“A Day With…” is a break from the traditional interview format. At a time when five minute press slots are now the norm, we wanted to bring you closer to some of your favourite artists, observing them candidly in their day-to-day settings. Thus, “A Day With…” was born. Peak behind the curtain and enjoy.
The drive down to East London was peppered with red lights and rain drops. But this was no cause for alarm nor disruption for Giggs, who on this stormy summer afternoon, was safe and dry in the haven of a heavy set 4×4. It was a sports series, steely black, smelled of freshly cleaned leather, and though the windows were not tinted, something he seemed mildly aggrieved about, it kept a distance, if only in mind, from the outside world, which had been victim to heaven’s moan and was now awash with rain and sleet.
He had his foot gently pressed on the gas and continued swishing silently along the damp tarmac roads that linked the North and East of the city, thinking quietly about the album he would be releasing in four days. And though it was to be his first LP in three years, his first since a full, amicable parting with XL Recordings, his first since UK rap’s recent upturn in fortunes, he seemed relaxed, at ease.
Everything, for the most part, was now in place. Music videos had been treated, shot and edited; posters had been designed, printed and splayed on brick walls across the country and, perhaps most importantly, the music had been mixed, mastered and turned in. Now all that remained for Giggs was the refining details, relatively minor affairs like launch parties and magazine interviews. The final stretch had crept into focus and was now laid out on the horizon ahead of him. “My fourth album,” he said, grinning, “I’m used to how this goes.”
And now, even though he now no longer had the backing of a corporate machine, he felt confident in his team, felt that a label would at this point only slow him down. After eight years in the music industry he and his manager Buck, were used to marketing and press, used to the string of interviews needed to spread the word and the platforms best served to do so.
Though shy, he did not appear nervous about these things, as perhaps he had been at the start. He knew many of the editors, writers and radio DJs personally, perhaps knew that by now he just had to be himself, and more importantly seemed to carry a confidence deep within that the album, ‘The Landlord’, 16 tracks long, was some of his finest work to date.
So he kept driving, hands fixed firmly to the wheel, a tirade of rainwater blasting his windshield, and he said he felt, as many do who have shifted from the streets to some form of legitimate business, a profound sense of gratitude. Buried under his blue jacket and chequered t-shirt was a thankfulness, a relief that long afternoons like this one, no matter how wet, were now spent outside without worry and not in the confines of a trap house; that even though he was trained to move lowkey, he no longer had to.
“When I used to be in the trap,” he said. “That’s all I used to do. Every day, trap trap trap. Home, trap, home, trap.”
“But things are better now. I’m grateful to be alive, so every day I thank god. I can get up when I want to; I’ve got money in my pocket, I can feed my family, pay my bills. There’s nothing more that I could ask for.”
At this point, in his mid 30s, with two kids and having steered his life into a new, more positive direction, he savoured the little things, the tasks that many perhaps took for granted. He weaved them into his raps and posted them up on Instagram: the freedom to move around how he wished, to hang plaques on his wall, to walk to the shops in his pyjamas.
“That’s a big deal fam,” he said, still driving. “You think man could be slipping in pyjamas in the hood fam? When you go out you’ve got to be stepping out ready, like ‘This might be it.’ So when I’m saying lyrics like that, it might sound like man’s stunting, but man’s just grateful.
“Going shops in pyjamas,” he mumbled again. “This is serious fam.”
After tenting at a gravelly car park in Shoreditch, and then sitting for an interview at a fashion magazine nearby, Giggs was hungry and in search of lunch. He was now with his manager Buck who, like him, was also from the South East of London. Buck had been a rapper at one point in his life, still dabbled every once in awhile, but now he seemed content in his role as management and today scheduled phone interviews and other business from his smart phone. And though these were all very serious matters, with money and careers at stake, he kept a good humour about himself.
He was, on occasion, vegan and so five minutes later the pair had settled at a pop-up mall above a train station. Giggs was ordering food and drinks at the till of a Jamaican restaurant, fisting over his debit card to the waiter, a young man in his mid-twenties who was now eyeing him suspiciously.
“I think I know you from somewhere,” the waiter said, “Are…you…Giggs?”
The waiter, unable to conceal his shock, began quickly rummaging in his pocket.
“Giggs Giggs?” he mumbled again softly, almost to himself as if still unsure. Then he looked up, drew his iPhone from his trouser pocket and asked sheepishly for a picture.
By now, and at this stage in his career, this was a scene not too uncommon for Giggs. And even though he had spent the best part of his adult years deliberately maintaining a low profile, scuttling in silence across South London, he was now a celebrity of sorts, a recognisable face. And as he walked the streets, as he had done on this wet, mild afternoon, eyes from strangers would often follow him.
Drivers leaned from their cars, straining their necks for a better glimpse, or passers by nodded at him warmly, as if they had known him for years. They were, for a few seconds, momentarily paralysed in his presence, an effect that he could not hope to escape, certainly not in London, where his music was most popular, where even in a queue for food it seemed he could not blend quietly into his surroundings.
“It’s weird to me,” he said, now tossing down his rum punch and stirring his curry. “Because I’m not really out there, I’m normal, I’m still from ‘narm. Even after music I’m still in the hood, my brother’s in jail, I’ve even been to jail since. So that’s always kept me grounded. For me it’s never really been about that; showing off. You want people from the hood to know it’s possible.”
He seemed very happy, very sincere, no different to how he had been in the car.
“Bare times people would stop me and be like, ‘Yeah man, you helped me for real.’ But I don’t know what to say, bruv. That’s mad, that’s a big responsibility.”
“Like…what the fuck do you say? I wanna hug them and that but I don’t want to be a weirdo.”
Giggs continued eating, talking with Buck and a few other friends including JME and Shredda, who were now also seated at the long wooden picnic bench. When they were finished, JME, who was well known for driving a Tesla and had parked it only a few streets away, gathered the leftovers into a paper bag and stuffed it into a bin at the end of table. He wanted to take Giggs for a ride. When they reached the Tesla, sat a little way up Shoreditch high street, Giggs climbed into the passenger seat and the steel beast thundered down the narrow road.
He appeared twenty minutes later, grinning wildly. JME had dropped him off at the Ace Hotel where Buck was now waiting outside. “That was futuristic,” Giggs said, smiling. “It was like Hunger Games or some shit, it made my car feel shit.”
The basement bar of the Ace Hotel, a fancy joint framed on a stretch of road where Shoreditch bled into Dalston, had been booked for the weekend’s launch party. But now they were on the second floor, cobbled around a large meeting table in one of the private boardrooms. The clouds had retreated quietly into the west, and through the large window he could now see East London’s concrete canopy scattered across the horizon, the rain-licked edges of cranes and skyscrapers glistening in the late afternoon sun. A tall middle-aged man, who worked events for the hotel, sat on the opposite end of the table. And together the three filed through Saturday’s final details and all other matters concerning the gathering which would certainly spill over into the early hours.
After, the three rode the lift down to the basement to get a final look at the venue. It was an intimate dark space, with a well-stocked bar and a small stage opposite, and had in recent months been used for charity launches, documentary screenings and wild, university trap raves. Giggs and Buck looked around the hall and listened to the middle-aged man run through some final check points: the venue cap; which was a few hundred; and if needed, concessions for a small VIP section and an elevated DJ booth.
“That all sounds good,” Giggs said. “Me and Buck will sort out the guest list later and send that over.” Then they both shook his hand, told him they looked forward to seeing him on Saturday and left the hotel.
“I feel like having some ice cream,” Giggs told Buck, after they had stepped back onto the street. So they loaded into their separate cars and headed further into East London. Giggs drove ahead and Buck tailed him. They left Shoreditch, into Limehouse and continued down an A-road towards the Isle of Dogs and the Blackwall Tunnel.
It was around six in the evening, most were clocking off, and he stared ahead at the stream of cars and lorries and bikes and buses; they were but two specks in a sea of rush-hour traffic. He was still relaxed. He lifted a palm from the wheel and turned up the stereo a few dials and continued to crawl along the road. The radio was a rarity when he drove. He grew up listening to Biggie and Tupac, he said, and then later on, his days in the trap were soundtracked by CD’s and mixtapes, No Limit and Master P.
“I didn’t grow up knowing pop,” he said. “So that’s why I never made it. People say I’ve never conformed but I’ve just always known that I’ve never had to.”
So now, instead of Radio 1, his album trembled the speakers and the rush-hour racket quickly faded to a murmur.
“And I love music too much,” he continued, smirking again. “I could never be rolling in the car and hear something pop that I did.”
“And man rolls with proper niggas, especially my brothers, they’ll be like, ‘Ah, H [Hollowman], what’s this? A money ting?’”
He had skipped past the intro, past ‘Whippin Excursion’ and now a solemn, more somber song fluttered through the sound system. It reminded him of the album’s recording sessions a few months back. He had rented out a studio barn, away from London, among the rolling hills and countrysides of England’s southwest.
Though he had vocaled most of ‘The Landlord’ in the company of friends, this one was recorded alone. And now, mired in traffic, he remembered the depressing effect it had on him, how he had initially left the track half-finished, unable, unwilling to continue. He fell silent and for a moment disappeared in his thoughts.
“I can’t even listen to this tune….” he said trailing off. “It’s too deep, it just fucks up my mood. Too deep….the lyrics….the beat….I just skip it.”
The song finished and the album quickly picked up. Those were different times, things had changed now, for the better. Outside, it had started to rain again. He snapped from his stone-faced daze and now he was back in his car, back in traffic, back on the trawl for ice cream and dessert. The road into East London was peppered with red lights and raindrops, but today he did not mind, he was happy.