New band of the day – No 682: Professor Green

This north London MC is a bit of an Asher Roth – he's OK, but nothing to write, or rap, home about

Hometown: Upper Clapton, London.

The lineup: Stephen Paul Manderson (raps).

The background: He's got some form, has Professor Green; he's not never-been-heard-of-before brand new. He's been rapping for several years and released his first mixtape back in 2006. He has performed with Lily Allen and was briefly signed to Mike Skinner's label, The Beats, before it lost its deal with Warners. He's got a reputation of sorts in "underground" circles, where he has been a "battling" MC for some time – we've seen him on YouTube in a proper staged face-off from last summer with some massive Geordie fella called Stig (not the one from Top Gear; this geezer would never fit in the cars), and it basically consisted of them slagging off their respective mums and calling each other a "twat" in front of a baying crowd and a panel of "experts" who would duly vote for their favourite after they'd had their "go" (technical term meaning "annihilate the opposition"). It was a bit like Strictly Rapping now that we think of it. Hold on a sec ... "Operator: get us Simon Cowell. We've got an idea for a new show ..."

But the 26-year-old north London boy makes his appearance today in this increasingly legendary column because he's just signed to Virgin and will be releasing his first album proper in 2010. He's also here because he's a white rapper, and that still, astonishingly, is newsworthy, in the same way that it was, astonishingly, newsworthy that Jay-Z should headline a rock festival towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Plus ça change, and all that.

But is he any good? He was on Skinner's label, and Skinner just got voted Album of the Decade in the Observer Music Monthly for the Streets' Original Pirate Material, so is he in that league? Well, Skinner, like Tricky and Dizzee Rascal – the two other distinctive voices to come out of UK hip-hop/grime in the last 15 years – had original things to say, or at least put them in a new and different context. The Streets' chav laureate shtick was a bolt out of the blue, making a virtue out of its parochial content, Tricky's art of darkness was trailblazing, and the same goes for Dizzee's hyper-manic skank. Green doesn't strike us as having either new things to say, or new ways to present them. He's a bit of an Asher Roth – he's OK, there's nothing indefensible about what he does, but nor is there that much to write, or rap, home about. Don't Let Go samples, or at least recreates extracts from, a John Barry Bond theme and an En Vogue song, and whether or not Virgin will foot the bill for the samples when it comes to the release is moot – Kanye's Diamonds, ie. a provocative juxtaposition of clashing elements, it ain't. There are shout-outs and big-ups for Clapton and Clapham and there are even classical music samples, but there is something about Green's nasal delivery, reminiscent of Eminem, that rankles, and there's something about his rhymes, featuring a tediously familiar litany of spliff references, place names and self-assertions, that fail to excite.

The buzz: "Definitely above the current level of urban rap/dance."

The truth: He might have a Phd in weed, but we think he's a bit chronic.

Most likely to: Give lectures on reefer.

Least likely to: Be considered a defining new force in grime or UK rap.

What to buy: Professor Green's first single will be released in March 2010, followed by the album in May.

File next to: Plan B, Eminem, Example, the Streets.


Tomorrow's new band: Freelance Whales.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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