The road leading to Professor Green’s third album has been strewn with obstacles. It’s a wonder the Hackney rapper found time to clean his teeth, never mind get to the recording studio. Where to start with all the violence, car crashes, depression, celebrity unions and fall-outs?
“Towards the end of the last tour [in the autumn of 2012] I really needed some time off. I never meant to have as much time away as I did. It was just some of the stuff that happened, it was out of my hands,” he says almost as soon as we sit down. “Getting hit by the car, that was the big one. I was on painkillers for months, I got really down. But then I got married and I was happy again.”
A year ago this month the 30-year-old once known as Stephen Manderson married Millie Mackintosh, former Made in Chelsea star and one of the Quality Street Mackintoshes — a class-leaping union that put this credible hip hop star, the product of rap battles, a broken home and very little education, firmly in the sightlines of the gossip mags. “When I started dating Millie it went mental,” he tells me. “People couldn’t get their heads around the fact that she was from a wealthy background and I was not. It was very classist. But it’s not anyone else’s job to understand it, it’s ours.”
Peaceful domestic bliss has been pretty thin on the ground thus far. The accident happened last May, when his leg was crushed in between two cars. And there has been more vehicle trouble since then. An incident last November led to him reversing into a van in his Mercedes, pleading guilty to drink-driving and being banned for a year. But it’s much more complicated than that. The situation still infuriates him so much that he spends a large amount of our time together giving his side of the story.
To try to tell it in brief: he escorted Mackintosh to their south London home from a club in the early hours in a taxi, and while trying to open his front door, a thief appeared and attempted to snatch his £40,000 Rolex from his wrist. After a scuffle the mugger ran off, as did his wife, and Green decided that jumping into his car would be the quickest way to find her. When the police arrived there was no robber to be seen. Green was arrested on suspicion of drink-driving and spent the night in a cell. A few weeks later, after he had refused to give a statement about the incident, he was arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice and locked up again. He was never charged.
On the title track of his new album, Growing Up in Public, out on Monday, he shouts: “Detective Constable Clarke! I don’t like you. At all. We will never ever be friends,” which is pretty mild, all things considered.
DC Clarke was the first officer on the scene of the above. “He made my life an absolute misery for no reason. He further victimised the victim, essentially,” he says. “We got attacked and robbed on our doorstep. I drove all of 50 metres because my wife had run and he [the thief] had run after her. I had to get to her. They tried to say there was no robbery despite the fact there was an uninsured 40 grand watch missing, my hand was bleeding, my wife was hysterical.
“I didn’t ‘crash’ the car. I clipped the light of a van, it was like £150 worth of damage. I wasn’t so drunk that I couldn’t see. I blew the equivalent of a pint and a half. Perverting the course of justice came because I wouldn’t co-operate.”
Why wouldn’t you co-operate? “You just don’t do it. I got stitched up before by the police. Why would you co-operate with them? Look how they behave.”
He’s plainly furious, although the song that resulted has a bouncing, rocky energy and is actually pretty funny. “On the record I talk about it in a jovial manner but it was a really serious situation. He was trying to make it look like I was lying, which would have been a custodial sentence. I got robbed and now this copper is trying to put me in prison — for what? I’m not out doing badness. I’ve changed my life around and I help other people do good.”
He has come a long way since leaving school without qualifications at 14 and earning his stage name by dealing in skunk, a powerful type of cannabis. These days he’s a respected spokesperson about male depression who broadcast a powerful documentary entitled Suicide Survivors on Radio 1 in January and last month wrote an article for the Guardian following the death of Robin Williams. His estranged father committed suicide when Green was 24, a subject he also dealt with on his biggest hit, the number one Emeli Sandé duet Read All About It from 2011. He was raised by his mother’s mother and his great-grandmother because his parents were unable to look after him. He says he hasn’t spoken to his mum in years.
“My dad, bless him, he was a lovely man. That’s what made it all the harder. He was such a dickhead for doing what he did,” Green says today.
“It took me a long while to really process it, what happened. You go through such a spectrum of emotions — hatred, anger, upset, and upset is the one that sticks around. Obviously what’s happened will never change but my understanding of it is a lot better now. I mean, I cried in that documentary, but it really helped.”
I’ve rarely met a more open interviewee, never mind someone from the world of false bravado and self-aggrandisement that is rap music. Well over 6ft tall, covered in tattoos, including the word “Lucky” on his neck where he was stabbed with a broken bottle in 2010, he never seems intimidating.
As we part he makes sure I have a file of all his lyrics and gives me his personal email address in case I want to ask anything else — an almost unheard-of exchange between celebrities and journalists. He is endlessly compared to Eminem, and not just because they are both white. Both artists mix sick humour and painful honesty in their songs.
Green isn’t quite from the same league but still the candour of his songs is startling. One track in particular, Today I Cried, from his second album, strikes me as tough going but incredibly brave. Rappers don’t admit things like that. “I couldn’t write that song now because I don’t feel anywhere near that bad,” he says. His new single, Lullaby, is another serious one about the dangers of men suffering in silence.
But much of the new album is a riot. Name in Lights sees him teaming up with Rizzle Kicks to describe the party life in hilarious detail. I Need Church is not about religion but about having a hangover so powerful that only God can cure it. It has a mix of big beats, guitars and sirens that recalls the goofy bluster of Kasabian and wraps up with an abusive answerphone message from another pop heavyweight, Robbie Williams.
Williams was supposed to sing on the track but opted to do a single with Dizzee Rascal instead. They fell out until Williams apologised, and Professor Green’s song has ended up with them both having a dig at each other, not entirely seriously.
Green sounds like he’s having fun again, which is remarkable given his recent back story. “Up until recently, for as long as I can remember I’ve woken up with knots in my stomach,” he says. “I always hold it tense. I didn’t realise that I never relaxed it, it was a feeling I always had. Now I don’t, I sleep better, I dream again and I wake up and feel good.”
At the wedding, at the Somerset country pile Babington House, there was no separation of bride’s and groom’s families in the chapel. “Everyone just crammed in. It was exactly how we wanted it to be. Everyone mixed and gelled and a lot of people made friends. Everyone was happy, all anyone said afterwards was it was the best party they’d ever been to.”
It’s the good stuff like this that he’s started hanging on to when the bad times come, which he’s accepted they will. Professor Green is one hell of a survivor. In fact, he’s more than a survivor — he’s doing something positive with a history that could have destroyed him.
Professor Green plays the Roundhouse, NW1 (0870 389 1846,roundhouse.org.uk) on December 11