Typically, a rapper waits to blow up before branching into retail, but London's Giggs knows firsthand the value of having a fallback plan. "I've got enough people hoping I'll fail that I need to be smart with my business," says the 27-year-old, who since early 2009 has run a shop selling mixtapes and his own SN1 clothing line in the rough Peckham neighborhood where he grew up. "That's why I opened the store. I need to be able to support my music if everything else goes away."
The everything else Giggs -- born Nathan Thompson -- is referring to is a burgeoning career that, in the two years since he released his first mixtape (the menacing Walk in Da Park), has seen him win Best U.K. Hip-hop act at the 2008 BET Awards and draw praise from the Streets' Mike Skinner, who appeared on the uncharacteristically mournful 2009 track "Slow Songs." Giggs also notched his first charting U.K. single this past February with the fatalistic "Don't Go There," featuring B.o.B.
He followed that success with the June release of his official full-length debut, the alternately bleak and boastful Let Em Ave It (XL). There, on sneering street dramas like "Ner Ner" and "All I Know," the MC uses his sour molasses flow to slip stories about selling coke and doing time into the spaces between stentorian Jeezy-esque synth hooks and tense, jumpy beats. "Rick Ross is bigger to me than Dizzee Rascal," says Giggs. "My music is more gangsta rap than anything English."
Maybe too much so. A March U.K. tour was canceled after police warned promoters about security concerns, and the store (also called SN1) has been raided multiple times. "England has a different view of rappers like me than America does," says an undaunted Giggs, who began rapping seriously while serving a two-year prison term for a gun conviction. ("I had to do something in there," he shrugs.) "In America, people will look past a criminal record. In England, they try and shut you up."
Having tentatively planned a U.S. tour for early 2011, the immediate future seems secure for Giggs, but he's not taking any chances. "I understand how quickly life can change," he says, "which is why I've got to do what I want to do."