If Mensa were to create a new category of intelligence entitled ‘Street-Smartz’ then-up-and-coming UK rapper ‘Giggs’ would become Peckham’s answer to Albert Einstein. Life experience and lessons learned really kicked into play for the aforementioned in 2003 when he spent a short and enlightening period behind bars for a custodial sentence in relation to gun crime. Previous to this, he’d been an active and highly respected member of SN1, a derivative of the Peckham Boys, who are known and feared as one of South London’s most notorious gangs. This period spent inside…evidently cleared his head and put focus on his mind. He came to the realisation that to take proper care of his son and offer him a genuine chance in life, time would be best spent focusing on his much-loved music rather than following a pointless life of petty crime where more often than not the genuine pay-offs are few and far between. Unfortunately, life wasn’t that simplistic upon his release…on a street level, things couldn’t have been better, a debut mix-tape he’d been circulating sold over 100,000 copies, a demand so high he deemed it plausible to open up a Merch’ shop in his native Peckham to deal with the demand of his popularity. As expected with this level of hype surrounding him, record companies started to take an active interest in his music – all after the signature responsible for one of the biggest underground buzzes the British Hip Hop scene had ever experienced. He eventually opted for XL Recordings, but this deal was nearly scuppered by Operation Trident (the Metropolitan Police Unit set up to investigate gang and gun crime) contacting XL to scare them off with tales of Giggs’ past. To explain why his life so far as been much more than just a ‘walk in da park’, Nathan Thompson talks frankly about his alter-ego, Giggs…
I believe you have just gotten back from the States…with all the recent interest in you over there and B.O.B appearing on your next single, ‘Don’t Go There’, I wondered was the trip for business or pleasure?
Yeah, I was in Disneyland for a holiday…
So you’ve just signed your first major deal with XL Recordings – the original home of the likes of ‘The Prodigy’ & ‘Dizzee Rascal’ – I wondered why they got your signature?
At the time there were a few other labels also interested, but I felt XL best suited the music that I’m makin’…so I went with them.
I’d read that officers from the Metropolitan Police Trident section contacted a few of the companies that were showing interest in signing you to scare them off …is this true?
They phoned up XL and said that they shouldn’t mess around with me. I don’t know exactly what was said, but Richard Russell [label head] was a bit shaken up from the phone call. This kinda slowed things down a bit, but we got there in the end…
So your debut album on a major label entitled, ‘Let ‘Em Ave It’, is set for release in April 2010; I wondered if you could tell us a little about this release?
Yep, it’s finished now. We are just in the process of mixing it all down and getting it ready to put it out there. It focuses on my life really. From before I went to jail, then getting out and me focusing on the music, erm, to where I am now really. It takes you along that journey. It’s a long story…well not that long (laughs), well, not boring anyway. It only took about three weeks to do, but it’s not rushed or anything. It’s just that I have a lot to say and it’s the way I work. I love making music, so I was in there everyday just banging out the tracks. I felt every one of them was good enough to go on the album. That’s how we make CDs from where I’m from… just bang em’ out!
With B.O.B guestings and your success at the BET awards I wondered how America is taking to you?
Well, it’s not really like I have a big career out there at the moment. I’m just currently making a lot of links there and trying to do some business. I’m trying to set up other collaborations with both producers and artists to show them that I’m good. They seem to like what they’ve heard so far…
You’ve already worked with The Streets’, Mike Skinner, on your track ‘Slow Songs’. Can you tell us how this collaboration came about?
It was arranged through my old manager. Originally Mike wasn’t meant to be on the song. When I’d done my part, I thought it would be good if he could do a chorus…and then it got sent back and he’d done both a chorus and the verse. I thought it was really good.
So you’ve already sold around 100,000 mixtapes to date – did this much interest add pressure whilst recording ‘Let ‘Em Av It’?
There isn’t any pressure. Ok, in fact the only pressure I felt was trying to get it all down, but apart from that everything else was cool. It is all about making good music…
On the subject of 100,000 mixtapes, how do you physically deal with a demand like that privately?
Well, it’s not 100,000 at once. It was over a period of time… [like I said] just bangin’ them out, bangin’ ‘em out. They just spread out, through record shops and through us giving them away. So it wasn’t 100,000 sold but that figure has come about from over the years.
From the success of these I believe you already had to open a merchandise shop (SN1) to keep up with the demand and interest in you…can you tell us about the shop?
Yeah, it’s for the clothing line… it’s got everything – kids clothes, for boys and girls. It’s based in Peckham Indoor Market. We also sell CDs and DVDs – everything to do with the music really.
Are you involved with the physical running of the shop?
No, my brother and friend run the shop… and others pitch in from time to time.
Does the business stress ever compromise the art at times?
Nah, not really. Anytime there is any stress I just sit down and put it on paper. This is a lot easier than what I was doing before. I feel a lot more relaxed now…
With your recent success and the attention you are currently getting from the mainstream media I wondered how your community have taken to this?
Yeah, everyone’s showing a lot of love at the moment, so that’s all good.
A lot of negative attention has come along with this regarding your previous gang ties. Is this putting you in a tricky position in any way?
What, you mean people being annoying about me rapping what I rap about? Nah, everything is cool… no-one’s talking about things they’re not supposed to.
So within the eyes of both society and the judicial system, you have done your time in prison and have come out rehabilitated – taking into account your record deal and your SN1 Merch shop. But for most it appears the penal system is failing as re-offender figures are so high. From your perspective why is this system failing so many?
No one gives a shit about jail man. It’s just a place you end up if you get caught innit. No one wants to end up there and no one really wants to end up doing what they are doing on the streets, they are just trying to make money. But there’s not a lot of opportunities out there for ex-offenders… so they end up back inside. For me, that’s why the whole music thing is so important.
I believe there’s been a situation in the past with yourself and both MTV Base head, Jasmine Dotiwala, and 1Xtra executive producer and events manager Ray Paul about you having to tone down your lyrical content and video imagery to gain airplay – have XL suggested you do this now?
Y’mean changing the way I make music to suit this? No, XL have been cool; that’s the reason they’ve signed me, to keep making the music I’m making. Everyone loves what I already do and that’s another reason I went with XL, ’cause they understand that.
Tell us the first Hip Hop track that made you decide you wanted to make a life out of it?
Probably NWA, ‘Fuck Da Police’ (laughs)…
Which rappers have been big inspiration for you?
Rappers like NWA and Ice Cube
So up until now, you’ve had a short, but pretty full-on career – any regrets?
Nah, there’s never regrets.
Ideally, what does the future hold for Giggs?
Makin’ a difference to the game and changin’ it.
Finally, have you been to Norwich before?
Yeah (sighs)… the only reason I went to Norwich was to visit my brother in jail…