There aren't many rappers, on either side of the Atlantic, that can boast a journey from street-level mixtape acclaim to household name and respected veteran. In terms of style, both image and sound, Giggs hasn't budged one bit since emerging in '06; he not so much found his place, but more or less created a lane for himself and forced everyone else to adjust. No stranger to controversy, Giggs has had his live shows shut down at the request of the police, with the same institution threatening to derail his past label situation to boot. Not to mention a perceived blanket-ban on TV and mainstream radio. Speaking to his resilience and strength of character, what we've seen in response is a rapper who has doubled down his efforts and persevered in the face of adversity, time and time again. Trusting that the connection between artist and supporter would overcome the blockade from outside forces was the gamble, and it was one that paid off.
On the eve of the drop of his fourth studio album Landlord, Complex caught up with Giggs in a triumphant and celebratory mood. In the coming days, more controversy would follow: symptomatic of the constant fight-back he's faced, largely based on the preconceived notions of his past. When later pressed for further comment, the rapper stressed he was keen to put it behind him and continue to focus on the album's rollout—and fair play to him. Days after speaking with Giggs, the justification came when Landlord entered the album chart at No. 2 as a fully independent release. As a product of his environment, Giggs has grown, matured and experienced enough to last a lifetime. But one thing he won't stop doing is talking the hardest.
Interview by Tobi Oke
When I think back to your first radio interview with Tim Westwood, it almost felt like an interrogation—almost as if you were afraid to speak.
You know what? Them times man was a proper gang-banger. My whole life in the streets, I was taught not to answer questions and just keep my mouth shut. So when I got into music, all of that had to go out the window. I didn't know I was conditioned that way until now, plus I'm older.
You definitely seem more comfortable in interviews now.
Yeah, man. With me, I'm quite a shy bredda, so it's when I get to know someone—just like any shy person—you just open up more.
Listening to your old mixtapes brings back memories for me, to a certain time and place, and I imagine it's the same for you?
Definitely, because everything means something to me. I was going through something when I made every project. Even now, when everything's going good, I still go through shit. It might be more positive, but it's still an experience. You can see it through my music; I'm a man who puts all his emotions into it.
Let's take it back to when "Talking Da Hardest" popped off in '07—how did you ground yourself and figure out what to do next?
I just thought, "Shit! I've gotta make more bangers." [Laughs] I knew it was hard when I made it—I just didn't think it would go off like that. You never really know what will be the one to blow.
You work with other rappers frequently—whether that's in your crew, or from elsewhere. If you're ever in a situation where you don't really like their verse, how does one handle that?
I'll just tell them. I'll be like, "Cuzzzzz..." [Laughs] It depends whose project it is, to be honest. If it's my project, I have to say something, but if it's theirs I'll just hint like: "Nah, I dunno you know. You could've gone in a lot harder there." If they still don't listen and think it's hard, I'll just leave it.
Just looking at some of the features on the album, how did you form a relationship with CasIsDead?
Me, I'm just such a fan of music. So if I like something, I'll just get obsessed!
That's something I picked up in old interviews: you weren't so forthcoming with appreciation for other rappers.
If I said I wasn't listening to anyone, I probably wasn't—straight up! I'm an honest person when it comes to the music. You saw it with Hollow Meets Blade; them times there, Blade Brown was more on the South West [London] side, and, as you probably know...
Yeah, it was a bit sticky back then. South East and South West didn't have the closest of bonds a decade ago.
Yeah, but with Blade, I just hollered him. I didn't know him—I just hit him up on MySpace like: "Your ting's mad, fam." Even with Tempman, at that time it was very nuts. He knew one of my bredrins from 'narm so I just asked him to line it up. Fuck it.
When that track first came out—I don't know if you know, but a lot of people thought you two were going at each other on the same track.
It's funny you say that because when we actually made the tune, he thought that as well. When I said "Tempman, Mr Ice Cream", they thought I was talking at him because I was Mr Ice Cream back then. But back to CAS, I was in the car listening to Yinka on Rinse FM when I heard him and thought: "Yo! Who's that?" At first I thought it was Wretch; you know how they've got that similar North London way of saying words? It sounded like him to me, but just a bit cleaner. So finally, I just rang Yinka and she told me it was CasIsDead. Then I remembered: Dizzee had been trying to show me about him but I was fully sleeping. So I went back and started listening to all of his old stuff. All of it!
Even the old grime stuff when he was Castro?
Yep! I listened to all of that. He's my bredrin, still. He's very intelligent too; he uses a lot of big words in his music [laughs]. I just DM'd him, got his number, "bruv, your stuff is crazy", and it all happened from there.
Do you have a favourite track on Landlord?
I like "Just Swervin" a lot. Whenever that comes on, I always end up bringing it back a couple times.
You don't live in Peckham anymore, I'm guessing. What do you miss about not living in that side of London, if anything?
Nah, no way! I guess what I miss is just the community, to be honest. But there's so many snakes down there. It's long for me, man.
When you look back at it now, in hindsight, do you ever regret how hard you used to ride for the area?
I never rid for the area. I just rid for me or my family—you know them ones? Sometimes people that you care about in the ends might get into a madness, you ride for them, but it's not a thing of: "Man's chatting shit about Peckham? What!" Even in one freestyle, I say: "I ain't even flagging again / Too many snake niggas I ain't flagging for dem."
You to spat over grime riddims way, way back. I think I heard something—was it with you and Joe Grind?
[Laughs] I can definitely tell you're from South. That was early! It was like when garage was just turning darker, right before grime. I've always done whatever anyway. There's always been that kinda tempo on my tapes, even on "Man-A-Badman", so when people say I jumped on grime they need to do their research. Man's been murking before it was even known as grime.
So when Jme asked you to jump on "Man Don't Care", what was your approach to it?
I just thought, "If it's a good beat, I'll jump on it and do my thing." And I definitely did my thing.
On "The Way It Is" from the Let Em Ave It LP, you say how your manager Buck talked you out of quitting rap. Were you ever really serious and what was the lowest point?
I was serious bare times! So many times. And there's been a lot of low points, the lowest probably being when I went back to jail after the music kicked off. I regret that time, but it won't happen again.
In light of your history with the law and the Black Lives Matter movement currently highlighting interactions between police and people of colour, do you have these conversations with your son?
I don't really talk to him about the police, as such, or try and make him negative towards the police. I don't even want him to focus on the negative. I try and show my son success, success, success, so that's all he'll ever know. When I go to meetings, I'll bring him with me. He's learning the business and he doesn't even know he's learning it! I'll make the mandem come round, like Skepta or Tinchy, and when he's hearing us talk, we're talking about positive and successful shit. That's all he needs to hear.