Professor Green is currently enjoying life in the fast lane with debut single "I Need You Tonight" – a sample of INXS's 1987 classic – currently sitting pretty in the top 5 of the UK singles charts and follow-up single features non-other than global pop star Lily Allen. But the assumption that Green is a new artist, who's 'first' single shot straight to No.3, would be a misguided story. The 26-year-old Londoner may be new to mainstream audiences, but the rapper has in fact been grinding in the music industry for many years now.
Stephen Paul Manderson grew up on the Northwold estate in Upper Clapton, Hackney (an area dubbed 'Murder Mile' for its high crime rate). The son of teenage parents, Green was raised by his grandmother and great grandmother. Growing up he was quite argumentative and always into debates, an attribute he'd planned would see him become a lawyer. But after falling in love with hip-hop at the tender age of nine (citing Notorious B.I.G as one of his biggest influences), Green switched his direction and at the age of 18 began rapping.
He quickly made a name for himself in the London underground battle rap scene, breaking records in the process, including being the first (and only) rapper to win The Jump Off (an 8 Mile style event) seven weeks in a row… twice. This resulted to him winning a place at The Fight Klub, a world championship battle held in the Bahamas. Green came second to world champion Jin and on his return to London, signed a deal with Mike Skinner's 'The Beats' Label.
Although that particular record deal didn't work out in the end, Green continued making music and enjoyed underground success. Things would later turn bleak for the up-and-coming artist, as his father passed away in 2007 and in 2009 Green himself, narrowly escaped death after being stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle.
Professor Green's luck was about to change though. A random facebook conversation with Lily Allen triggered a change of direction for the MC and things finally began to look up for him.
We caught up with Green ahead of his radio appearance to talk touring with Lily Allen, new music, the internet and more…
Earmilk: Congratulations on your top five single. Were you expecting such a big response?
Professor Green: I went into this whole thing with no expectations what so ever. I'm very happy with all the positive response and the way people have really reacted to the single. It's very over whelming.
EM: You made a name for yourself as a battle rapper. Do you still battle from time to time and how has coming from a battle rap background influenced your current music?
PG: Nah I don't battle anymore. I'm a lyricist first and when you're battling it's all about your lyrics. Making records is obviously a bit different, as you have to structure a full song together. It influenced my music in a way that I'm very focused on the lyrical aspect of a song, not just a hot beat and good flow.
EM: After big success in the battle game and a lot of buzz in the underground you were signed by Mike Skinner (of The Streets fame). During that time UK urban music, especially rap, was not really accepted in the mainstream, did you ever feel under pressure, like you were fighting a loosing battle?
PG: Not at all, I never thought of it like that. The thing that probably got to me at that particular time was that I really wasn't ready to be an artist. I had only been battling at that point and hadn't really thought too much about making records as an artist. So truthfully speaking I wasn't really ready for it.
EM: Eventually that deal didn't work out. Did it leave you discouraged about making music?
PG: Nah, I love music and that's why I do it. It's a shame that deal (with 'The Beats') didn't work out, but the bottom line is we didn't hit the sales. But like I said, at that time I wasn't really ready to be an artist. Right now I'm really happy with my record deal (Green's now signed to Virgin records) and I'm working with the best team of people. So in a way it was a blessing in disguise.
EM: Are you still in contact with Mike Skinner?
PG: Of course. He's a really cool guy. He's featured on my new album.
EM: You spoke to Lilly Allen on facebook and that resulted to you guys recording a song together and you joining her Australian and European tour. How did that happen?
PG: One day I was online on facebook and saw she was too, so I said 'hi' and we just started talking back and fourth about music etc. It eventually led to us remaking 90's classic "Dub Be Good To Me." The song got a really good reaction and I ended up going on tour with her, which was a serial experience. I was performing to such big crowds.
EM: During that tour you were performing to a predominantly pop crowd. That must really differ from the hip-hop battle crowd you were used to?
PG: It's actually more rewarding to perform to people who may not have initially listened to your music. When you're performing to your target audience, you're in your comfort zone. But performing to a new audience and making them like you, is more challenging and there-fore slightly more rewarding.
EM: The internet (and social networking sites) has obviously proved to be a good thing for your music career. Over all do you think the internet is a friend or foe of the music industry?
PG: That's a complex question. It varies for every artist. For me it's been a good thing, but for other artists it can be a bad thing. The intrusion of the net and social sites can show people that certain artists are nothing like they portray in their music. They actually live boring lives but portray something completely different in their songs.
Things like F64's and SB.TV in general (a freestyle series made famous by UK street broadcaster Jamal 'SB' Edwards) is a great thing for hip-hop and a positive thing for music in general.
EM: Which artist's are you currently listening to at the moment?
PG: I'm really feeling Plan B's new album 'The Defamation Of Strickland Banks' and Example's new stuff is really good as well.
EM: When is your album released and what kind of sounds can we expect to hear?
PG: My debut album "Alive Till I'm Dead' is out this summer. It's going to be mixture of all kinds of sounds. I listen to a variety of music, so that will definitely reflect on my album.