Keeping God the Guvna
Popular rapper Guvna B has gone into print. He tells GEORGE LUKE that Christians need to be a little more unpopular …
To thousands of rap fans, Isaac Charles Borquaye is known as Guvna B – multiple MOBO award winner and ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.
He’s known and loved not just for his songs, but also for his cheeky-chappie catchphrase “Allo, mate!” – emblazoned across the front of the baseball cap he’s wearing today.
In a way, it’s fitting that we’re having this interview over a cheeky Nando’s!
Guvna turns 28 in June – the same month in which he makes his debut as an author with the publication of his book Unpopular Culture.
“Wow – author,” he gasps when I mention this. “That’s the first time someone’s said it out loud!”
Unpopular Culture is part pop-culture commentary, part personal testimony and part call-to-action. Guvna spent much of 2016 writing it.
“I got off to a flying start in January, and then I got writer’s block for a few months,” he says. “I got the inspiration for quite a few of the chapters from Emma, my wife. Writing the book was a fulfilling experience. I’ve been doing music for about nine years now, and I felt that I’d learnt a little that I could share and encourage people with.”
The idea for the book came from a casual walk down his street. “I was walking to the station one day, and I saw an advert,” Guvna says. “It just felt that every message we feast our eyes on – whether it’s via a billboard, social media or TV – has got an agenda that the majority buys into. I wondered, why is this? Is there a different way we can live? Being a Christian, I know there is – but the world thinks a certain way is popular. What would it look like if we behaved in an ‘unpopular’ way?”
As he points out in the book, that sense of being a misfit is something Guvna has had to live with ever since his youth growing up on a council estate in east London.
“Looking back,” he says, “I realised that I didn’t have much ambition – not because I wasn’t an ambitious person, but because all I could see in front of me were a few positive people who wore suits to respectable jobs, but mostly it was drug dealers, gang members – people who got up to no good. I was never a gang member and I never sold drugs, but it wasn’t the fear of God that kept me on the straight and narrow – it was the fear of my mother!
“My parents are Ghanaian and very religious, and they took me to church from a young age. But I went on ‘auto pilot’. I didn’t really even understand what it meant to be a Christian until I was 16. I was in a youth service and the leader was talking about being lukewarm. He basically said that you’re better off being the worst gangster known to mankind than just being a little bit of a gangster. I think he was calling my bluff a bit! But it did make me think that if I was going to church and calling myself a Christian, I should give it 100 per cent – otherwise there’s no point.
“A few months before that, a schoolmate of mine was struck by lightning. He survived, and that kind of strengthened my faith, because I had a strong feeling in my heart that it was God who came through for him. I always refer to that situation as a key in how I began to take my faith seriously.”
Offstage, Guvna does a lot of youth mentoring in schools and is looking forward to starting working in prisons. His wife Emma runs a charitable organisation called Girl Got Faith, which helps young girls with self-esteem issues.
“It’s just really chipping in wherever we can,” he says. “The key is to always be looking at what you can do for other people and how you can help, rather than just looking at your own situation. We all have the day-to-day things we need to do to ensure our sanity. But it’s also good to be outward-looking and see how we can make a difference in other people’s lives.”
* Unpopular Culture is published this month by SPCK, price £7.99.