‘You Can’t Really Hope For Change, You Have To Try And Be The Change That You Want To See’: Guvna B Discusses His New Single Release, Amplify And Life Growing Up In London

Lucia Botfield

By Lucia Botfield

Lucia Botfield

11 Apr 2023

We sat down with highly-acclaimed rapper, Guvna B to discuss the upcoming release of his latest single, Amplify. His new song is a stark change from his previous rap-orientated music, and warmly introduces his own Ghanaian heritage with its clear Afrobeat sound, and collaboration with Ghanaian artist DarkoVibes.

Guvna B’s thought-provoking lyricism evokes a clear sense of self, allowing his listeners to look within themselves as they hear his own personal recollections of his lived experiences. His single “Bridgeland Road” speaks of his interactions with the police after he was attacked, and the lack of justice and closure that came thereafter. Guvna B emphasised the importance of expression in musical form, applauding fellow rappers Loyle Carner and Little Simz for their similar honestly and reflection displayed within their lyrics.

Firstly your new single is coming out soon, can you talk me through the creative process of Amplify? Why did you choose to film the music video on the street in Ghana that your dad grew up in?

My dad passed away in 2017, and after his death one of the things that I wanted to do was an Afrobeat song, but not from a UK perspective. I grew up in London, and I wanted to do it with a Ghanaian artist from my dad’s tribe, and I wanted to film a video on the streets that he grew up in. The first time I went to Ghana after he passed away, I viewed the country very differently, almost through his lens. He was an old-school man that didn’t really share a lot and he wasn’t too vulnerable, and I realised that I didn’t actually know a lot about his upbringing. It was quite special to be out there. 

The song is about being in an environment and wanting better for yourself, which is what I went through and what I think about living in London. It’s not necessarily from a class or money perspective, but more in all aspects of life. For me, it is very important to use the platform that I have to shine the light on the root of the music that we enjoy. It is amazing that Afrobeats has been widely accepted and enjoyed in Europe, with artists such as WizKid and Burna Boy shining light on the genre. For me, there are loads of talented artists back home, and it was important to get some of that authentic flavour as well. Obviously, I’m Ghanaian, I’m African, but I grew up in the UK as well, I’m a first-generation Brit, so I wanted to shine some light on that authenticity and collaborate. I think there is strength in collaboration, for me it’s important.

DarkoVibes and I knew of each other beforehand, and I asked our mutual friend if he could hook us up so we could do a tune together. It just so happened that he was in London at the time that I had studio booked, so it was almost as though it was meant to be. He came up with the idea of the chorus and we just went from there. 

Coming from a predominantly rap background what was it like working on an Afrobeats song, did you encounter any difficulties? 

I didn’t actually find it difficult, which I think is because I was brought up in quite an eclectic household; we were playing Afrobeats in the yard from a young age. As I grew older, I started to develop my own taste. It wasn’t cool to be African in school in the UK. When Fuse ODG came out with Antenna in 2012, it started a wave of Afrobeats being accepted by the mainstream music industry. For me, it was tapping into a part of myself that had always been there, but that I hadn’t necessarily tapped into before. The process felt really natural. 

I always loved listening to music; from Motown, to Afrobeats to gospel, and as I got older, I had people from my area (East London), like Kano, Ghetts and Dizzee Rascal that I grew up listening to, and developing my own music taste. I listened to “Ps and Qs” by Kano, and that was what made me want to start writing. Music has always been a big part of my life. I played the recorder in school too, big up the recorder crew. I’m learning the piano at the moment as well, but I need to find a new YouTube channel to teach me. 

Image courtesy of Jasmijn van Bujtene
You have quite a few religious themes in your music, can you tell me about the role that religion has played in your life and in your music? 

My parents are quite religious, so I grew up going to church, and listening to a lot of gospel. I actually started rapping in church; they had all the equipment out. The religious world was the first one that had really embraced me. 

After a few years of putting music out and winning a couple of awards, I felt there was more to me than just being defined by my faith, and I kind of stepped out of that box and started making music about subjects that I was passionate about. At the time, a friend of mine got stabbed in our estate and I just have this big heart for young people realising that there is value in every single life, and they have purpose and potential. A lot of my lyrics are a panoramic view of what it is like growing up in the working-class community. My faith is always going to be important to me, but there is a wider breadth of subjects that I talk about in my music now.

Religion is a bit of a foundation for me; whatever happens around me I know that I am who I am, I know that I am here for a reason, and it keeps me grounded. From a musical perspective, it is actually easier; since Stormzy’s release of “Blinded by Your Grace”, a big statement was made for UK artists. Regardless of your worldview, your faith can be a part of who you are as an artist and help shape your music. 

What do you aim to achieve through your music? 

I’m a dad, I’ve got a son, so my hope for him is that he knows that he is worthy, and he has something to give to the world. With this latest album, “The Village is on Fire”, I want to challenge peoples’ perceptions of the world around them. My music is about telling people what happened to me; I got attacked, and here is what I learnt from it, here’s what my view on what the state of society is, now what do you guys think of it as listeners, of my lived experiences and the information that I’ve given you. I want people to have a think and make their own minds up about their reflection on the music. 

Yesterday, someone told me that they listened to my song “Bridgeland Road”, where I described what happened to me. They said that a similar thing had happened to their brother, and that he hadn’t dealt with it, he didn’t know how to deal with it, but my song was a great mechanism for him to process what had happened. Stuff like that means a lot, it shows that it is deeper than music. Rap music in this country and further afield often gets a bad reputation as it is linked with misogyny, violence and substance abuse, but it is nice that others such as the likes of Loyle Carner, Kojey Radical and Little Simz are able to make people think through rap music. 

Guvna B’s Bridgeland Road
Can you tell me about your experience with the police that is the story behind Bridgeland Road? 

I had gone to get a coffee from my local coffee shop, and on my way back to my car, there were three white guys standing in front of it, that wouldn’t let me past. I kept saying “Excuse me please”, and they still wouldn’t move, so I gently brushed past one of them and within the space of fifteen seconds, he said something to me like “What are you doing”, and he threw my coffee in my eye and punched me in the face. It all escalated very quickly, and they made a run for it. 

I called the police, but by the time they got there they had gone. Some of the questions that the police asked me, such as “Have you been in trouble with the police before”, “Did they say anything racist?”, definitely made me feel some type of way. On my way to the hospital, my reflection was that I have called the police as I needed help, and they were talking to me as though I was a suspect. I don’t think this would have happened if I didn’t look the way that I do, and so I internalised it for a little bit while they were making their inquiries. After a few months, they closed the case, and I felt as though I didn’t have any closure, which I really struggled with. 

My cousin, Michaela Coel, said you should write it down, and process it in lyrical form, and I took her advice. The voice note in the song is the actual one that she sent. I was worried about my son growing up before this but now even more so, I think it is mad that it can happen to anyone. As a parent, you just want to protect your loved ones, you want to protect everyone that you care about. I think social media has certainly escalated the situation in London; when I was growing up you could get into a fight with a rival gang and that’s where it would end. But now, with social media, and the embarrassment, and the pride and that kind of stuff it has escalated to knives and guns and stuff like that. Now, the ramifications are a lot more serious, but the root of why it happens, and poverty, and working-class communities struggling to navigate life is all the same. 

One of the things that I want people to walk away from after listening to my new album is that you can’t really hope for change, you have to try and be the change that you want to see. There is obviously macro change, in terms of government, and policy and that kind of stuff, however we need those cogs to turn. If you just wait for things to happen, it won’t, change is slow, and it is a gruelling process, but I think we can all be part of making safer communities if we truly ask ourselves what we can do. There’s a lot of people living in London that are passive, that see the things that are going on around them and think that they cannot do anything about it, but you’re not going to change anything if that’s your attitude. 

The Village is on Fire
What do you think is the reasoning behind rap music getting such a bad reputation?

I think rap is just a reflection of society. You’re going to have positive themes, and you are going to have more negative themes. I think rap is an amplification of society in general; I don’t think it encourages violence but rather it is just a reflection of what is really happening on these streets. 

Sometimes when we want to book a venue for a tour, or for a club night, they’ll ask loads of questions about my music because I’m a rapper, but you’ll have rock concerts where beef kicks off all the time. Thankfully, artists aren’t stopping at that, and we’re pushing still and are still making waves.

Which rappers are making the biggest moves in the UK scene right now? 

I like Loyle Carner’s last album; I think he raised some important points regarding identity and fatherhood. Little Simz is incredible, and I believe that if she was a male she would be revered as one of the greatest artists that this country has ever seen; I think she is one of the sickest musicians. And Ghetts of course. 

How has becoming a father changed how you make music? 

It changes your perspective. Everything you do, regardless of what line of work you are in you want to be a good role model for your child. Lyrically, sometimes I may want to go in a certain direction, but then I think actually, I want my son to hear this, and I want him to vibe with it. It changes how you think about everything; even if I’m driving him around and I want to play a tune that has bare swearing or stuff about girls, and drugs and guns, I won’t play it, it just feels weird. I want to give him a chance to view life positively.

Guvna B’s “Amplify” will be released tomorrow.