The Pro Green Effect
Having reached great success as the freshest rap artist to come out of the UK over the last year, I spoke to Professor Green (who earned his name because ‘I was a keen horticulturalist when younger, I had green fingers.’) while he did his weekly shop at Waitrose. This Hackney born jack-the-lad once had a place at St Paul’s School but turned down a scholastic trajectory for a genuine hip-hop education, sourced in the battle ring, earning a name for himself as a freestyler; the most ‘off-the-top-of-the-head’ wordsmith of the UK rap world. With a string of awards to his name, his once crooked teeth set straight, a first album which reached number two and collaborations with made musicians such as Lily Allen, he explained what was coming up next.
‘What do they call it? Yeah the difficult 2nd album. It came really easily to me though,’ he boasted mildly before relenting to a good measure of what he calls the British self-deprecation infused in so many of his tracks, ‘You know, when I write melodies in my head they sound perfect but when I actually sing, unfortunately it sounds like me.’
Immediately it was evident that Pro Green has struck a balance between the ‘aggy yoot’ he once embodied way back when, whose prevalence is marked in tracks like ‘Upper Clapton Dance,’ an ode to life in the East End where ‘all these cats looking to lash on your goodies;’ and the eloquent young man who broke away from the throes of the rap game to win over a more mainstream target audience. The road was a long one. ‘It took 8 years to make my first album. Until then all I’d done was battle. I released a mixtape, an EP and one single; it was a stagnant situation. Then the label went under and it looked bad but I think it was an important part of the journey because I wasn’t ready then.’ The label he refers to was The Beats, owned by Streets frontman Mike Skinner, which took a turn for the worse in 2008 leaving Green and associated acts such as a younger Example (who?) to fend for themselves. ‘I started doing things which I shouldn’t have been doing.’ See artist’s name. ‘I went through a couple of things, you know my Dad took his own life and then a year after that I got stabbed — I just started wondering what I was doing it for. My life wasn’t really progressing, and as much fun as I found it (the music), it was just a hobby.’ However, things got better almost as quickly as they turned sour when Green met Lily Allen, or ‘Lils’ as he affectionately calls her.
From his meeting with Allen and collaboration on the track ‘Just be Good to Green’ he found a new image, one that left behind the Jungle and the frustration at his fruitless experience of music thus far. The transition was incredibly fast from the more genre orientated label he had once been with to the commercial behemoth that is Virgin Records. In spite of this Green had anticipated the necessity for easier music which didn’t only blitz listeners with hard bars about the code of the streets, composing popular tracks such as ‘I Need You Tonight’ and ‘Stereotypical Man’ years before the move over. At the suggestion that he may have consciously began to gear his music toward the chart formula, where ‘if you get a certain producer to compose a hook and you make a dance song, you’ve automatically got a number one,’ he snapped, ‘What, as if I somehow left behind my roots? I think it’s ignorant for people to expect me to make one song over and over again.’ Though he hastened to sooth the conversation with the personal insight that, ‘There is a happy side to me, it might not rear its head too often but it does exist.’
He raises a fair point, that as a rapper one has to decide whether to remain in obscurity or ‘sell-out’ to a degree. He tells us of the early days when he used ‘to roll with Skinny(man,) Jehst and Taskforce’ all UK hip-hop heavyweights, ‘I wasn’t really exposed to that even until later because there wasn’t that much of it around; I used to be a big Jungle fan before I got into hip-hop.’ The plain fact is that either you pull a Dizzee Rascal and start making music with David Guetta, track names turn from ‘Hold Ya Mouf’ to ‘Holiday’ or you stick with what you know, carry on making ‘hard, hard music purely because that’s what they live’ and end up either in jail, or dead, or like JME. It’s easy for speculators to claim that popular music nowadays is abhorrent, perpetuated by the recyclable offspring of soulless initiatives such as X-Factor; but one can hardly blame characters like Pro Green for taking that step to stardom. In fact, though not one of the serious culprits, he accepts that music made in a purely profitable vein ‘loses its integrity and it loses its voice – it’s not really made for a purpose other than getting to No 1 and that’s not the aim is it?’
Conceding that today’s music isn’t quite what he wished it was he explained the influences which brought him to the sound he coined for himself. ‘I’ve not adapted that much you see, I still use the same musical features that I brought from the beginning. I listen to everything from Portishead to Nirvana. All those influences are still prevalent in my music. My favourite rap artist is still Biggie and I listened to a lot of US hip-hop because there was more of it than in the UK.’ On the topic of his lyrics he pensively described the writing process ‘Instead of sitting down and working out what rhymes with what, it comes more naturally. One thing I avoid is the typical bravado you hear so much today, it bores me to listen to it. You need a level of cockiness, that’s good – it’s appealing. I take the mickey out of myself as much as anyone. Too many people take themselves too seriously man!’
That said, Green has had his fair share of real life; namely his father’s suicide, the drugs and the attempt on his own life outside a London nightclub – events which he has taken in stride and channelled into his music, adding a refreshing dimension to the standard materialistic content of most mainstream ‘tunes’ today. ‘A line I spit at the end of “Avalanche” is “the damaged become dangerous” because we know we can survive and that puts us in a very powerful position.’
We certainly haven’t seen the last of Green, who definitely stands a cut above a majority of popular UK urban acts around now, but whether we can expect much more than is questionable. He may not be Biggie, but at least he’s a clever, decent guy and that’s more than can be said for Dappy.