Novelist interview: 'There’s a lack of creativeness in grime at the moment'

The MC talks about being inspired by 70s funk, XL records, and a bit about Call of Duty

Grime and Call of Duty go hand-in-hand. At least, that's what Activision want you think. Over the last few weeks, they've been wheeling out grime's best MCs to promote their latest game, Call of Duty WWII.

One artist showcasing the latest shooter is Novelist, best known for the releasing the anthem ‘1 Sec’ on XL records and guest featuring on Skepta’s Mercury Prize winning album Konnichiwa.

The Independent caught up with the 20-year-old over the phone. Here’s our full Q&A below.

Hey Novelist, hope you’re well. Are you a big Call of Duty fan?

To be honest, I used to play Modern Warfare II but I’m not much of a gamer.

Fair enough. How did you get involved with promoting the new game?

There was a Call of Duty event in central London. I thought it would be a cool thing to get involved in. They asked if I wanted to come down, so I came down.

Cool. Earlier this year, you left XL records and went independent. What happened there?

I was never on XL records. I just did a track with them.

So, did they just release a few tracks of yours?

Yeah, I was working with a producer called Mumdance, we just wanted to put out some music together. XL wanted to, so we said ‘alright, cool, let’s put it out with you guys’. I just decided one day that I didn’t want to work with a label, do what they wanted me to do. So I’m just doing it by myself, that’s where the whole independent thing comes from.

Quite a lot of artists are staying independent at the moment. Why do you think that is?

Just because we can do a lot more by ourselves. essentially, you can cut out the middle man. Thanks to the Internet, you can release that music on your own. Then you have creative direction over where it’s going. I feel very free to do what I want. I’ve always wanted to do my own sh*t specifically, design things myself, make my own beats, work with who I want to. When I wake up and want to work with someone, I don’t have to go through five different people. At the end of the day, music is just expression, art. I don’t look at it from a business perspective until the business needs to be done, after the products actually made.

There are lots of artists on the scene who don’t make their own beats. Do you think that elevates you slightly?

Yeah. It makes it easier, to do what I’m doing. I like to do my own thing, show people my approach to music. I want to make music no ones ever thought of before, breaking new ground. I like when people see Novelist and wonder ‘what’s he going to do next, what’s this new sound’. I can only really do that myself.

What was the motivating factor driving you to make your own music?

Just everything that was going on around me, to be honest. Family was a big thing, from the get go. When you have a musical family, that really helps. It’s not like my mum or brother or siblings weren’t behind what I was doing. My uncle used to give me a lot of advice. My mum used to drop me to pirate radio and come into the studio.

Are there many artists doing something similar to what you’re doing right now?

I don’t think there are as many as there should be. What we’re doing is inspiring younger guys to get involved. But, at the moment, there’s a lack of creativeness.

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Why do you think that is?

Because there are only a select number of people who are actually doing really well. Whenever there’s a guy who is doing well, there’s someone copying. That’s what everyone looks to as inspiration. If a lot more people were doing well from music, they would feel free to not just look at specific people and replicate what they’re do. They’d feel more able to experiment with different sounds. I don’t grime is anywhere near as creative as it once was, seven years ago. At the same time, we’re still expanding. Someone who has the best of both worlds — with the business side of things and creative side, having total independence — that’s what’s going to drive the genre forwards. It’s just the different sounds. I’m not tied to grime. There are different UK sounds waiting to be expanded on. I know there are more interesting grime artists out there, it’s just about pushing them. Me and my boys started our sound in Lewisham, the Ruff sound. It’s faster than grime. It has the grime essence. You MC half time, you MC double time. It’s inspired by that old Memphis, Dizzee Rascal, those different sounds. I feel, if there were more creative movements things would be going a lot better.

Stormzy has had another huge year and lots of artists are trying to replicate that sound.

That’s exactly what happened. That’s cool because Stormzy is sick. But there’s only one Stormzy, so let Stormzy be Stormzy. Look inside yourself and ask ‘how do I want to go?’ Stormzy got known for doing his thing. Same way as me, I got known for how I do my thing. If everyone had that ethos with their careers, I’m sure a lot of people would be more successful. That’s just how it happens, listen to anything and take inspiration.

Where are you taking inspiration from at the moment?

Definitely my older brother’s productions and funk, a lot of 70s funk. I’m looking for my own sound, so I’m not recreating funk songs, but taking what I like from that music, so the music I make has that style. I’ve been making some music that sounds psychedelic recently, but you would never associate grime music with that sound, with 70s guitar. You get inspiration from everywhere. Tame Impala are my favourite band at the moment.

When you look at the Radio 1 playlist, there’s not much grime there. Do you think there’s still a resistance to the genre in the mainstream?

Yeah, there is. But when I drop my project, I’ll bring that. There are no profanities in my music. I’m from the hood so I don’t need to act like I’m from the hood. If people were more realistic in their lyrics, maybe the people who control the playlists would look at that and think it’s more universal. Not everyone should be negative. A lot of the music is very expressive because of where we come from, the stuff that goes on. You need to let the world know about it. At the same time, that’s not the only thing we know about. That’s just the negative stuff in society. If people just expanded the things they speak about, how the songs are sounding without actually changing the genre, there are certain avenues that we can push through. We’ve seen it plenty of times before. Not everything has to be a hype ting. And even if it is a hype ting, it can be a positive kind of vibe. People don’t want to hear that negativity on daytime radio, all the darkness. The general man doesn’t understand what goes on in the ends. If you can educate the people without making them feel this is too abrasive for them, that’s what I would say if you want to be on daytime radio like that. Me, I’m happy being on pirate radio. At the same time, I do plan to step it up to another level and keep it real at the same time. that’s the only way. People think they can say whatever they want on a tune and it’s going to go everywhere, but it doesn’t work like that.

Do you think it’s obvious when someone’s not talking about their reality on a song?

You don’t have to think twice about what’s someone’s saying. They’re more often than not telling the truth. If you have to question whether that’s exaggerated then that’s a lie. Basically, I have to go grab a flight now.​​

No worries, have a safe flight.

Much love.

Novelist spoke to us during Call of Duty: World War II BETA, which is available for anyone who has pre-ordered the game on PS4 or XB1.

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