“So, whose responsibility is it?”
George Mpanga delivers his performance in conversational spoken word but don’t be fooled. His performance is assertive and provocative, encouraging audience engagement at every turn.
In the depths of LUU’s Mine, George addresses an intimate throng who do not hesitate to add their voices to the conversation. The Q&A nature of the session becomes interwoven with the poetry itself – something, George notes, speaks to the “social consciousness of the spoken word culture.”
Unlike Kate Tempest or Scroobius Pip’s recent ventures into rap from spoken word, George seems to be making the reverse journey. The stripped-down, atmospheric backing in The Chicken and The Egg EP epitomises George’s belief that “poetry is all about communication… structuring it in such a way that the message is given primacy.” But with songs like ‘1,2,1,2’ and ‘Cat D’ that incorporate elements of rap, grime, house and electronica, George certainly isn’t confining himself to one genre. “I feel like I’m part of a generation that’s started to see the grey areas between rap and spoken word. We can just pick and choose, do what we want.”
So would you call what you do spoken word or rap? “A crossover,” George muses, “old habits die hard. I started as a rapper; my spoken word is structured around rap disciplines. I think in four bar structures, I’m very meticulous about rhyme patterns and the world play that I use… I’m very particular about it. I owe a lot of what I have to rap. But I’m trying to create a space where that doesn’t matter.”
George leans over to grab the poster of his UK tour. “Take this poster. It’s got my logo – in my actual handwriting, it’s got the picture – that I drew. I orchestrated this whole piece. There’s nothing on this that didn’t come from me, that’s how I want my contribution to the world to be.”
And at the age of 24, George Mpanga has already contributed so much. Most notably, he has funded The Jubilee Line – a series of secondary school poetry workshops for underprivileged children. He’s also collaborated with Jakwob to lobby the UK government into improving public services and more recently wrote ‘Only One You’ for the Prince’s Trust.
When I commend him for all he’s achieved he just brushes it aside. “To me, it’s common sense. As artists, we’re not encouraged to do anything. But I feel like lowering the bar of achievement is not good for me, or my personal growth. Doing things outside of music is essential. Because, if not, by the time I become a father, by the time I have a family, I won’t have any reference points – I’ll just be living off my own hype which isn’t healthy. It’s essential that I involve myself deeper into doing things outside of music as my public profile grows.”
It’s no surprise then, that George has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice BRIT awards. When I ask him how he feels about the nomination, George’s face lights up. “The way I see it, the world runs on stories… most people don’t have the time to sit down and search through my entire catalogue to find out about me. The BRITs are a trusted source and getting the coverage really helps me with everything I’m trying to achieve. This nomination means that eyes are on me”.
This year, George speculates that he will hone in on musical styles after playing around with them in his 2014 releases The Chicken and the Egg EP, and ‘1,2,1,2’ – “I was seeing how people would receive my message packaged into different styles. 2015 is all about creating my own musical and public space. I want to talk to everyone – I’ve collaborated with the royal family, with the BBC… I make sure to position myself in different arenas so that I am accessible to everyone. Why would I just want to talk to young people? Why would I just want to talk to old people? I want to do something that resonates with everyone. Most people are on autopilot and I want to change that.”