With the release of his latest EP 'M.O.T.H', we get schooled by the multi-platinum selling rapper Professor Green who shows that there is always light even in the darkest of places.
The first thing I notice when meeting Professor Green is not that he is much taller than I anticipated, it’s the calm energy that radiates off of him. Almost stoic in a way, but more of a quiet sort of confidence that doesn’t need to say too much or too little. One that still draws in the room without having to do much other than be exactly who he is.
It’s always a funny one when you meet someone who you’ve essentially known in a way throughout your adolescent years through TV screens and radio plays. Even if you weren’t the biggest fan of Professor Green – it’s undeniable that he was apart of a culture shift within UK music when he first boomed in 2009. Everyone knew him, and everyone still does. Green’s first official single ‘I Need You Tonight’ debuted at number 3 in the UK charts followed by an array of tracks that were shaping the UK’s music culture without him even knowing it at the time. ‘Read All About It’, Professor Green’s UK number 1 track, certified him as a craftsman in his ability to not just provide hit tracks, but to embed within them topics that were sometimes hard to hear, and to use his talents to pour his thoughts and past into his calling.
A decade later, and just after the release of his latest project ‘M.O.T.H’ (Matters Of The Heart), Professor Green is still continuing to do things his own way. When I ask him “has anything changed?” in the middle of our interview, his faces subtly lights up as he reveals “Me. I’ve changed – so everything else around me has changed.” For the last four years, Green took somewhat of a hiatus within music and focused his energy into his incredibly powerful documentary series that dove into topics that needed to be brought to national attention. From youth homelessness within the UK to suicide still being the biggest killer of men under 45. Professor Green was still using his voice, and the fires he has walked through, for good whether it was music or not.
Back to his calling, M.O.T.H sees Professor Green collaborate with a broad range of producers and features including Alice Chater, NAHLI and Lewis Bootle. However, this is not an EP of darkness Green assures me – sure, there are tracks that touch on sensitive topics, but Green tells me he just wanted to simply have fun. Clearly, it’s a reflection of where he is at in life – in his mind and in his heart. You can see the light shine through when he talks about the journey he has been on – acknowledging that his path has definitely not been one paved with flowers but it has led him to exactly where he is now, and he has never given up.
At the beginning of the year, Professor Green had a seizure and fractured his neck. Thankfully, he was extremely lucky and has recovered. Even when something as terrifying as that happening, you could see Green finding the positivity in the situation. He felt blessed to have been able to recover and about to embark on his Winter tour. There’s a clear message of healing revolving around Professor Green’s life – not that healing is a final destination that you reach, but an ever-changing journey. Professor Green is definitely well on that journey when you can hear him talking about music, where he has come from and most importantly, where he is now which is “over the moon most days”.
Read Professor Green’s inspirational interview below before you dive into M.O.T.H, and if you’re needing more Green in your life, tickers to his Winter tour can be found here.
So, tell us about how you began your journey into the music industry?
I started out just messing around with my pals when I was 18; that was quite late, a lot of my mates had been making music for years. Freestyling quickly progressed into battling which was a pretty big step for me as I was never the loudest kid. I was considered, not necessarily shy… I’d say I was just a little more considered. I would say what I wanted to say and wouldn’t talk to just fill the silence.
When I started out rap-battling, Mike Skinner saw me a few years into that, and it’s funny because prior to that DJs would come and judge and they would say “where’s the music?” and I would just say “I don’t make music”. I feel like that gave me a bit of a leg up as a lot of DJs were aware of me already, I just didn’t have the music yet. Then when Skinner took me on his tour and I battled on every stop of his tour, and then he ended up signing me to the label he started.
It wasn’t all easy from there though. I had a couple of false starts with funding being pulled or creatives differences with people. After that, I went back to doing what I did which was being a naughty little fucker and then in 2009 I signed to Virgin and my first single went to number three in the charts which was crazy. At that point, there wasn’t really that much mainstream rap the way it is now – Mike was there of course. Then Tinie popped – you know before me Chip had done well, Tinchy had done well but it definitely wasn’t a given that I would too.
The industry was still really underground, and back then it really was the beginning of what it is now. There were people before us obviously, but all of us really took there and helped make it credible. There was a vibe in America, but for here the music that crossed over didn’t really feel that urban. People weren’t really rapping their arses off.
We all thought we were having it off, but kids nowadays – 17, 18. 19 and they’re walking into doing what I did at 27. I feel fortunate to still be in this industry for over a decade. It’s fucking wicked. I’ve worked for it – but I feel lucky as well.
Has your feelings towards the music industry changed since you started out in the underground?
Not really – if anyone wants to get started in music because they have a strong passion for it then it’s no different than when we started out, or the people that have come before us. We were doing what we loved – and I’m still doing what I love. When I go into the studio that’s never work – that’s a day off for me. It’s still my hobby, and I’m selfish in the way I make music – I’ve never made a song that someone else told me to do. I’ve just walked in and made whatever I felt like.
‘Read All About It’, my biggest song to date, was never supposed to be a hit. It was about my dad’s suicide – it wasn’t meant to become what it is – and that’s crazy. I do gigs now and the kids that turn up to them still know all the words which is always gonna be mad to me.
What has been your secret to having longevity within the changing music industry?
I guess not allowing myself to get stressed out anymore. When I started out, and the years after that – when the stressful situations came around I allowed myself to get stressed. These situations still happen, but I don’t allow the stress to take over anymore. It took me a long time to figure that out. I had to figure out how to patient and how to navigate things without allowing myself to get attached to all the shit that came with it.
It’s weird though; looking back it felt like I allowed myself to hit brick walls, but it’s funny because I was still moving in a direction and working toward something. I basically took four years out – I realised a few singles but I was making documentaries. I didn’t realise what path I was carving for myself by doing that – I wasn’t doing it for any gain but for myself. The topics are something I’m really passionate about – it was laborious making the documentaries, it’s a whole process – they weren’t about pink and fluffy subjects you know. Coming out the back end of those four years and realising I needed to take a break from it because I needed to get back to the music. However, I still polarise people – love or hate me – I don’t mind.
If you can be selfish in that way – not to the detriment of others then it’s fine. At the same time, you can be selfish as long as it’s not at the detriment of yourself. Making the documentaries gave me a different voice – it introduced me to people beyond music, and the people that listened to my music already knew what I was about. But all of the stuff that was written about me at the time in the tabloids – it allowed me to be introduced to them to what I’m really about.
What do you want people to take away from your latest project?
For me, it’s that I’m happy. I want to project that within the new music. Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot of songs that touch on more sensitive subjects – I’ve got a whole vat of darkness – but I’ve realised I don’t have to create that in my life now. To be able to walk in the studio and talk about what’s going on is everything. A lot of people think that have to relive their trauma to make ‘good’ music and I just think “fuck off, do you really wanna be that person?”.
I used to be scared to even say the words “I’m happy”. I was always terrified of what was around the corner. Mate, I’m over the moon most days and it’s fucking glorious. There’s all this talk nowadays about being present, and I feel like the only way to be like that is to allow yourself to go through whatever it is that you’re going through and to deal with it as it happens. Not to preempt it. It took me a long time to learn it. To learn that I have all the tools I need in me.
I can look back at a lot of achievements and memories when I was happy and notice that I was always a little bit of scared of what was going to happen next or thinking “when is this going to end? Am I going to fuck this up?” which meant I wasn’t fully present in my happy times when I should have been. Now I just think “shit happens” so what’s the point in freaking out over something that may or may not even happen. Or, maybe things could have been different had I been a little more optimistic? I just want to give myself room to enjoy everything now.
How did you begin this process of healing and learning to understand yourself better?
I just took a step back from everything, and from a lot of people. I began looking at the choices I was making and the people I was finding myself with. I realised that I was finding myself with the exact same type of person just in different bodies. There was one common denominator in all of that and it was me. It wasn’t that I was finding chaos – it was that I was chaos. You know, I did have a chaotic upbringing, but now that I am an adult I don’t want to have excuses.
I started making better decisions. Someone asked me recently “what’s changed?” and I wanted to say “everything” but really only one thing changed and that was me. Then everything else around me changed. People all too often want things to change but don’t change themselves so how can you expect things to change if you don’t?
You have to start making better decisions, or at least different decisions to see what comes of it. If you keep doing the same thing you’re obviously gonna you’re going to get the same results. I realised you have to let go of control – you can’t control everything around you. All you can control is yourself and your actions. Sometimes when everything is going on around you, you just have to stand still.
What’re your feelings about embarking on your new tour?
I can’t wait. You know, certain gigs, venues, songs and audiences all can have different meanings and feelings attached to them. I just had one of the best gigs in my life at Victorious Festival. They said we basically cleared the main stage, as we were performing on the second stage. Everyone in the crowd just got involved. Everyone. I felt like I just had them from the minute I went out there It was weird because before I went on stage, I was pacing around which is different for me as I don’t usually get too nervous, but I said to one of my pals “this is going to go one way or the other”. It was fucking crazy.
I really can’t wait – it feels different now, freer in a way. I used to tour with a live band, but there’s just something about performing with a DJ that is so much freer. I pull up a record without everything having to stop. You know being able to do things the old school way with records is genuinely fun.
Has your creative process changed since you started your career in the music industry?
Still to this day I walk around with my hands talking and trying to let lyrics come out naturally. The thing for me though, as a rapper, I have to be ready. So what I have to get my head back into is not just coming up with phrases and ideas with the hope I remember them. I need to write them down as I got into the habit of walking into the studio and freestyling bars on the day.
If I only ever do that then I have nothing else but songs, but outside of the songs I’m a rapper and have to be armed by the teeth ready. I have to really trust in my brain and what it can come up with.
Looking back, whenever I was really anxious and worrying about things beyond my control then it would sometime get in the way and nothing would come out. Now, I’m able to just recognise that sometimes that just happens, it’s just the way it is. You have bad days and good days. You have to keep going through the motions to get the good stuff – if you don’t try you’re not gonna get it. On the way back from gigs we’ve just started freestyling for the fun of it, and sometimes that’s when you get the best shit out. There’s the freedom there – sometimes when a blank page is in front of me it can become quite formulaic.
What’re your thoughts on the music scene in the UK now?
I just think it’s wicked bro. For some people labels work, for others it doesn’t. I feel like now the power is more in the hands of the artist. I mean, some artists can now sell out the Brixton Academy off the back of one smash which is great. But for me, having to spend years and years trialling and erroring – it’s really taught me patience and the graft it takes to get there. But that’s been my own journey.
What are some of the best pieces of advice you’ve been given in your career?
Years and years and years ago, Skinny Man, and this has nothing to do with music, said to me “your real friends will never be of hindrance to you.” That’s something that really stuck with me because people will always be quite content and happy if you’re at the same level they are at. When you start to move away from them – or where they perceive to be in front of them – and there’s because of that then they’re not the real ones. I mean, if you get fixated on where someone else is at, and what they are constantly doing then you’re stuck because you’re not focusing on your own path. No one should ever want to be of hindrance to anyone else.
What’s something you wish you could tell your younger self?
Nothing. Hypothetically, I could change everything – but then what would happen? The smallest thing could have changed everything. It’s the same when you love someone – you love them for the good and the bad – their past and their present because that makes up exactly who they are today. That’s how I think about myself now – everything that has happened has led me to be the person I am and where I am today. It’s taken all the good and bad from my past to get to where I am now – so you can’t really remove or change anything.