Raised within the music's culture from childhood, his quick, clear-voiced rhyme schemes and futuristic beats have helped him build a cult following across the globe. Along the way, he's connected with Mumdance, Baauer and Chase & Status, signed with XL Recordings, and positioned himself on the vanguard of his genre. On Friday the 8th of April, Novelist will make his debut New Zealand performance for FUZEN at Neck of the Woods. In celebration of this, we spoke with him about growing up with Grime.
Red Bull Studios: I first heard Grime in 2002. How old were you then, and what was it like growing up with it?
Novelist: I was around five. You know what? It was only when I got older that I realised not everyone grew up around this. Grime just the general music when I was little. We would listen to pirate radios; we had the grime DVDs. My uncle even had some producer software on his computer. Grime was normal to me. It just sounded like how everyone spoke. It sounded like the hood. Grime is more than a sound. There is a whole theme behind it. Our slang, the way we dress, it’s all part of it. You know what I’m saying? You can tell if someone is grime or not. You can just see it instantly [laughs].
Red Bull Studios: Who were you listening to when you were coming up in it?
Novelist: Wiley, Genius on Rinse FM, D Double E, Sharky Major, basically the whole of the Nasty crew, and some other crews. Then I started to hear Skepta a lot with the Meridian crew. I heard JME before I heard Skepta. Of course we had Dizzee Rascal doing big things from the get go. I don’t want to miss anyone one, there were so many people, but no one was directly a role model. Riko Dan was wicked, he had the Caribbean Ragga vibes on smash. Seeing all these people made me want to spit. But I wasn’t looking at individuals thinking, I want to be like you. At the time, it was just a cool thing. No one was rich or famous. It was just cool that they were doing what they were doing. That was what I fell in love with.
Red Bull Studios: You are an MC and a producer, which is a typical default in Grime. Why do you think that is?
Novelist: When you innovate a sound, you are the inventors. That takes more than just writing lyrics or spitting bars. Most of the MCs can probably make beats. If you have got the software around and you are that passionate, you’re going to make a beat, and you’re not going to rely on someone else to make you a beat. Grime has been very D.I.Y from early. I think that is because it's such a young sound, so there has never really been an industry for it. There have never been people who are just producers and only producers. It’s just man dem from the hood who have got software and MC as well.
Red Bull Studios: Before you made a name for yourself outside of the UK, you came up doing pirate radio. Can you talk about the importance of pirate radio to Grime?
Novelist: Pirate radio teaches you how to MC properly. Not how to be a rapper over grime, but how to MC. I can go to any country where they don’t know my lyrics and sound good enough for them to be entertained. That is what it's about, people liking how you sound. That comes from the Caribbean [dancehall ragga] culture. Pirate radio is where you practice. It's where you learn how to host and how to hold a microphone properly. A lot of these MCs from, let's say the US, they might make a song that pops off, but their actual stage presence is terrible, cause they’ve never had anywhere to practice how to MC, or be a host and shutdown.
Red Bull Studios: For a long time, a big part of how people learned about Grime was from Grime DVDs. Can you talk about them?
Novelist: I had them all, Lord of the Mics, Risky Roadz, Conflict, there were so many different discs when I was younger. They were just DVDs that showcased different things. They were like documentaries. They would show MCs spitting, grime MC battles and include interviews and commentary. They basically showed what was happening, what crews were what, who was performing where, and what projects were coming out. People were putting a lot of work in to showcase when mans were doing, because YouTube wasn't around like that yet. In London on a whole, through the grapevine you're going to know what Grime is and have a Grime DVD in your house.
Red Bull Studios: How did it feel when UK grime artists started making songs with American rap artists?
Novelist: I think no one cared about that, because it’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted the Americans to come over and listen to our music, not do remixes of their music. When I was younger I didn’t care about songs like that. I wasn’t listening to those songs. I’d rather just hear the Americans do their songs themselves.
Red Bull Studios: In the 2000s, the police used to have a lot of problems with Grime events in the UK. How are things now?
Novelist: It’s just kids in a rave nowadays. It’s not a black versus white thing anymore. It’s a black, white and Asian thing now. It’s a widespread audience now. It’s not just black people in the raves. The police can’t really say as much as they used to before. Everyone in the UK is listening to grime. Everyone is listening to it.
Red Bull Studios: Situated where you are now, what are your thoughts on the future of Grime?
Novelist: I don’t like to predict anything man. All I know is that more people are paying attention, but fans and the industry are very fickle. The UK is not like America. Americans can make a popping song and become a millionaire in the next month. It’s not like that over here, because there is not a massive industry for what we do. I think people need to stop caring about labels and all that stuff. Make your own brand, get some followers, expand your brand and just keep sticking at making it work. Do what you can. Put your own money into your own brand. Over time, people will cling onto it.
I’m looking at the world with my music. I don’t care where you come from, you could potentially be a fan. You could be in The Congo or Australia, it doesn’t matter. All I need to know is, my brand works over there, so I’m going to expand it. If you are only doing this to feed Americans or get a big cheque, that’s a problem. What if they don’t want to give you a big cheque, what are you going to do then? You’ve got to have a brand to fall back on.
Catch Novelist Live in Australia and New Zealand with BBE and FuZen:
FRI 1 APRIL - Oh Hello!, Brisbane
SAT 2 APRIL - Platform One Nightclub, Melbourne
WED 6 APRIL - Jack Rabbit Slim's, Perth
FRI 8 APRIL - Neck of the Woods, Auckland
SAT 9 APRIL - OXFORD ART FACTORY, Sydney