On the week he plays three mystery back-to-back gigs in London, David Renshaw speaks to XL’s hottest prospect, Novelist, about making it in New York, David Cameron and why he’s shirking all offers to collaborate
When grime MC Novelist was 15 he ran to be young mayor of Lewisham, his south London hometown. He didn’t win, but now, aged 18 and with an XL Recordings EP under his belt and a position at the forefront of grime’s move into the mainstream, he finds himself speaking to an even wider group of people.
“I feel like a prophet for teenagers and people who need a voice,” he says confidently. Right now though he’s in New York, riding the wave of popularity grime is enjoying in the States. While he’s playing at contemporary art institutions MOMA PS1 in the city, Skepta is shutting down cities on a nationwide tour – the popularity of both acts boosted after they stepped on stage with Kanye West during his gig at KOKO in Camden earlier this year.
“Basically, it’s dance music,” Novelist says explaining why he feels grime is becoming an increasingly global concern. “Even if you don’t get what we’re talking about there’s still a vibe, there’s something to move to.”
Getting what Novelist is on about, he says, is easy. “I look at myself as Novelist, the storyteller. My songs aren’t about me, they’re about everyone else.”
His recent work, including ‘Ignorant And Wot’, a stark portrait of day-to-day life in an area filled with crime and violence released after this year’s General Election, has become increasingly political. As a teenager growing up in a borough named the “least safe” in the UK in 2013, Novelist has strong views on how the government’s attitude toward the lower end of the social scale has affected the mentality of his peers.
“I’m not even angry anymore, I just realise that they don’t know what is going on,” he says when asked what he’d say if he met David Cameron. “Things that are minor issues to them are real, deep seated heavy issues to people like me. Most of my friends are selling drugs. They don’t want to be doing it but it’s very hard to get into work. I want him [Cameron] to come and speak to us and see the emotion behind the things that happen.”
Novelist is “about 50% done” with his debut album, a mix of “tunes about love and tunes about shit in the ends”.
Having emerged at the start of the year with his Mumdance-produced EP ‘1 Sec’, Novelist will produce his album completely alone. In fact, he’s not that keen on working with others at all right now.
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“I did some stuff with Jamie xx. I’m not sure what he’s doing with the tunes, I don’t care. I met A$AP Rocky ages ago. Same with Skepta. The other day I was partying with Skrillex. I’m not about meeting people just to work with them though. I know my destiny so I don’t care about people’s status.”
So what is that destiny? The answer is simple enough: “I love everyone and I’m going to make music for them,” he says. “That’s the only way to touch someone’s soul.”
NOVELIST: NEED TO KNOW
BASED Lewisham, London
FOR FANS OF: Skepta, JME, Giggs, Stormzy
BUY IT NOW: ‘1 Sec – EP’ is on iTunes now
SEE HIM LIVE: London, mystery venues (July 30-31, August 1)
BELIVE IT OR NOT: Novelist had never been to a festival before he performed at Outlook in Croatia last year