Newham-bred rapper Guvna B on his new book, knife crime’s root causes and #Grime4Corbyn
- Credit: Archant
“We had what I would call a ‘council estate of mind’. Our benchmark for success was how impressive the local drug dealer’s car was, or which of the native gang members had the most respect.”
So writes Guvna B of his childhood in Newham, a world away from his present as a two-time Mobo Awards winner and bestselling gospel artist.
The 27-year-old rapper (real name Isaac Borquaye) is used to putting his thoughts to music, but stepped out of his comfort zone to write Unpopular Culture, an honest account of his life and career, with his faith framing discussions into peer pressure and feelings of not fitting in.
“I was walking to Canning Town station and saw a billboard. It had a message, something like always look out for number one,” he told the Recorder.
“I kind of had a brainwave, we’re taught – in the environment I grew up in especially – to always look out for number one, to make as much money as you want, to get cars and girls.
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“I thought what if we were to live life trying to help people less fortunate than ourselves, and giving encouragement to go against the grain.
“It’s a book for people to just look out for each other and try and do the right thing, spread a bit more love.”
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Guvna B, who now lives in Greenwich, grew up in Custom House, the son of Ghanaian parents who moved to England “in search of a better life”.
Speaking to the Recorder in 2010, after bagging his first of two Best Gospel Act wins at the Mobos, the rapper, who had “lost a lot of friends through knife crime”, described being at a “crossroads” before gospel changed his life.
He became the first rapper to top the official Christian and gospel charts, has shared the stage with Tinie Tempah and Wretch 32 and his album Secret World was the biggest-selling ‘clean/non-explicit’ rap record of 2015.
Unpopular Culture is dotted with scripture and personal anecdotes centring on estate life, family and his “humbling” success. The rapper admits in the final pages that writing it was one of the hardest things he has done.
A key theme is confronting feelings of not fitting in.
“I actually think young people who have depression, mental health [issues], or are doing a lot of anti-social behaviour, they do a lot of that because they feel they are not loved or liked.
“I want people to understand everyone is unique and special, no matter what people say, you can do anything you put your mind to regardless of your background.”
Guvna B also spoke about knife crime, in light of the capital’s recent spate of attacks. During two weeks in May, 11 people were stabbed to death.
Discussing the potential root causes, he said: “I think there’s a few things, I don’t think it’s as simple as put the knives down.
“The messaging has been very reactive, I think you need to be proactive and find out why young people feel they need to do this stuff and I think it’s a lack of role models in their area and up their estate, we need more younger role models doing really positive things.”
Although he doesn’t “go out to be a role model”, Guvna B visits schools to chat to pupils and is politically-engaged.
He has appeared on the BBC to discuss the general election, and admires the #Grime4Corbyn campaign.
“I have been encouraging young people to get more involved politically, even if they feel it won’t affect them now because it will in the future,” he said.
“I’m a huge fan of people like Jeremy Corbyn. He’s made an effort to embrace grime culture and to work with young people, it’s an amazing thing.
“I think that’s why grime has backed him so much.”
Unpopular Culture will be released on June 15, price £7.99. You can pre-order at amazon.co.uk.