Ghostpoet is the stage name of British experimental hip hop artist Obaro Ejimiwe (b. January 18, 1983). Originally from South East London, Ejimiwe also spent a number of years living in the English town of Coventry. While living in Coventry, he earned a degree in Media Production, where he was also part of a hip hop/grime collective of music-minded individuals. After graduating, and working a number of 9-5 jobs, he decided to follow his passion for music. He caught the attention of BBC Radio 1's Gilles Peterson, who quickly signed Ejimiwe to his Brownswood Recordings label. In June 2010, he released a free EP into the public domain called “The Sound Of Strangers,” which led to a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize. His debut single, “Cash & Carry Me Home,” was released in January 2011. Less than a month later, it was followed by the release of his debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, which was met with critical acclaim.
Ghostpoet is the perfect stage name for someone who creates experimental hip hop that's both murky and mysterious. Obaro Ejimiwe, the man behind the spooky moniker, is a British hip hop artist who's traded a life of 9 to 5 jobs in favor of following his passion for music. In early 2011, he released his debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. We recently spoke with Ejimiwe to find out how his location influences his music, and how a popular American comfort food inspired his album title.
Band of the Day: Question: Having split your time living between London and Coventry, how much does location come into play with your music?
Ghostpoet: I guess subconsciously I'm sort of inspired by the environments I'm around. A lot of the album that's out now [Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam] is a product of the Coventry environment. I don't really go seek out things around me. It's more about living and enjoying and experiencing the world around me and letting that soak into my brain to use as fuel later on for music!
Band of the Day: You studied media production in Coventry, but what made you decide to pursue music instead of media and video production?
Ghostpoet: I was living a life in Coventry that resulted in me not being able to take on [media production] opportunities, because I needed to pay bills. Even though the experience would have been great, I knew I couldn't take on jobs that would only pay for 6 months of the year. After a couple of years, it just didn't make sense to try and get into that field anymore. But music was something I was always doing as a serious hobby, and it just naturally progressed into something that I wanted to do.
Band of the Day: What’s been your most surreal moment so far as a musician?
Ghostpoet: Just playing to big audiences, headlining my own tour and playing on programs like Jools Holland. Also being nominated for a Mercury Prize, and just having music as a career! Even though I've loved and wanted to make music from a very early age, I never really envisioned it happening. That in itself is a surreal moment!
Band of the Day: Do you have any specific examples of moments where a fan said or did something really nice for you?
Ghostpoet: It’s not just one moment, but it's so many lovely and touching words. I've had people come up to me and say that my music's gotten them through particular moments in their lives, or saying that it's inspired them to do their own stuff. It's amazing for me to hear because I've just made music for music's sake. It's never been my mission to make inspirational music or cultivating fans, it's just been to make good sounds, you know?
Band of the Day: What would you say is the most difficult part about putting your music and your heart out on the line, and what’s the most rewarding?
Ghostpoet: I guess in the beginning the most difficult thing was the idea that I’m just being judged, you know? That I’m out on stage, or my music is out there and people will make up their own opinion. I know how I want to be portrayed, musically, but it's hard to get that across because everyone has their own opinion on things. But I realized that that's the beauty of music.
Band of the Day: So you're Band of the Day today, but who's your band of the day today?
Ghostpoet: Hmm, I've been listening to The Invisible [from London] a lot today! They're very good, and are just finishing up an album that should be out soon.
Band of the Day: You're called Ghostpoet, so do you actually have any good ghost stories?
Ghostpoet: [laughs] No, I don't! I think maybe when I was younger I might have seen a couple of things, but you can’t trust yourself when you’re a kid.
Band of the Day: If you could be haunted by the ghost of anyone from music past, who would that be?
Ghostpoet: Nina Simone!
Band of the Day: I saw a YouTube video of your dog, Stanley, picking out a competition winner. How did that come about?
Ghostpoet: [laughs] I like to, you know, get the family involved as much as possible. My misses does all of my graphic design [including his debut album cover], and it made sense to have Stanley just have a part in, y’know, the grand scheme of things.
Band of the Day: And do you think Stanley will pick out future tracks of yours, or the track order of your next album?
Ghostpoet: We could give him that responsibility but it’s a lot of pressure so we don’t want to make him a nervous wreck [laughs].
Band of the Day: Ok, so I keep going back to your album title [Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam] and how it's inspired by this inherently American comfort food. How did that come about for you? I mean, when I was living in the UK, a lot of people never heard of PB&J and thought that it was a disgusting combination [laughs]!
Ghostpoet: It’s definitely not common over here! I guess it came about when the album was almost finished, and we needed to come up with a title for it. So it was a case of trying to tap into what I was emotionally trying to say [with my music]. It was an album that had a lot of melancholy going for it. And also the idea of the blues, and being down, but with one eye open on the future. I thought it was important for me to reflect what I connect with those feelings, and for me I like to eat. It's a comfort thing, and I'll eat whenever I'm feeling a bit down. I like peanut butter and I like jam, and the combination kind of made its way onto the title!
Band of the Day: What’s the best way for you to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich?
Ghostpoet: I’ve only really had a peanut butter and jam sandwich once! I have peanut butter regularly on its own, and I have jam regularly on its own, but together I’ve literally only had it once [laughs]! I liked it, but I felt that it was a bit too strange of a combination to keep in my life, so it was this one time thing.
Band of the Day: You know you should try peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich.
Ghostpoet: Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich? My misses is nodding in approval, so I think I may need to try this!
Band of the Day: And if you wanna go down the “Elvis route” you can add some bacon.
Ghostpoet: Oh NO! No! [laughs]
Band of the Day: You didn’t hear that from me if it's disgusting [laughs]! So what do you consider your own personal measure of success? What kind of defines that for you?
Ghostpoet: Having a long-lasting career where I can continue to make music and be able to pay my bills and provide for my family, and make music that I want to make. That to me is success.
Band of the Day: So do you think that when you are say, 80 years old, you’ll still be creating music?
Ghostpoet: Yeah! I'll become an old blues guy. I’ll call myself, “One Eyed Ghost,” 'cause I’ll probably only have one eye by then. So I’ll call myself One Eyed Ghost and do the blues thing. You could do that for years, you could do that until you’re a hundred [laughs]!
Band of the Day: So do you have any New Year's resolutions?
Ghostpoet: Umm…to eat more healthily on tour, and to continue to make music that I am happy to play to myself.
Band of the Day: Going off of that, do you get a lot of pressure to go in other directions?
Ghostpoet: Not really, but it's inevitable that you become subconsciously aware of what makes people tick—the people that listen to your music. You start to see what tracks work live, and what tracks people find as their favorites. And from that you realize, “OK, they like that track and this track, so if I make more tracks like that, then I will hopefully have more success,” do you know what I mean? I think it's a case of constant mental battle to dismiss that, to dismiss the praise and accolades and just stick to the path that I started with—which was really just to make music for the fun of it, and music that I truly want to make for myself. So that's why it really is a New Year's resolution! That, and to be healthy, happy, and creative.