to be a mover and a shaker, DON’T become a musician. Because all of a sudden you have to have silly conversations. The same conversations I was trying to avoid as a 19 year old when I made the decision to stop rapping and perform my raps as poetry, those same conversations I was trying to avoid, I’m now having. People talking to me like I’m simple, so the compromise will start when I stop pushing a record, when I stop being about something. Music for monetary gain, come on man, you’ve got people selling illegal arms to regime’s that they shouldn’t be doing, I think there’s a lot worst things in the world going on than making music for money.
You’ve quoted in the past that entertainers have a duty to educate young people. What is THE most important thing, do you think, rappers should be educating their young male listeners on?
I think the most important thing a rapper can educate a young man on is self-determination. Now, self-determination is existence on your own terms. Everyone out there needs that. Work on whoever you are, be that person deliberately, and take it to the world, take its fullest extent. Masculinity in rap has been hijacked. We’ve been fed this image of the big, hard black man with all of these women, and all of this money, and all of these cars. I was telling my breathren the other day- I don’t know what it is, but when someone makes eye contact with me, it’s a challenge. I have to teach myself into looking away. Why? Because, growing up where I was, on an estate, smiling and nodding wasn’t an option. But that’s a mental thing that I’m subscribing to. Why can’t I smile and nod it off? He’s probably going to look at me and think, soft! But how’s that affecting me? Girls tell me all the time I’m not who they think they was, because I come across in a certain way.
There’s all these perceptions flying around. All that actually matters is my reality. What’s more important than that? Rappers could be promoting that in young boys. In my community, we don’t have that robust structure of masculinity. It doesn’t work. That’s why I made the chicken and the egg. The cycle of fatherlessness. A young man, grows up without a dad, doesn’t know how to treat a woman- guess what, he has a son, his son grows up without a dad, and he doesn’t know how to treat a woman. We need to re-think this whole masculinity thing. Rap is one big conversation there at our disposal and if we just decide today to talk about it differently – to not walk into the label and be pressured to make stupid tunes, to stand our ground and say ‘you know what? I’m a qualified authority in what I’m speaking about. And I’ll speak about it from the perspective I care about. That I respect. That I’m proud of. That I want my mum to see. I don’t want to hide content from my family.
Snoop Dog has said that he doesn’t think homosexuality in rap will ever be accepted because “rap is so masculine”. T-Pain has concurred that rappers will not work with Frank Ocean “because he is gay”. Wretch 32, however, recently said that homosexuality is accepted in hip-hop, and that people just have a problem if rappers aren’t genuine. Where do you stand in this argument?
I do think Snoop has a point- the way people’s minds are- especially in Snoop’s generation- they’re not open to that idea of homosexuality in rap. But I think, in my generation, homosexuality in rap will find its place, because people are more open-minded now. Times change. As times change, especially with the direction of communication and globalization. Communities find voices. 40 years ago, rap couldn’t have existed. But it’s all out there now. The way people thought about black people back then, it’s similar to how some people may feel about gay people today. ‘Don’t wanna hear it!’ But yeah, times change.
Robert Alford, in ‘Constructing Race and Masculinity in Hip-Hop Culture’, has quoted: “Hip-hop shapes white perceptions of young, black men as objects of fear and fantasy, and it also limits and determines the possibilities of racial and masculine identity for those individuals themselves.” Tell me what you think about this quote. And, if you agree, is this why you pass off rap and grime as ‘poetry’?
That is someone’s truth. There are a lot of white people out there who look at black men and think ‘ooh’. There’s a long running discourse on the hyper-sexualisation and the fascination of the black man. All the myths they used to build for racist ideology. Like, ‘look, this guy’s biological makeup is different, he’s a bit more animal, he’s closer to the animal, he’s closer to the beast.’ Yeah, hip-hop is the modern may midistration show. We don’t have informed citizens entering this game. I tell people all the time- if you knew how smart your enemies were, you’d pick up a book. But that’s a big ask for a lot of people. So yeah, the other truth is that it’s down to your perception! If you actually opened your eyes and your ears and listened to what this ‘hyper-sexual’ and ‘hyper-masculine’ black man was saying- he’s giving you a whole ethnography of the other side. A live report. You have 2 options. You can ignore what he’s saying. Or you can study what he’s saying. And you’re not going to do the second one- until I, George the Poet, come knocking on your door and say ‘hey! Listen to what we’re saying. Take us seriously.’
What do you think about the relationship between Hip Hop and Politics and how do you think Hip Hop can better engage people with politics?
I think the relationship between hip-hop and politics is unsatisfactory it’s substandard right now, do you know why? because its uninformed, hip hop approaches politics from an uninformed perspective and I don’t like talking down on hip hop, I love hip hop in it but, really and truly it’s not good enough man, one minute you’ve got all these people talking about F the system yeah just out of, like that comes from a genuine place, the system hasn’t done anything for me and f the system right, 0 – 100 real quick let Obama invite you to the white house, you are there, you are not gonna grill him about Gaza or Bama aid you know what I’m saying, gas prices ,cost of living, welfare, all the promises he made you’re not gonna do that *dances with hands up* (turn up, turn up) that’s what they’re gonna do, so again it comes like there’s not a culture of information that’s relevant to your lives, like this whole time we’ve been playing around with this hip hop ting like don’t get it twisted we’ve changed the world, we’ve changed culture.
I was gonna say youth culture, but we wrapped up youth culture a long time ago, listen to billboard top ten and tell me if DJ Mustard is not running it, tell me if Adidas has not benefited from everyone promoting their stuff tell me if you can’t see hip hop everywhere you go, the way people wear the stuffs the things people say. We have built stuff but I think people are stuck in this , I think people subscribe to the glass ceiling like, know yourself you can try play with culture, you can make all the fashion you want, but first of all we sign the contract, but on the other hand know yourself,’ don’t start tweeting about Gaza, do you wanna work?’, so they put their foot on our neck and we just fumble and do whatever, but the whole thing is a game anyway but I just know there is not enough flowing freely.
What are your personal thoughts on politics?
I vote but like I go through phases of thinking, it’s like you just have to know the game, the problem is, a wise man once said to me, you get upset because of the set up in your head, you’ve entered the world thinking it should be a certain way you find out it’s not going the way you wanted and you think that’s a disappointment but you just didn’t have the reality you didn’t know what the world is, so now that I know everyone’s lying and everyone’s cheating what decisions am I gonna make, am I gonna sit in the corner of my room, cry and sulk for am I gonna be like ok re strategize back to the drawing board, so like with politics, it’s just a bit of a joke but the problem is the PM in this country has a lot of power, no way around that, UKIP are making gains in Europe no way around that, people feel a way about Scotland people feel a way about Europe, you can sit on the sidelines if you want but you just didn’t understand the game.
What do you think needs to be done to engage more people?
I think culture, pop culture, let’s stop saying we are gonna swear, let’s stop f*****g around, let’s stop messing around with the pop culture thing, let’s start giving people information that will actually affect their life because no one’s content, you talk to anyone and they are complaining about their job , do you know what that is that working class consciousness you feel what I’m saying that’s the proletariat saying yeah getting exploited and it doesn’t make me happy everyone feels that every single day but we’ve expected that that’s the game, why? I’m broadcasting live and direct ad artists with things to say, don’t give me a microphone, you didn’t know who u were letting into the room, did you well cool I’m here now,
Do you think that’s the reasons that lead to another riot?
It’s like they don’t feel like they have anything to lose, you guys just talking all the time, we are feeling it, we don’t even know what you’re talking about but we are feeling it why am I having to hustle, why am I entering , why am I working at this company for 10 years only to get superseded, surpassed, by younger people that don’t sound or look like me and I’m told I don’t quite meet the qualification what but you make me train these young people and then you promote them over me tell me to have a coke and smile and carry on and you wonder why I’m crazy, and that’s the mum, that’s the young rioters mum so yeah listen to the chick they aint gonna see what happens to that kid.
Who do you vote for and why?
I’m not gonna say who I vote for but it’s important that I vote according to my agenda, my agenda has to be catered for, do you know why because they got an agenda, whoever’s asking me for my vote, wants to do stuff so let me see how closely the stuff he wants to do aligns with what I wanna do, that why we need to inform citizens, because what do I want, do I want a better jobs, do I want tax credits do I want childcare, am I a young parent that’s trying to get in employment, do I want to have kids, what is my agenda, you figure out your agenda and then you make an informed decision from these leaders, if none of them are offering something that you want, you press them, stand on their neck ‘cos they want to do it to you, who do your taxes go to?
Hip-hop artists baring similarities to Shakespeare through their lyrics. Shakespeare was a man, he was a human being. I’m guessing he had haemoglobin in his blood cells making his blood red you feel me; I’m guessing he had all the working of the lungs meaning that he needed to build oxygen just like I did, you feel me. So Shakespeare’s genius mirrored in the rappers that we have today is the same thing, it’s genius. Them man, I’m not gonna lie the majority of these rappers didn’t get it from Shakespeare. I think there’s a lot of claiming going on, people like to say, ‘oh yea we had a lot of guys ages ago that did that’, yeah but we didn’t know that guy we just came up with this so credit by credit is due – Shakespeare is amazing, so are my brothers out here.
what are your thoughts on hip hop as an intellectual art form?
As an intellectual art form. As an intellectual art form hip-hop is so rich, untapped, un-stretched, hip-hop is genius man. I can’t tell you all the ways I’ve learnt from it. Ask me anything about my life right now and I’ll tell you what I learned from hip hop through that thing, ask me just anything, cars, just throw a word at me.
Phone. Hip hop yea, is about communication like, like you have to understand, if I didn’t have my phone, if I didn’t have my phone I wouldn’t be here making money of what I’m making right now. The way the phone developed, yea all of a sudden we could listen to music on our phones do you know what that did? It gave me a very personal relationship with hip hop because I was listening to it all the time. It didn’t start when I got the phone but it just went crazy when I got all this Walkman phones and stuff I always used to try and absorb hip hop through that yea but the intimate relationship I was now able to have with these rappers through having a phone with me all the time with all of these songs, yea that’s what made me realize it’s a case study no matter what he’s saying. Even if he’s lying, yea he’s telling my about himself. Do you see what I’m saying through this intimate relationship that I’ve got right now? Yea this access that’s with me all the time, I’m building up this whole, as a young man as well I’m building up all these impressions and because these lyrics are always at the back of my mind, I’m cross referencing with them with what I see in the real world do you see what I’m saying hip hop, and that’s hip hop, hip hop that’s why I love hip hop because its built on the statement of truth this is the only musical community that is like, well country as well is based on stories and that’s great yea, but we place so much precedence on the statement of truth that’s why rubbish rappers can get through, because if you believe him it’s like yea statement of truth.
What role, if any, does God and religion play on your personal life and how does that influence your work?
God and religion played a very important role on my personal life growing up because it gave me parameters of which against to access the world. So, I could just decide where I stand because religion gives you very straight forward answers, you have something to navigate with, something to work with. As I grew older, I started paying more attention to the grey areas and the stuff that didn’t quite make sense. I don’t think my religion, Christianity, deals with inequality much, it just says ‘trust me, work hard and you will be alright’ and that’s worked for me so I can’t really say it’s not the way. But these new answers really started to bug me, but erm, growing up where It grew up was very important because I needed the guidance. I needed something to say: “trust me, this is what’s working and that’s not what’s going to work for you”.
Do you find there to be any contradictions between hip-hop and religion?
Hmm contradictions between hip hop and religion? Nah, again hip-hop is built on a statement of truth so all of these rappers tend to exhibit ambivalence about religion and that’s real. Most of us don’t know. We don’t have the answers. You probably know someone that is not from a particular faith but they’re a nice person you don’t expect them to burn in hell. We all feel these things and hip-hop has narrated them clearly, for decades now. So yeah, it’s a rich academic resource and religion is all real life, a statement of truth.
Hip hop acts talk about their wealth and acquisition of assets as well as having a reputation for building business brands, so why are most of them broke or experience tax issues?….MC Hammer, Lil Kim, Lauryn Hill and Ja Rule and, the initiators/innovators like Master Flash. Hip Hop as an art is often really blingy and flashy…
Again information! We need informed citizens; so many artists from the Hip Hop genre go broke because we do not have informed citizens. We’re from the working class; we don’t have a culture of money management and networks. Why don’t people talk about that? Why don’t I hear songs on the radio about that?
What is about the hip-hop genre that makes artist think they have to brag about materialistic wealth? Would it still be Hip-hop if it wasn’t so flashy?
First of all, it’s not that simple. Again, we are from poor communities, its celebratory, and half the time they can’t believe it themselves. So there’s a celebration aspect, there’s also the symbolism as a community- and you’ve got to remember that colonialism happened- no one likes to acknowledge that. We are living the results of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade so it’s like- we don’t have symbolism that matters in this world, you don’t see our flag and think ‘wooft’, half of these African American’s don’t have a flag! They have to bow, have t pledge allegiance to the same people that enslaved their granddad, do you see what I mean? So yeah if they shine their bling a little bit … I just don’t like it when the conversation gets one sided.
What do I think could be a solution to making young Hip Hop artists more clued up? We’ve got all these Hip Hop artists out here holding microphones, start saying something that matters.
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