Let’s be clear: Professor Green is not a real professor. He’s a rapper from a council estate in Hackney, north-east London, with a 100,000- selling debut album, a chart-topping single and a handful of accolades including a Mobo, an NME Award and an MTV European Music Award.
The 27-year-old’s actual name is Stephen Manderson, and his nomme de rap is not a nod to a youthful enthusiasm for Cluedo, more an acknowledgement of his past selling marijuana as a youngster.
His TV show Professor Green Unseen, featuring his life in the rap spotlight and that of his somewhat oversized entourage of hangers-on, came about after Channel 4 saw the YouTube documentary clips that “Team Green” posted during the intense promotional campaign for the rapper’s hit 2010 album Alive Till I’m Dead.
“It scares the living daylights out of me, the idea of being on TV,” admits Green. “It’s potentially an audience of half a million. And that could be people’s first introduction to me. People who know me will watch it and laugh and get it straight away. Some will go, ‘Actually, this lot are all right – they’re not just a bunch of degenerates.’ But other people who turn over will go, ‘What a bunch of p***ks,’ then turn over again. And that’ll be their lasting impression. Which is what worries me.”
Arguably, even that impression might be preferable to the reductive tabloid view of Professor Green. On paper his family history is the dictionary definition of dysfunctional: his parents were teenagers when they had him, he was raised by his grandmother, and his father killed himself in 2008.
There were youthful scrapes with the law in inner-city London, and school was something of an afterthought. And since an altercation in a London nightclub last year, the 6ft 4in rapper’s extensive array of tattoos has been complemented by a vicious scar – Green was bottled in the neck and almost died. Ironically, the pre-existing tattoo under the scar reads “Lucky”.
But appearances, and backgrounds, can be deceptive. The affable Green is well spoken, well mannered and, as can be judged by his dexterous raps and lyrics, fiercely intelligent. He admits he has a temper – one of his entourage is Trevor, an ex-military man whom he inherited from pop star and collaborator Lily Allen and who functions as Team Green’s security guard. “Trevor’s job is as much protecting me from myself as from someone else, ’cause I get a lot of lip, and on the wrong day I lash out.”
But mostly he puts his anger and frustration into his music. “I’ve tried therapy but it doesn’t work for me – it just becomes mind games,” he admits over breakfast in a smart gastro-pub near his flat in Bermondsey, south-east London (given his colourful past, and his new-found fame, it’s safer for him to live outside the borough of Hackney).
“I think I’m smarter than everyone else. Whereas writing about it helps me really understand what’s going on.”
Will the TV show help steer people away from their preconceptions about him? “Yeah, I think it will shock people,” he says of his series. “People wouldn’t necessarily associate my manner with my appearance. But as much as it will help – ’cause it’ll showcase my maturity and my take on things – it will probably also show that I get immature when I get angry. That’s when you see me revert back to someone I was a few years ago. That’s still a part of me. And that’s a battle that will probably forever be ongoing. But at the end of the day, it’s honest.”
As to whether viewers who are new to him and his music will think Professor Green is just another gangster rapper tooling around with a posse and trying to look tough, he shrugs. He’s had harder battles in his life.
“I don’t mind. Low expectations just make it so much easier to exceed them. If people look down on me, that’s fine – but what kind of person are you to do that? People don’t like looking at themselves, do they? Which is why,” Green adds with a smile, “I haven’t watched the programme.”