“Wake up, thank God, brush my teeth, get washed, go on the computer, make some beats, link my boy, spend time with my woman, talk to my mum, then call my boys and pray with them.” That’s how Novelist responded when I asked him how a day goes in his life in 2017. Because in 2017, Novelist just wants to keep things simple, but most importantly, pure.
After bursting onto the scene in teenage grime crew The Square, the South London MC quickly cemented his status as one of the leading lights of grime’s new generation. He displayed a respect for the traditions of the genre, a deep understanding of grime’s social context as a reflection of the rawness of inner city London, and a willingness to push the sound even further. Tracks like “Endz” and “1 Sec” (produced by Mumdance) swept as quickly through the Internet as they did through the raves.
Now, still aged just 20, the Lewisham hero has evolved even more as an artist, and diversified his craft further. He’s a little wiser, a little more direct, and something about him seems intensely focused. His last single, “New Path”, was an impressive step away from grime into summery hip-hop packed with energy and flavour, and before that we received Be Blessed, a five track EP of atmospheric instrumentals with spiritual titles like “Archangel” and “Seraphim”.
He doesn’t drink much anymore, doesn’t smoke, has choice things to say about sugar, meditates regularly, has removed profanities from his music, and tells me he’s even been fasting regularly (but kindly warns me to stay hydrated if I should try it myself). When I gesture at the rush hour traffic outside and ask him a general chatty question about whether he ever finds London a little claustrophobic or overbearing he quickly shakes his head and delivers a slow and serene answer.
“Your mind will be wherever you take it to,” he smiles, “so I ain’t about to allow no force or energy to tell me I’m claustrophobic in my own space. If London gets on top of me, I go to the park, read a book, or look at the stars.”
Evidently, this a very happy and peaceful young man. “Yeah, I am happy right now,” he tells me. “My mum is my manager, my missus is my manager, my brother is my producer, my sister is one of my videographers, and my little brother is one of my designers. I don’t need anyone or anything. We’re a family unit.”
After cancelling a series of shows to focus on writing, he’s been holed up for most of the summer in his homemade studio in Lewisham, focusing his energies on creating a series of what he describes as “pure” singles and albums. With all this happiness floating around, is all this new music going to exert uplifting and cheerful experiences?
“No, it’s going to be truthful,” says Novelist, “but it won’t exert the energy of sadness.” It will be joyful in parts too, but fundamentally his new music will be about senses. Why? Because senses are serious. “So this will be a serious album?” I ask. “The truth,” he responds, “is a serious thing.” And then he stops talking, his eyes go glazed as if he’s searching the very back shelves of his mind, and he suddenly breaks into spitting bars from a yet to be released song.
“I woke up looked at the news, like what,
Lies and lies more lies that’s what,
I don’t wanna talk on the net that’s hot,
Think then I do what I thoughts my job,
Working working writing a plot,
How am I gonna make evil stop?
I don’t wanna hear any more guns pop,
But I still walk through the ends with a bop,
Time is key, move right with the clock,
I kick down doors when I want them unlocked,
Better no bad energies get blocked,
Can’t kill a soul with a stick and a rock,
Good man wanna bring all to the top,
Gods get rid of those fools at the top,
Way too many man talking a lot,
Think then use what you already got.”
He lets those words sit on the air for a while and then explains. “When I say you can’t kill a soul with a stick and a rock, I’m talking about sticks and stones obviously. But where I’m from a stick is a gun and a rock is crack. I’m letting people know that you can’t let this stuff kill your physical body. Let your soul be stronger. Everything is about soul.”
This newfound sense of spirituality and direction is something he wants for all young artists. Throughout our conversation he talks regularly about how he feels like the music industry is a rigged game full of secrecy, cosigns and fakery. He thinks older artists should be doing way more to help bring through the new generation.
“If you want to see more youth prevail, then teach them about collecting their royalties, tax returns, VAT, saving their receipts, teach them all that. We ain’t been taught that. But we are the teachers now. We need to give out this information. You know how you made that money, so free up that knowledge!”
With all of this talk about prayers and meditation, a desire to spread wisdom, and the presence of song titles like “Holy Principality”, it seems fair to ask Novelist if religion has become a bigger part of his life and the art he makes than it ever was before?
“I had an adult realisation. I’ve always lived by the morals, but I wasn’t always a good jelly baby. Sometimes I was naughty. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have done. But me having faith allowed me to see past my own sins, not dwell on them, and choose to be a better person. Now, I’m happy, truly happy, and that’s a hard thing to find in 2017. There’s so much prejudice, hate and violence. We need to be rooting for everyone.”