Photography by Olivia Rose
There are very few rappers that can paint as vivid a picture of UK street life as Nathaniel Thompson. The Peckham-raised artist, better known as Giggs, began his career selling mixtapes out the boot of his car, gaining a firm reputation for his haunting delivery, dense, trap-influenced productions and strong South London alliances. Back in 2007, the light of the hip-hop scene in London was dim; the likes of Klashnekoff, Black The Ripper and even Skinnyman were upholding a core foundation. However, there was still a gap in the musical climate, one that could unite the darker elements of British lyricism with a less traditional backpack style of rap: less complex wordplay, more energy, and club-ready bangers. “Talkin’ Da Hardest” ignited a new flame and took the limelight from East London back to South of the river. Even after a decade, the impact of his magnum opus can still be felt with a unanimous outcry of “Giggs better pop up in your thoughts as an artist. Jheeze!”
It was a traditionally grey day in London Town, when - after years of reloading his back catalogue – I finally got to sit down with one of UK’s leading rappers. “I don’t really like all of this, photo shoots and stuff, sorry, Hyper,” Giggs tells me as photographer Olivia Rose takes the first shot of the day. It’s understandable; since his break into the music industry, Giggs has faced barrier after barrier; from the police shutting down nearly all his shows, attempting to block his deal with XL Recordings, to the media reinforcing negative stereotypes. Even after his most recent album, Landlord, independently released by his SN1 Label (which reached No. 2 in the official album charts), the media’s careless reporting reached new heights. DJ Vlad sat down with Giggs late last year and quizzed him on prison life, gangs and guns. The video went viral, but not because of the exposing details the rapper revealed, but the honesty and frustration Thompson showed in dealing with the focus constantly on his past. With an elegant maturity, the father of two asked Vlad if he planned on asking about his music at all. “He just started some bullshit,” says Giggs on Vlad’s police-like interrogation. “I’m not really a rude person but I was just thinking ‘What’s this got to do with anything? Really?’ If he did his research, he would know the answers to those questions anyway. I don’t think he even listened to one song!”
Following his progress from mixtape to album, it’s pretty obvious there has been an agenda to subdue Giggs' movement. His dispute with BBC 1Xtra and MTV Base, which he exposed in his 2008 track “Last Straw”, revealed the lack of support from the industry – even after winning a BET Award that very same year. However, it was a review in the NME of his hit record Landlord that created an outcry from his loyal fans - prompting a formal apology from the magazine. In the review, his track “The Process” was misquoted as suggesting he would rape his partner – altering his loving slang terminology of “Man rates her” to “Man rapes her”. The song itself was a cheeky breakdown of the routines of a 21st century relationship. Giggs pauses when I bring up NME’s offensive review. “The bredda was an idiot anyway," the rapper chuckles, as he breaks out his glowing smile. “He was being negative from the beginning. I don’t really give a shit about that, though. He was a wally! He should have just said ‘I’m not really into this music.’ Because he clearly wasn’t."
Giggs has never been shy about his criminal record or his past lifestyle; it’s pretty clear when you hear his music. But after a decade of making club spinners, it must be exhausting to still face this level of stigmatisation. “I don’t really take it that personally, to be honest," he adds. As an entrepreneur, releasing genre-defining music independently from your own label, gaining respect on a global scale – and he still faces negative mainstream attention -- how does one deal with such negativity? “It’s not a big deal, to be honest. Where I was before music, that’s a big deal.” As I attempt to push him for an answer, he slightly rolls his eyes at my endeavour to compare my small levels of stress with his; “That street shit? Gang banging? That was very stressful! Problems I have now though aren’t really problems”.
For years, Giggs was left in the vortex of trying to leave criminal activity behind him and creating avenues to provide for his family with a legitimate career. He was continuously being pushed into traps that would block him from being a figure of success - not only for his community, but the full British rap scene. “Obviously, I was a criminal before - it’s no secret - so I guess I’m just paying for that. But if I wasn’t doing certain things before, I wouldn’t be here right now.” While South London’s leading rap lord highlights the reality of police harassment, whether you’re a rapper, drug dealer or school kid, he says: "We’re used to being treated that way anyway, whatever we do. Walking down the street, minding my own business, getting stopped and harassed... They’re just on man regardless.” He gazes off for a second, before looking almost into my soul, as he adds “That's just how we grow up; same old shit! That's the police."
The landlord walks over to a table mid-shoot and opens his blue plastic bag full of treats. He whips out a packet of Pickled Onion Monster Munch and cracks open a fizzy KA Fruit Punch – gives a sly grin at the remaining items in the bag and moves over to a large table across the room. Stylist PC Williams has created a hefty line-up of New Era hats for his selection. We were aware of his love for Star Wars and Marvel, so when Peckham’s finest quietly evaluates the selection, we anxiously await his feedback. As he picks up the Iron Man hat, we all cheer in relief. Of course, he joins in. There’s one thing about Giggs: he’s a genuine and sweet everyday man, that lights up a room with his cheeky smile. Put him on stage, though, and his quiet, softly spoke aura ignites into a bulldozer of energy. “I’ve known music was my calling, probably my whole life," he reminisces. “But I realised I wanted to do music full time after I released my first album Walk in da Park. “I’ve always loved music, like over-the-top loved it. I knew I was gonna go this way - I had to.”
With determination, passion and a strong team, Giggs has driven forward, with the full rap scene on his shoulders, and pulled out imaginative ways to perform without the authorities catching on. “I just enjoy myself up there, I just party. You know me, I listen to my music. You know them ones? I’m just singing my own songs and if there’s other people there singing along with me, it’s a bonus.” But after years of doing secret shows and smaller events, the SN1 don pulled off a successful sold-out headline show.
“I didn’t even get to enjoy it.” He opens up as we touch on his biggest highlight of last year. “It was the most stressful day ever! I was just getting threats from the beginning right up to the moment I went on; they were saying they were going to lock it off if we don’t jump through this and that hoop.” Giggs then starts to release some of the frustration with a full break down of what went down behind the scenes at the momentous Kentish Town Forum Landlord show. “Then they were saying no one’s allowed backstage. Everyone that comes backstage has to be under the 696 Form. If you’re getting a popular artist and bringing them out as a guest, he’s not coming by himself, is he? They will at least come with maybe 5-10 people. They’re doing me a favour and making my show better; but we won’t have time to put his friends on the 696, so you’re thinking ‘how am I going to get this artist in here to take part in my show?’ There was about 10 guest artists so I didn’t even know if they were going to get in”. After taking a deep breath, the ghostly-toned lyricist shares what’s on his mind “No one else has to deal with this, but obviously we have to. There’s just loads of shit like; ‘If there’s one person back there we’re going to lock off the whole show!’ We just had so much shit I couldn’t even enjoy it. I just wanted to make sure it went right and then when it did go right, it was over!”
Head on over to the leader of the Whippin’ Excursion’s Instagram and you’ll notice the intimate and caring videos of him waking up to feed his daughter at 5 a.m. “Everything I do is for them”. Fatherhood came on the brink of turning 20. With a young daughter and a teenage son, what is the key to juggling fatherhood and the rapper’s studio lifestyle? “It’s a bit mad but I just deal with it, I love when I’m with my kids and I love when I’m on stage and creating music. I just don’t really sleep much.” Growing up with a well-known dad must be something to boast about as a 15 year-old at secondary school but it seems that Giggs’ eldest is just as humble as his old man. “He’s been along the journey, he’s the same as me in the sense that we’re just moving forward. He don’t really look at it as a big thing. Say he was 15 and I blew up yesterday, he might be excited but because he’s been going through it the whole time, it’s casual.”
His double life of father by day and award-winning rapper by night is held consistently in place by his other family unit; his long-standing friends and management team Buck, Raye and Trenton. “Obviously Buck cares about the music, whereas some people just care about money and all the other stuff.” Buck pops his head around the corner with a cheeky grin. “When it’s all about the money you can end up making a bad move”. Surely money’s still important? “Money comes and goes, it’s not that important. You think it’s important but it’s not really. Money comes anyway. If you’re doing what you love.”
His tight skippy features on Kano’s “3 Wheel-Ups” and JME’s “Man Don’t Care” allowed Giggs to break through to the festival and show circuit, skipping past the issues he had with getting bookings, and reconnected himself with the stage and his fans. The results of that fusion can be witnessed at every dancefloor across the world – from the arena to your local under-18s. “Scott Styles put on the beat, which was so sick, played it for a while and I just thought of the chorus and went in the booth” he reveals “That’s why I’m mumbling on the track. I was just freestyling it. I’m not actually saying anything in the bit after.”
“Whippin Excursion” was born and became one of the key break-through tracks of his career. “It’s always about the flow and energy, that’s how I do it all the time. I was just going in and out, smoking, drinking and going back into the studio.” After winning Artist of the Year at GRM’s Rated Award, Giggs took to the stage to perform. Skepta joined SN1’s asset on stage and ended up creating the official “Whippin” dance move during the chorus. Comedian A.Squeezy, a.k.a. Arnold Jorge, created a parody of the viral moment in his own “Skeppy Excursion” video. “The next day when we was watching it back I was like ‘What the fuck is Skepta doing there?’” he laughs, while throwing his right hand in the air to solidify his respect for the Shutdown king . “That’s a bad boy move right there!” The real question, though, was whether or not the “Whippin” originator can deliver a Skepta ‘whip’? “I’ve tried it just doesn’t work. It pisses me off. That Arnold video was funny. See, even he can fucking do it. It pisses me off!”
Against all odds Giggs has proved himself to be a consistent and passionate artist. Compared to other musicians, he truly lived a nightmare of resistance but without fail has come always back fiercely stronger. Now that the likes of popstars like Drake have co-signed his empire, he is finally getting the long-overdue break-through success he has always deserved. His unapologetic refusal to give up has inspired a generation of gifted rappers ready and not waiting for the industry and police to catch-up. “They’ve just got to keep going. It’s gonna’ be easier for them than it was for me.” With a model like the Landlord to follow there’s not much advice to give but still Giggs has one last comment “They just got to keep moving forward and not cry like babies” he shares before breaking out into laughter.