why giggs is brilliant, by lily allen
"Everything he does or says has to have purpose or meaning." As the unlikely pals release a single, Lily explains how Giggs helped with finding her artistic voice.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Giggs over the past three years, we've become friends and he's ended up jumping on one of my new songs, Trigger Bang. Actually he has had a huge hand in helping me find my artistic voice again, which I lost somewhere in ’13, along with my post-natal sobriety and later, dignity -- but that’s a whole different article or book -- something that I will be forever indebted to him for.
We met properly at V Festival in ’14. Someone knocked on my portakabin dressing room door and said that a rapper named Giggs was hanging around and asking to meet me. Of course I obliged. We got the introductions and formalities done and took some obligatory pics for the ‘gram, which I had assumed was the real reason for his visit. And then he laid into me slightly.
“I came all this way to see you, you didn't even play my tunes. What about all the first album stuff? That was my album, still”. He ran off a few song titles from my debut Alright, Still, songs that he'd wanted to hear me play, and that I hadn't.
That summer was a disaster from what I remember, I was stubbornly sticking to playing songs from the new album I’d been working on. Despite the fact that none of these songs were being played on the radio, my ego was sure everyone would appreciate my artistic dedication to it, it was brilliant if not misunderstood, or perhaps just very badly presented and communicated.
In short, I was a drunk mess.
I was taken back by this unfiltered critique though, not offended in the slightest, and most definitely intrigued by what he had to say. I did NOT have Giggs down as a fan, but here he was in my dressing room telling me what I probably already knew but didn't want to confront; people wanted to hear the old tracks.
"As the end of 2017 draws closer it’s fair to say this year belonged to Giggs. However his is not a story of overnight success, far from it. Giggs has been making and putting out his own non-genre specific music for over 10 years."
It is this no nonsense, straight to the point approach and attitude that makes Giggs so special and unique. In a backstage compound at V Festival, in a sea of “yes” people, on the payroll people, nice people, rude people, high people, drunk people, talented people, not so talented people, very sure of themselves but not really convincing anyone else people, appeared Giggs. A rapper, a stranger, an actual artist that I liked, bowls into my dressing room to tell me exactly what he thought and I could tell straightaway that it was coming from a place of kindness. We exchanged numbers, he never did upload our pic to IG.
As the end of 2017 draws closer it’s fair to say this year belonged to Giggs. However his is not a story of overnight success, far from it. Giggs has been making and putting out his own non-genre specific music for over 10 years and he has had a die-hard following since the beginning. In fact, in many ways he's been at the top of his game for years. We like to refer to Wiley as being the ‘Godfather of Grime’ and if that is the case then Giggs -- or Hollowman as he is more affectionately known -- is surely the Overlord of UK Rap. I can’t think of a UK artist who's better respected by their peers and fans alike, everyone loves Giggs -- unless of course you work for the Metropolitan Police. For years they saw him as being Public Enemy Number 1. Way back in 2006 Lil Wayne announced him as the support act for one of his London shows, which, for a relatively unknown artist at the time, was a huge opportunity. One that was subsequently revoked without any proper explanation; it just wasn't meant to be.
“Obviously I was upset”, he tells me over the phone. “I just felt sad because I was trying to get myself off the street and do something positive, and then that was just taken away.” It wasn't an isolated incident; he would come up against the same institutionally racist brick wall for many years to come.
“They never issued one of them 696s, it was more subtle than that,” he says. “I think they must have called the venues and threatened them with taking away their licences if they ignored their “friendly” advice, should something happen.” I’ve spoken to a few people and one London club night promoter recalled having to sneak Giggs in the back entrance and having to lie to the venue about him making an appearance. The same promoter added: “I don’t know if this is relevant but artists and performers don’t get the 696. Venues and promoters do.” Cos institutional racism just ain’t institutional racism without a little gaslighting on the side.
XL records received a letter from the Met Police saying that they strongly advise that they don’t sign him. And so on, and so on, and so NOT ON.
All water under the bridge now though, of course.
Summer 2017 and Instagram goes into meltdown when Giggs posts footage of his set at Reading Fest; Drake came out to join him for a surprise rendition of what is now their classic KMT. I have attended many, many, many festivals over the years, but I don't think I have ever (or am ever likely to), witnessed those kinds of scenes again. It was exhilarating, a genuine shivery goose-bump moment. I cried when I saw the video, I cried again watching him play Hammersmith Apollo during his first Landlord tour earlier in the year. I could be way off the mark here, but I don't think Giggs gets off on having masses of followers on social media. I doubt he watches his statistics or engagement data in that way. As nice as it is to have your photos liked by tens of thousands of people, the real validation comes when you're on stage, when people are shouting the lyrics they've memorised at you while they lose themselves in it all. Seeing the glee on Giggs’ face at Hammersmith and at Reading was moving because it was necessary, natural and humble, and so, so deserved. It’s time.
I would say that Giggs has been at the forefront of the scene since its inception and if you define success by chart positions or Brit Award nominations, when both institutions are corrupt and nepotistic marketing ploys that serve the needs of major label executives, superstar producers, managers and not much else, then I guess you could say he is now starting to enjoy the fruits of his labour. If you don't define success in that way, then you might say he has been successful for a long, long time. In October this year he dropped Wamp 2 Dem and Spotify reported him gaining over 1m streams A DAY. ONE MILLION STREAMS PER DAY FFS. With little to no promotion, that is quite frankly, ridiculous. Jay-Z has now done a verse on KMT which he has been performing for his 4.44 shows in the US. No big deal. We should not be surprised however, Giggs has managed to carve out his own career and sustain his loyal fanbase with hardly any support from the traditional outlets. He did it on his own terms, he didn't really have a choice. I wonder if deep down he knew where all this was going, if he has a masterplan? I want to know if what we’re witnessing now is what drove him to keep going in the wake of all the set-backs? I suspect not.
“It’s always been music first. I just love music, yeah,” he tells me. “I guess it was about me getting off the street. I just happened to be the first and then it became about getting everyone else off the street too”. *swoons*
Observing him in the studio, in a working environment, I would assert that he’s a collaborator first and foremost. I’ve been in sessions with him with Youngs Teflon, Mark Ronson, Ragz Originale, CASisDEAD and Fryars, and he seems to get a real thrill working with people, bouncing ideas off each other, offering words of encouragement and reassurance. He clearly loves to see people flourish, and it works too. He's frank and constructive without being condescending or overpowering. Rare qualities in the music-making game. The generosity doesn’t stop in the studio either; his social media accounts are a true reflection of him as a person. He's managed to find his voice online, shouting out other UK artists, posting clips from their videos or congratulating them on their respective achievements. He doesn’t do the irksome standard PR brown-nosing affiliation affirmation posts. Just like he doesn't do features for the sake of it, to get played on the radio. He doesn't do contrived.
Giggs seems to know everything about everyone too, in a musical sense at least, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Where others will happily waffle on about nothing, giving stock answers to unimaginative questions, when he's being interviewed he pauses while he thinks about what he's going to say. But the silence isn't awkward. He's self-assured -- not to be confused with arrogance. Everything he does or says has to have purpose or meaning, to him at least, and that truth, combined with unwillingness to compromise really translates into something unique yet relatable.
I ask him if he gets asked for advice often?
“Yeah, it’s mad you know, people call me all the time. Sometimes about music, managers, deals an’ that, or just general direction. Sometimes it’s help squashing beef,” he laughs. “I’ve even had people I'm not on good terms with asking me for help with their kids. It’s mad how far things have come, it’s funny really." He bursts into laughter. We’re talking on the phone, but in person his laugh is usually accompanied by this incessant, slyly unnerving arm tapping/ slapping that he does, signalling that you too should probably join in, or at least agree with him.
“So, where is this all going? Is it world takeover time? Is SN1 the new Roc Nation? Are you the UK’s answer to Jay-Z? Do you have specific things you want to achieve, goals and what not?”
“Nah, not really,” he says. “I just take it a day at a time. You never know what’s gonna happen do you? Why am I talking to you like this, like you're a journalist, anyway? You know, nothing’s changed.”