Ghetts at the Islington Assembly Hall
If it weren’t for a hardcore audience filling Islington Assembly Hall with a fevered atmosphere that appreciates Ghetts and his talent, this gig would make no sense. Why the grime rapper’s grime rapper, whose name is literally an alias for ghetto, just performed in a Grade II listed building on Upper Street in Islington, an area bougie and out-of-touch enough for the venue to be opposite a sugar-free bakery, is a question that must have an administrative answer.
Ghetts is greeted to the stage as a hometown hero. This performance was the embodiment of an artist staying true to where he’s from and the man that it made him. Whilst many of his peers take insta-friendly pictures with Drake and make attempts at radio-friendly Top 100 hits, Ghetts has kept to an authentic sound that is neither associated with Billboard nor The 6 (okay, so, admittedly, he has taken a picture with Drake – but he didn’t ask for one…)
This authenticity means that the spiritual distance between Ghetts and his audience is only as far as the drop from the stage to the mosh pit. These gigs are spaces of intimate expression. There is comfort in the rapid syncopated backbeats railing at 140 beats per minute. Ghetts can rap. Many artists, not trying to keep up with 140 bpm, have backup rappers making up for them having to, like, breathe and stuff. Ghetts, miraculously it seems, does not need to breathe and stuff. He just keeps on going. And going. It’s an impressive feat.
The first half of the gig is made up of a lot of this impressiveness. Hardcore fans skank to hardcore raps over hardcore beats. Then: a switch. Ghetts begins the Gospel part of his latest album Ghetto Gospel: A New Testament (2018). The DJ table is replaced by a gospel choir. Scenes of Ghetts on road are replaced by a mural of Ghetts as a Christian Crusader (don’t read into it) except the holy sign of the cross is replaced by a giant red “G” which probably doesn’t stand for ghetto or gospel (do read into it).
Ghetts uses the dramatic rapidity of his genre, and in that room it certainly feels like his genre, to speak with firm sensitivity about the Black beauty of his daughter and the cancerous condition of his close friend. The audience is moved to sway their mobile phones for lights. Ghetts preaches his testimony and his clergy make it clear that they hear him.
Ghetts, not that this audience needed convincing, cements his credibility in the night’s guest list. He makes it clear: as far as the UK Hip Hop & Grime scene goes, no one has friends like Ghetts has friends. Shakka’s here. Oh, look, it’s Wretch 32. And Chipmunk. And Donae’o. Ghetts manages to put on a masterclass in grime with himself, appropriately, at the centre.