The Tab Meets: George The Poet
BETH SWORDS talks to George The Poet about the duty to educate, Batman and Kate Middleton.
George Mpanga is an ex-Kings student having graduated in 2013. He now is better known by the epithet George The Poet as a ‘spoken word’ performer. He’s made appearances on the credits of Sky Sports F1 Monaco Grand Prix and has performed in the Royal Albert Hall, touching on subjects of wealth distribution and the universal right to education.
BETH SWORDS talks to George to hear all ahead of his appearance at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.
Listening to songs like My City and YOLO, it seems quite stripped back, simplistic, if not, ethereal. How would you describe your work?
Simply, I would say it is conversation over music.
Did you first start out in rap and then make the move across?
Yeah, I made the transition at Cambridge. I felt like I could say more of what I wanted through spoken word stuff. I could get my message across without any of the alienation that comes with the genre of rap.
You say there’s an element of alienating people with rap, do you think a rap artist can have the same impact as you can? To me, it seems like quite a closed-off bubble, almost hostile, as opposed to inclusive? Do you think a rap artist can comment, as you do, as opposed to attack?
I think always with a social group, there is an element of expectation around it. An expectation to protect that social group and that’s what rap does. I think if you can break away from that, then maybe you can have the same impact.
How was it first received in Cambridge?
I first performed at Wolfson at a Black History event and then it progressed naturally from there. I’ve subsequently done stuff at the Royal Albert Hall and then I did a poem to be used by Sky Sports for the F1 Monaco Grand Prix.
Why do you think it is so successful? Is it the simplicity of the presentation, in that it has no pretensions?
I think the minimalism does play a part – there are fewer distractions. But, maybe it is more about the message. The actual sentiments about equality of wealth in my songs really do resonate with people.
‘Spoken word’ performance is quite a niche genre. Is this aversion to being put in a category or being given a label intentional? Were you trying to be something novel?
I don’t know, there were things that I wanted to talk about and I felt this was the way that I would most likely be heard. If there were an established framework that would do that justice then I would have followed that. It just so happened that it had not been done before.
What’s the best way you like to perform?
I like live shows when they’re small and intimate.
Who is your favourite rap artist that makes as potent satirical and social commentary as you do?
Nas, for sure. He always seems to say what needs to be said.
Zane Lowe’s interview with Kanye West got a lot of coverage, do you think you have to adopt this extravert persona to succeed?
No, not at all. I think it was just reflective of Kanye’s personality. He likes to be eccentric like that. It’s the thing about authenticity – when someone pulls something off, everyone then thinks that you have to mimic what they did. They were successful because they were authentic. So, you need to do what you do and be who you are.
If you had to adopt another persona, what would it be?
I’m kinda boring to be honest [thoughtful pause]. Oh oh oh, I would be Batman. He does nothing on a corporate level, nothing that is expected of him and I like that. Think about it, he is unmarried, lives in a massive house and is a billionaire. He does what he wants – jumping around beating people up.
Would you ever do collaborations with anybody? With music or poetry?
I don’t think it would work with poets because poetry is so varied and I wouldn’t want to tread on anyone’s toes. But, collaborations with musicians, for sure. Lana Del Rey would be great. I like her sort of experiential, or as you said “ethereal”, music and I think that would match my work.
Any advice to a white, middle class girl looking to make it in the rap world?
Figure out what pisses you off – something that you can talk about with conviction and emotion.
If you were to launch a prime ministerial campaign, what would you do?
I would hold political raves.
Evidently, you like to make comments on political and social affairs, and I want to get an idea of your place in the world.
What are your views on the newly released pictures of Kate Middleton playing volleyball in heels?
I don’t feel I can comment on that but I do think she has a really good taste in baby names.
What about Andy Murray’s chances in the Australian Open this year?
We’ve watched Andy grow from a scrawny, little Scottish kid – although he is quite large. We all got very excited and still get very excited and I wish him the best of luck.
George the Poet is performing at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Friday 25th October.