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Partway through the smoky torch song “That Ring Down the Drain Kind of Feeling,” Obaro Ejimiwe pleads, “Please, don’t let that darkness take over me.” He fades behind a buzzsaw guitar and the return of a sultry femme fatale vocal chorus, but the internal struggle is what pervades and drives Ghostpoet’s new album Shedding Skin. It’s been that way since the Coventry, England-based rapper’s 2011 debut. It was called Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam after all.
Calling Ghostpoet a rapper is a bit like tagging a genre to Leonard Cohen. No matter what, it probably won’t mean exactly what it usually does. What else could you call it, maybe spoken word? Lacking many conventional rhymes and touting a stream-of-consciousness flow, Ejimiwe deals with contemporary strife in a life well outside the fast lane. “Off Peak Dreams” is one of the only moments at a jogging pace, the world spinning around an average Joe just trying to get something to scratch together in his pockets. No real gangsta shit here or anywhere else really on “Shedding Skin,” just stressing and “grinding daily.” “Looking for the answers,” he says. “Working it out, one day at a time.” Haunting him throughout, Ejimiwe mentions the voices inside his head by name on the title track. Their echoes tell him the world is mostly grey gloom.
For the American audience, there’s some British slang, but the themes are not at all foreign. Ghostpoet just has the same smoldering rage that wells inside everyone worried their life has stagnated. (Ejimiwe spent six years working at a call center before cracking the music world.) His voice is a bellicose, edged with danger, but calm when he says, “You think you know me, you never know me.” It’s all brought on by the claustrophobia of being trapped scraping by in the mundane world. “Simmer down” he repeats to himself over and over.
Love in his life from that discontent. Fighting, too much to drinking, “patience down to a thread,” Ghostpoet gets the usual, but no less painful beatdown we all get at the hands of love on “Yes I Helped You Pack.” While Ejimiwe’s voice is the guiding one throughout the album, a feminine counterpart provides the otherside of the story to great effect. “I wanna feel magic and stars, is that too much to ask?” the two duet on “Sorry My Love It’s You Not Me.” The highlight of their interplay, however, is “That Ring Down the Drain Kind of Feeling” with it’s Massive Attack like trip-hop sound. It’s “a guitar record” after all, according to Ejimiwe. Guitar, occasionally grungy and then bluesy, blurs over the top of depth-plumping bass lines and pitterpat drum kit. The ambiance has the same slightly twitchy insecurities as the ghostly poet leader — going low and slow and then manic. But for all the grey and sadness, when “Nothing in the Way” rolls around to conclude the record, it feels like Ghostpoet has shrugged off the demons, “shed” the dead skin. “Life’s, at times, kind of difficult,” giving up would be the easy thing to do, but then in come the strings — notes of victory. “We all fall down, but when we get up, nothing in the world can stop us,” he repeats over and over again. “It’s what I believe. It’s what I believe…”