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George the Poet (George Mpanga)
George the Poet
George the Poet

George the Poet (George Mpanga)

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George the Poet

British spoken word artist, poet, rapper, and podcast host George Mpanga's innovative brand of musical poetry has won him critical acclaim both as a recording artist and a social commentator. His award-winning podcast 'Have you heard George's Podcast' was recorded with the Aston Spirit.

Wretch 32, Krept and Konan, Emeli Sandé
George uses:
Spirit
Halo
The circular nature of rap

"As a kid, I was a fan of rap, by the age of 15, I started rapping. By 19, I was getting a little bit frustrated with the circular nature of rap, subject matter, and audience appetite. I had just got into Cambridge as well, so being in Cambridge was a very different audience to the one that I grew up performing around. I didn't want to present myself as a stereotype because I was the only black man on campus. So, I just changed the style to make it a little more conversational and it became poetry. There's a lot of negative externalities surrounding rap. Obviously there are unintended consequences of the genuine energy that comes from genuine experience, genuine trauma. And one of those unintended consequences is that you get young people who are just fans of the form, subscribing to the mentalities that are presented in the form.

So they really just want to rap, as it has a lot of psychological benefits. It can boost your confidence. It's got a lot of positive visualisation, about social mobility, changing your situation. Can money be in that guy, you know, so young people want that. But what ends up happening is that they take some of the negative traits that the messengers carry because the messengers tend to be from very intense situation. I kind of figured that out by the time I was 18.  I was frustrated with it because I was also unconscious. I'm a sociologist by nature, I would say. So I had ambitions for rap and the way that we could coordinate it to make it more of the good and less of the bad. I was just frustrated. I was in the hood, I grew up there and where I grew up was very problematic.  I had this constant dialogue in my head about, if I can change, rap or change what I do with rap, then I’ll probably get an insight into how I can change some of the negative cycles in the area I'm from, but as negativity increased and more of my friends went to jail, or made decisions that they couldn't take back. I fell out of love with rap for a hot minute."

Pressure

"When I got to Cambridge it was the first time I had really been outside of my community for that long. I was studying politics, psychology and sociology. With the poetry, I didn't think of it as breaking into the creative industry. I was just doing me creatively. There were real social pressures that were driving what I was doing. I say social pressures but there was just all around pressures. I’ve got two little brothers and the thought of not being on the estate with them, and not knowing what was happening around them when I was in Cambridge was really hard. My brother, my friend got quite a serious sentence and went to Jail for some time just before I went to uni.

So I've got all of these things going on inside me, but I'm going to lectures and I'm hearing stuff that's genuinely changing my life and changing my perspective. I decided to channel what I was learning into this creative form that I had been developing for five years up to that point. In a similar way, it's what I've done with podcasting as well, I didn't think about breaking into the podcasting space. I thought about channelling the pressures that I felt, with the creative, into something constructive. When you've got friends and people around you that that passed away at a young age, I've covered this on one of the podcast episodes. It makes you, it's like you become not accustom to death but you think about death, you embrace death and you just live with it. It becomes almost like a roommate. So because of that, there's additional pressure on the things that I want to achieve. Because I always think to myself, you're not guaranteed next year."

Success is quite personality-based

"When I was in the music industry, a lot of people wanted me to keep releasing songs. The thing is, songs they don't achieve enough for me personally, even though they're fun. I find it hard to just have fun without an outcome. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a great book. I really recommend it. It's all about the environmental factors of success. He makes the argument that the way we think of success is quite personality-based. We tend to say, that person must be really clever or have a great character. And these things obviously may play a factor, but Malcolm Gladwell makes a very convincing argument to say, oh, there's a lot that goes into anyone's individual life. These environmental variables cannot be extricated from that person's success now, so he talks about, for example, how Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Bill Joy, some of the greatest computer minds of all time, or our time, were all born in 1955. That meant they were 21 when some key breakthroughs in computing happened, and they all had exclusive access to computer technology at a young age that most of the human population didn't have.

I'm sensitive to all the little events and serendipitous circumstances in my life that allowed everything to happen. So for example, I was a second child of six kids. That gave me certain advantages. I didn't have to bear the brunt of being first but also the responsibility of everyone after me. Which informed my behaviour and then I had loving parents and they had a sense of culture, if I didn't have this, I don't know where I would be. So I’ve thought about this quite a lot."

Familiar channels

"When I started putting my stuff on YouTube in 2011, that was a eureka moment. It never occurred to me to do that, as in just poetry on YouTube. I don't think at any point in my career, I've been viral, I've never gone viral, but I’ve always found a way of reaching the people that need to see it, the people that are in a position to accelerate my career, or the people that will champion my message in the most meaningful way. In 2011/2012 I did my first little short, which is called my city, which is a poem about London, in the wake of the riots on the dawn of the Queen's Jubilee and the London Olympics, as well as the present an alternative perspective that accelerates things somewhat. Then obviously the following year 2013, I did my first headline show, which was in the Royal Albert Hall. It showed a lot of people that I could transition from YouTube, and then later that year, I got signed, I released my first EP the following year in 2014, I graduated in 2013 as well, I suppose graduating was a big thing for me psychologically.

What happens with most content creators from my field is that they might make a rap and put it on YouTube and go to the familiar channels and hope that they get a lot of traffic on those channels. But my situation, I just made a poem, which no one was used to hearing delivered in a way that was doing it. Furthermore, no one was used to that kind of content in poetry form. So the few people that heard it, in my immediate social group, my Facebook friends, instead of going and passing it to, SB TV or link-up TV or Grind daily at the time. They would give it to their parents, or they'll play it to their teacher, or they'll talk to their lecturer about it. We didn't have a big mass movement of all of the 13 year olds in the country buying my single, but what we did have is an intergenerational cross-sectional conversation. For people that are not used to sharing the same art. How many times you sit down with your parents and say, look at this cool song. It comes from that cool song world. And you're able to have a conversation across age barriers and across professions. So what started to happen by 2012 is I'm getting commissions from companies to write about sustainable development. That opened up a new line of thinking for me, I realised that there can be a commercial avenue to this thing that doesn't compromise my ethics. That doesn't interrupt my uni work because it kind of aligns everything I'm reading about. At the time I was doing a paper on the political economy of capitalism."

It captures enough of my lows

"When it comes to gear, I definitely try and take a step back. Especially because I'm so curious, and as I’m just trying to learn everything. Which I used to do and all the time, but one day an engineer just told me to, chill. And I realised the more I learned about it the more I'm going to want to get involved. I first found out about Aston Mics through my producer Rubric, he's a great guy, a great thinker and a great connector so he just put me on to the mic. I had an amateur setup. I had an okay home thing, which wasn’t very sophisticated, it was just for me to create rough ideas that I could send over to an actual professional. I've used so many mics over my career and I have a feeling I have an idea of the texture that I lack. And I knew that my home setup wasn't working for me so one day, I just mentioned to Paul, that I'm ready to move on to an Aston.

I'd say there's a certain smoothness - it captures enough of my lows I'm trying to achieve in a lot of what I do. The living room effect. I want it to sound like we are having a chilled conversation. I don't want it to sound too professional. I don't want it to sound too slick.  I want it to sound like the kind of thing you could fall asleep to, or maybe smoke a spliff and zone out too."

Follow the leader

"When I was still in Uni, Wretch 32 reached out to me, and was really excited about my form. That was before the podcast, it was just when I was just putting poetry to piano riffs. He was really excited about that. We had a lot of studio time and he introduced me to Jacob Banks. Who is an amazing vocalist from Birmingham, he wasn't well known at the time, he was just finishing uni himself. Even within his university, he wasn't known as a singer. Now, this guy's everywhere. He was on the Creed soundtrack in the biggest moment in the film.  He has such an epic sound. Krept and Konan reached out to me. I remember I was with them on the day I received my Uni results when I got my 2:1. They were putting together their Guinness record-breaking mixtape, the first mixtape to reach the top 20 and they asked me to do the intro and outro to that. Which was just history, like they invited me to be part of history, and I'm forever grateful for that. At the time I was recording a little bit with Emeli Sandé and Naughty Boy. One of my favourite songs that I've released in my career so far is with Maverick Sabre and Georgia Smith, ‘Follow the leader’.

My podcast which is heavily musical, we were fortunate enough to pick up seven awards for, was recorded on the Spirit so that yeah, that was recorded on the mic on the estate that we have here. I'm putting together season two, which is going to be when you get a chance to hear the podcast, So often I'm way down the rabbit hole, on this whole project, which is cool. Because people seem to be following something, I'm just writing new stuff around them."

Sentebale

"I work with Prince Harry as an ambassador for his charity Sentebale, which provides social and emotional support for young people living with HIV in Sub Saharan Africa. We've been to Botswana, meeting some of the young people they work with. I've always been a cynic. So I'm always ready to just be slightly underwhelmed by these kinds of things, but when I connected with those young people, out there, I had some unforgettable conversations, we shared some timeless insight and I realised that how important it is to take on this job of destigmatising HIV. The thing is, 36 million people around the world are living with HIV. 36 million. Now, in that whole group, everyone's rates of infection are declining, apart from young people.

The reason there is stigma is that they’re embarrassed about acknowledging their status, taking their medication. HIV back in the day used to be a death sentence as my parents can attest to. It's not necessarily life-threatening these days. I mean, it's not nice, but with today's medication, you can live a relatively normal life. But because of the stigma around it, which is so tragic given that it's such a big problem on the African continent, but a lot of African societies struggle to talk about sex, let alone HIV. The stigma is actually one of the worst because it affects people who are so close, it affects their sex life, It affects their partnership. Everything. It’s amazing to see that they've now they've actually managed to lower the infection rate. They've got new drugs now, which are actually suppressing the effects of it which is pretty great."

 

 

 

Outtakes and Credits

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Nas and Jay Z, I love Jorja Smith

Q. If you weren't working in music, what would you be doing?
A. At this stage, I’d be trying to step back from a political career. I would have got into politics and I would have worked out by now, that it’s not for me.

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. Sam Cooke - A change is going to come

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