Ghostpoet: soundtrack of my life

The Mercury-nominated rapper on dancing to UB40 as a child and his Muddy Waters obsession

Obaro Ejimiwe, who records as Ghostpoet, was born in south London in 1983. He studied media production in Coventry and spent nearly a decade making music – and working in call centres to pay the bills – before he got noticed. His debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, was nominated for a Mercury prize in 2011 and his third album, Shedding Skin, came out earlier this month. This summer he plays Wychwood, Parklife, Womad and Festival No 6.

The record that reminds me of my childhood

Food for Thought, UB40 (1980)

I remember dancing to this as a kid at Christmas time in our two-bedroom flat in Tooting Bec [in south London]. We had a dodgy vinyl copy and you had to put a two-pence piece on the needle to stop it from skipping, but I was obsessed with putting it on. (My dad had one of those big wooden HMV record players and if you touched it without his permission, you’d get bollocked.) There was something about this track, and the saxophone intro in particular, that pricked up my ears. Maybe the sadness it evoked struck a chord with me. My upbringing was all right – it wasn’t bad – but I’ve always been drawn to melancholic sounds.

The first song that stopped me in my tracks

Cause a Rockslide, Badly Drawn Boy (2000)

This song has soundtracked so many moments in my life. I remember buying Badly Drawn Boy’s debut album [The Hour of Bewilderbeast] from Woolworths in Tooting Broadway when I was 17 and taking it home and playing it for hours and hours. There were so many layers to each track and I became obsessed with them. This particular track is so ramshackle: I imagine it like a collage of photographs cut out of a magazine and stuck together with masking tape. It felt steeped in emotion, but not emotions that I could fully understand at that age. I had no plan to make music back then: I was storing up songs like a hoarder hoarding teapots, for no particular reason.

The record that started me on a musical path

Iambic 9 Poetry, Squarepusher (2004)

I heard this track on an HMV Playlist CD when I was finishing my degree in Coventry and it stood out by a country mile. I was starting to dabble with production and it was astounding to hear a piece of music that wasn’t afraid to break the rules. There’s a section where it goes a bit mad and you’re not sure what’s going to happen next, and then it comes back with this rolling jungle-style beat – when I played it to my mates they were all gobsmacked. It was a lightbulb moment for me: “It’s possible to do that? Wow, OK.”

The track that made me want to become a better writer

Crucify Your Mind, Rodriguez (1970)

This is such a beautiful, sad song. I loved the documentary Searching for Sugar Man – the struggles Rodriguez went through on his road to recognition really affected me. I bought the soundtrack the next day and was blown away by his lyrics: their potency, poetry and depth. Crucify Your Mind is such an amazingly well-written song that doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s like he’s saying: “I’m here next to you right now and I know exactly what you’re going through.”

The record that always brings me to tears

Pyramid Song, Radiohead (2001)

I was obsessed with the album Amnesiac for years – I’m a massive Radiohead fan – but I left it alone for a while to maintain my sanity, basically. A couple of years ago, just before my second album came out, I found the limited edition on vinyl in Amsterdam and brought it home. I was living in a little room in Dalston at the time. It was really late at night and I remember the wind howling outside and the window rattling away and it was all intertwined with the strings and Thom Yorke’s voice. It wasn’t a great time in my life and this was like a warm, melancholic blanket around me. Sad music can be a comfort in a weird way: it’s like an understanding of the feelings you’re going through. Thankfully I’m in happier times now: it’s blue skies in Tooting today!

The record that has become my eternal earworm

The Passenger, Iggy Pop (1977)

This song refuses to retire from my memory banks. Many a night I remember getting very silly to it on the dancefloor. The guitar line is so hypnotic and the bass just rattles your chest. I love the lyrics too. It’s such a dark, toxic sonic journey. He’s talking about the filth of the city he’s living in but the song has quite a jolly melody. There’s something about the juxtaposition of those two elements, the dark and the light, that always intrigues me, and I try to bring it into my own music.

Mannish Boy, Muddy Waters (1955)

This song starts with the line “Everything gonna be all right this morning”, and I’m just like, “Yeah, that’s what I need to hear!” It’s the last track I play before leaving my house and the last track I play before going on stage. It’s my phone ringtone as well. I’m a bit obsessed with Muddy Waters – I have his face tattooed on my arm. There are so many versions of this song but I particularly like the one on Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live [1979]. It’s so ramshackle and uncompromising and raw: it’s just the bee’s knees.

The last great record I heard

Projections, Romare (2015)

I really love the Romare album. It has a Detroit house feel and I haven’t listened to that kind of stuff for ages, having been in an indie-rock bubble for such a long time. I heard one of his tracks, Prison Blues, on the radio and I was just like, “What the hell is this?” I can’t find much info about him but I’ve been listening to his album a lot. It’s a great record: really deep and soulful but quite upbeat at the same time.


Interview by Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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