Longevity matches legacy on the veteran’s third album, carefully constructed to demand the respect as one of the best artists the UK has ever seen.
The original class of grime have entered a new echelon. Skepta, Wiley and Kano have cemented themselves as critical and commercial figures. Though Ghetts has always been on the periphery of such conversation, despite having the catalogue to back it. Let’s talk about his discography: 2000 & Life, Ghetto Gospel, Freedom of Speech (come on now, honestly) are just the tip of the iceberg, establishing Ghetts (formerly Ghetto) as a force to be reckoned with. However, a noteworthy studio album is what has escaped him and his legacy. The long-awaited Conflict of Interest is here to put that question mark to bed.
Ghetts breaks through his skyscraper ceiling on Conflict of Interest, the musical personification of a meticulous body of work.
To those unfamiliar with his music, Conflict of Interest makes the nonbelievers believe. In its 16 tracks, Ghetts ploughs head-first into precise sequencing, six-minute narratives and a stellar morph of his three personas: Ghetto, Justin Clarke, and the man in the middle, Ghetts. In previous projects, these personas have individually made up the crux of tracklists. This time round, the mannerisms are merged for the fittingly titled Conflict of Interest, an approach that allows personal reflections and collaborative hits to co-exist in harmony.
The intent to guide the listener through a journey is evident from the jump. “Fine Wine” is an ominous opener that foreshadows trouble to come, segued expertly into the extended version of the spectacular lead single “Mozambique”. Further tracks continue the momentum, becoming clear this section is the Ghetto persona in action. The cocky lyrics and tales of teenage carjacking do not feel reminiscent; this is Ghetts tapping into that same teenager, wild and free, drawing the listener into his reality as a fly on the wall.
Justin Clarke appears during the mid section, narrating his entire career from past to present on the 7-minute “Autobiography”. J. Clarke then delves into his personal relationships, showcasing the most mature side of his character (“Proud Family”, “Sonya”, “10,000 Tears”). This is when Conflict of Interest is at its most resonating, enabling substance alongside memorable hooks to support Ghetts’ personal verses. His stories are compelling, providing complete reflections of the man in the mirror.
What also drives the intensity throughout Conflict of Interest is the live instrumentation. Organic string production surge in perfect pockets, whether that is during the intro of “Mozambique”, climax of “Skengman” or throughout the sweet album closer “Little Bo Beep” (on where Hamzaa steals the show). Such rich instrumentation is rarely seen in British rap albums, with producers opting for programmed arrangements more often than not. Perhaps the label budget enables Ghetts to make this choice. Either way, the production takes Conflict of Interest to the next level.
Ghetto’s return in the tail end provides the hit tracks the album needs. The minimalism of “Skengman” works in its favour, bragging a simple but effective hook. “No Mercy” shows Ghetts’ ability to mesh with new school artists Pa Salieu and BackRoad Gee. “Squeeze” with Miraa May brings booming horns that slide in and out of the periphery. Earlier track “IC3” with Skepta also adds to the replay value of the album; not every track can be as heavy as an “Autobiography”.
With Conflict of Interest, it is all about the attention to detail. It feels big, it sounds grander, and it knows the statement of intent that’s at play. Ghetts’ raps are tighter than ever, never leaving room for a corny bar to slip through the cracks.
At 70 minutes in runtime, Conflict of Interest can feel heavy and eager to execute its vision. Songs are taken to their structural max when at times they could end earlier and still not feel premature. Detaching a song like “Good Hearts” or “Crud” could have gave Conflict of Interest a leaner physique without disrupting its themes.
For the amount of groundwork put into his artistry, Conflict of Interest feels like Ghetts’ Nobel Prize, a momentous album needed to refresh his stamp in the history books. With such polished production, attention to structure and collaborations, Conflict of Interest matches and excels past his contemporaries. Ghetts ran the marathon, not the sprint.
8.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Mozambique”, “Little Bo Peep”, “Autobiography”, “Fine Wine”, “Skengman”, “IC3”