Ghetts: Conflict of Interest review – one giant leap for grime

You don’t often find real strings and horns on a grime album. But these instruments mesh exceptionally well with the cut-and-thrust of UK hip-hop – more specifically, with the moving storytelling of 36-year-old Ghetts.

Justin Clarke’s years in the shadows of his better-rewarded peers have ended with this terrific major-label debut, as he moves his story – and the genre – forwards. Conflict of Interest, his third studio release, has both cinematic scope and tear-jerking moments. Against innovative backdrops (often by producer TenBillion Dreams), Ghetts spits about familiar tropes: the superlative Skengman tells of tit-for-tat violence with innovation; No Mercy features icy, left-field production and new talent Pa Salieu. Other guests range from the game’s biggest beasts – Stormzy, Dave, Dizzee, Skepta, Giggs – to South African siren Moonchild Sanelly.

But when you least expect it, Good Hearts takes a detour into UK funky, and the rest of the album finds room for candour and feeling. Ghetts misses a teenage girlfriend whose life goes astray (Sonya), tries to understand a vexed relationship (Dead to Me). Multiple voices chip into the storytelling, via answerphone messages, DJ shouts and ad libs, all circling round this veteran’s dextrously told tales of ADHD, stealing cars and weaving around obstacles.