Aug 30 2012 by Hannah Bewley, Harrow Observer
GEORGE Mpanga admits he likes to leave things until the very last minute.
Before a performance he has no idea which poems he will choose to recite and makes the decision on the night, based on the mood of the audience and the feeling he gets from the venue.
However, this is not to say he takes his role lightly, as he takes painstaking care over each of his lyrically rich and rhythmic poems which are earning him critical acclaim.
The 21-year-old, who is known as George the Poet, started rapping while living on St Raphael’s Estate – one of the most deprived estates in the country – but through hard work and determination has made the transition to one of the world’s most elite universities.
The student, who cites influences such as Eminem, Jay-Z and Black Ice, started rapping when he was 15-years-old but then became interested in poetry five years later and reinvented himself.
“I felt that in the world of rap there wasn’t much space to say what I was saying and engage with people, so I started calling myself a poet and people took me more seriously,” he says.
“There is a stigma attached to rap, you are supposed to be arrogant and everything but the stereotype for poets goes in the complete opposite direction as you are expected to be sensitive and a bit soft.”
He was a grammar school pupil at Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet and will soon start his third year of a politics, psychology and sociology degree at Cambridge University.
The student juggles his studies with doing gigs all over London in his free time, including a recent performance in front of The Prince of Wales and featuring in a BBC advert for Hackney Weekend 2012.
“It is difficult splitting the poetry and the studying,” he says. “But fortunately what I write about is exactly what I study in my course, it is literally politics, sociology and psychology.”
He says it was not difficult to make the leap from rap to poetry as there is much cross-over and he blends them to form a style of spoken word poetry, but he says he gains more respect from his audience now he is a poet and believes they really listen to what he is saying.
His friends in Cambridge are also impressed and hearing his work has helped make them more aware of north-west London in Cambridge and vice versa, he says.
“They are worlds apart and inner city people are tied to one place, but we have to adapt.
“I had assumed I was talking to people who had no idea what I was talking about and it has meant I have had to make it more accessible and curb the swearing and some of the slang.”
Every audience is valuable to George and he is a perfectionist when is comes to constructing his poems.
“I labour over each one of them and I take meticulous care over the detail of the poem. I could do spontaneous stuff if I need to but I am so particular about the message I don’t tend to do that.
“What’s most important to me is feeling like I am able to talk to people when I am on stage. When I get a round of applause I know I have done that and they know what I am talking about and that’s what it should feel like.”
Speaking about his performance in front of Prince Charles at the Awards for Excellence, held by the Business in the Community charity, he says: “I met him before and afterwards as well and I shook his hand and he said he really enjoyed the poem,” he says. “I was nervous and I wrote the poem specially for that evening, when I get a commission like that I have to.”
George comes from a large family, with three brothers and two sisters, and says they have all been very supportive of his rapping, poetry and study.
“They understand it is a growth process. I try out new poems on them and they always give me insight. When I was rapping my sisters were my inspiration and influenced me.”
George said that his parents were a big inspiration and he was brought up in an environment which encouraged hard work.
“I always had the aim of academic success and my school was supportive in this way. My main motivation was my parents as we were all brought up in a culture which celebrated academic achievement and all the negative stuff about the area only encouraged us more.
“I wanted to move away from all of that, but as I have matured I have realised I don’t want to run away from it but help to change it – that’s a life long battle.”
George travels round schools across London talking to classes about social responsibility and citizenship, which he said he enjoys as much as performing.
He welcomes the new attention he has been getting lately and the opportunity to influence young people.
“I often get kids coming up to me saying, ‘I saw you on the BBC’ and that makes me proud. I am representing all of us and that is the most humbling thing I can imagine.”
n The poet will perform at the Royal Opera House on September 7 as part of an evening of youth entertainment organised by young people.