Novelist Is Laying the Foundations of His Legacy

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Novelist Is Laying the Foundations of His Legacy

27-year-old rapper Novelist’s creative process comes naturally. “I’m the definition of doing something that I like,” The Lewisham-raised rapper tells Hypebeast. The rapper is blessed with one of the most unique discographies in the UK, often applying his “old soul” mentality to take inspiration from grime, house, techno, and even 40s soul records – Novelist has carved out a sonic that separates him from the rest.

First introducing himself to the mic at the age of 13, Novelist was stabbed the same year, with the eye-opening tragedy encouraging the musician to take his craft seriously from the jump. Hitting pirate radio stations such as Freeze and Rinse FM, alongside the likes of Big Zuu, AJ Tracey, Jammz and more, Novelist used these sessions to sharpen his skills and surround himself with like-minded peers. However, it wasn’t until 2015, when Nov released “Take Time” – which is still to this day, a grime anthem – that his life completely changed.

Heading on tours of America with his close friend and mentor, Skepta, Novelist carried this momentum into the production of his self-produced album, Novelist Guy, with the 15-tracker immediately recognized by industry shapers to receive a nomination for the 2018 Mercury Prize award.

While the awards and kudos from labels and execs alike have continued to follow, Novelist has remained grounded, refusing to compromise his sound and integrity. His approach to life has always seemed years ahead of his age, with his level-headedness, comfortability in his own skin, and sharp ear for musical experimentation being the only formula he’s applied to take himself to the very top.

Now, with a slew of projects under his belt – inspired by everything from G-Funk and grime to soul and techno – Novelist is eyeing up his next stage to take over: GALA Festival in South London, Peckham. The three-day event celebrates the originators and innovators who have defined UK music – and Novelist can’t wait.

Hypebeast caught up with Novelist in his studio in London to discuss growing up with grime, his clothing brand, Mmm Yeah, the power of integrity, and more.

Hey, Nov! How are you?
I’m really good! I’m around my family all the time, doing what I love. I can’t complain too much.

Being your own boss can be quite difficult sometimes, how do you manage to keep your discipline?

It can be draining. At the same time though, do you know when you just sign up for something? The reward is worth it all. But, of course, it gets strenuous and I have to be disciplined, focused and make sure that I motivate myself on top of all that.

Your latest project, ‘Rose Water,’ unveils a new, romantic side to yourself. How come you decided to take the EP in that direction?

I just didn’t think that I had dropped a tape before that was centered around romance. I’m a man that has had extensive experiences in that side of life and I’ve just never articulated that in my art. I listen to a lot of songs like that, ones that speak to the women and I just wanted to do that – and I’m good at it.

I grew up around women, I listen to women all the time, and I have a plethora of experiences that I’ve never articulated through sonics. So, I thought why not? Valentine’s was coming up around the time I was thinking about making the project, so I wanted to give the gyaldem something they could vibe to and give the mandem a perspective from a different side of me.

While the project is so romantically centered, you still managed to keep a real gangster essence to it. How did you manage to find that balance?

That’s just me! I’m cut from that cloth. When you can flawlessly be yourself, what comes through is that authenticity and that’s what gives people that G’d up feeling. People can see that I’m being real with myself and to me, what’s what a G is. A G is someone that is unwavering in their own truth, they’re not having to project any kind of “is-um,” they’re being their authentic self. You know when someone walks into a room and they have respect for themselves and respect for the environment? They know what they’re doing. You always look at that person and think “That guy’s cool.” That’s my thing.

When looking from the outside in, a lot of fans of the UK rap scene think you’re older than you are, simply because of how long you’ve been in the game. What have you learned over your career so far?

So many people think I’m old, bro! [laughs]. One of the main things that I’ve learned as an individual is that I don’t have to speak unless I want to, which is key. I want what I have to say to be impactful – I don’t want to be regarded as a person who doesn’t have genuine thoughts. Sometimes, an artist might have something to say, but people will look at that person like they’re just an entertainer.

Whereas, when you’re a thinking person and you reserve your words for meaningful topics, I feel like that has more of an impact – it doesn’t have to be political, it can be a trivial matter. But, I like to be heard when I speak and that’s irrespective of exposure, whoever is hearing, they’re paying attention.

I’ve also learned to appreciate what I’ve got. Something that I value is that to get to the next stage in my life – because life is like a big staircase – I’ve already got what I need. Every single step, to get to the next step, I appreciate that I’ve already got what I need.

That’s something that’s sustained me because I’ve never felt the need of “want,” people start doing weird things when they feel like they “want” something, I’ve already got everything that I need. I think that’s part of the thing that grounds me – I already know what my destination is so I’m going to get there. I don’t need to chase anything or worm my way into situations – this gives me a sense of peace about what’s around me.

“I’m in a position where I have reach – and I’m the definition of doing something that I like.”

Who have been your biggest mentors over the years?

My mother, for sure. She is the prerequisite for everything I understand. My whole family has been that really. But, my mum is my mum. My siblings, my people. But musically, someone who has been a very good mentor in terms of sonics would be Sir Spyro – that’s my bredrin. A lot of people won’t know this but Spyro gave me my first iPhone when I was like 14-years-old. That’s a gesture that I’ll never forget, he’s been checking me for at least 10 years now. He’s motivated me a lot, showed me a lot of information, and always been that guy that’s come through. Anyone independent, they know how hard it is to do this, so Spyro has always been someone who’s looked out for me on that front.

How important is it to you to keep your musical integrity?

Before Novelist was even a thing and before I even entered the UK music industry, I was a music fan. Now, I’m in a position where I have reach – and I’m the definition of doing something that I like. If I like something, I’m going to have a crack at it. If it’s someone singing in the 80s, I’m going to make a tune like that, because I like that – I want my legacy to be something that is remembered by doing things that I like. The music industry isn’t just business to me and I think a lot of artists treat it like business, that’s why they chase the trend. From their perspective – in my opinion – that’s what’s going to achieve the most financial game because they’re chasing the trend. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to make the money, and I already make the money.

When I go to make a beat I think: what do I feel like, what do I feel like doing today? I want to be able to sit down and play my own tunes – I’d hate to be an artist who doesn’t play my own tunes. Sometimes, I will sit and listen to my own music like it’s not mine – that’s how much I love music. Not to tread on anyone’s toes, but at the same time, I don’t think a lot of musicians are having the same fun with making music like me.

I came up in this industry through the avenue of grime and I’m always going to make grime, but I’m much more than that and I’m always going to be more than that. When you’ve been labeled by the mass a certain way, sometimes you have to swim against the tide to let them know who you really are. If you go through my archive, you’re going to hear a plethora of sounds, because that’s who I am.

How much has your upbringing in grime helped your music production today?

My experience in grime has influenced my music today, 100%. I had to improve my breathing, I did all the pirate radio and now I’m at a point where I’m about to go on my fourth tour of Australia. I’ve been everywhere, America, Europe… Russia. The only place I haven’t toured is Africa. So, being in so many live events and understanding sonics to a certain level – even to the point where the audience doesn’t speak the same language – you’re going to develop a pattern, and an effect on how you approach music. All of those factors are taken into account when you’re making music. I’m just lucky that I’ve been able to do it at a young age, I’m 27 years old now, and I feel like my career is entering the campaign mode, whereas before I was doing the side missions.

“I came up in this industry through the avenue of grime and I’m always going to make grime, but I’m much more than that and I’m always going to be more than that.”

How much does fashion affect your day-to-day life?

Listen, everybody knows that Novelist is the flyest! [laughs]. I’m the aesthetic man and fashion is a part of that. I have both sonics and aesthetics and both are important factors. Aesthetics are important – even down to the scents. I have a whole collection of essential oils, ouds, and fragrances, it’s all down to the aesthetic – and write this down: I like my presence to be smelt before felt. Fashion is a thing where it’s not about the garm, it’s how you wear it. I have my own brand, and I like to project my own look, but you’ll see in the future, there will be more cuts and fits. There have been so many times when I’ve put a fit together, stepped out of the house, and thought “Fam, why didn’t I bring a photographer with me,” because it’s an everyday thing!

What’s the end goal with your brand, Mmm Yeah?

I think the idea of London Fashion Week is a given – that’s going to happen. I would say the real end-goal for me is when I’m 60 or 70, I want to be able to look back at a time period where you can see a clear impact that was attached to what clothing I was producing. If you look back at the 90s on the West Coast, you might associate Dickies jackets with it, I want to have that kind of impact, where I style-define a time. I’m more concerned with legacy, to make sure that my social positioning is correct, that the right guys are wearing it – that when they put it on, they stretch out their arms, pop their collar, and think “Oh yeah.” That’s money well spent! There are so many times when you feel a certain feeling when you’ve tried something on – I’m more concerned with giving people that feeling.

What’s next for Novelist?

Like I’ve said, I’m doing a tour of Australia, I’ve got GALA Festival – I’m going to tear that to shreds. I’m looking forward to it – it’s in South London, Peckham – not too fat from my gaff actually. But when it comes to talking about music releases, I want the people to know that I live in the studio. My yard is the studio. If we’re talking about albums, I’ve got bare. If we’re talking about projects, I’ve got bare. Yeah, I could talk about how I’m working with this and that in the studio – I’m always traveling and always creating, and I’m never out of ideas. I’m here for a long time. Look at what I’ve done already – and I’m 27. I don’t even feel like I’ve hit the hammer, I don’t even think I’ve done that yet. I’m looking forward to what’s coming.

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