Though a force to be reckoned with since his earliest days in grime collectives N.A.S.T.Y Crew and The Movement, 2021 will surely go down as the year the stars aligned for Ghetts. Making his major label debut back in February with his third LP, the Plaistow-raised rapper subsequently scored his highest ever chart placing, plus his first Mercury Prize nomination. Fittingly, the closing night of his long-awaited UK tour felt like a celebration of a lyrical powerhouse finally receiving his dues, and featured the great and good of UK rap lining up to pay tribute.
The significant step up the star has taken this past nine months was mirrored in the show’s ambitious production values. Emerging astride a giant tank graffitied with the album title Conflict of Interest, on set-opener Fine Wine Ghetts was backed by two synth players and a percussionist set above the stage on a raised platform, plus a five-piece string section positioned stage left.
It wasn’t long before the 37-year-old was bringing out the big name guests, with Dizzee Rascal bounding out to trade bars during the murky G-funk of Fire and Brimstone, Emeli Sandé providing soulful choruses during a saxophone-powered rendition of Sonya, and Shakka reprising his role on 2017 single Know My Ting. Other cameos included Pa Salieu, Backroad Gee, Aida Lea, Jaykae and Suspect OTB, before the set peaked with a trio of A-list turns from Giggs, Kano and Stormzy, during Crud, Class of Deja and Skengman respectively.
The levels of affection and respect each guest displayed for their host only backed up Ghetts’ standing in the industry, each clearly delighted to see the star enjoying his moment. And while a lesser artist could so easily have been overshadowed, Ghetts remained the focal point throughout by virtue of his rapid-fire rhymes and lyrical prowess.
His flow was at its most fearsome during Crud - which received repeated reloads much to the audience’s delight - the Kano-collaboration Class of Deja, and 2010’s Artillery, a fan favourite which benefited hugely from the embellishment of live strings. Equally, there were plenty of more reflective moments too, with Ghetts laying bare his life’s struggles on Autobiography and Dead To Me, and candidly addressing the pressures and expectations that come with providing for loved ones during Proud Family.
Conflict of Interest’s lead single Mozambique provided the set with a powerful conclusion, and featured what felt like the entirety of the Roundhouse bellowing along with Moonchild Sanelly’s chorus. And when a friend bounded onstage mid-song to shower Ghetts with champagne, it proved the perfect climax to - what must surely be - one of the best rap shows this year.