“The NHS Means Equality Of Hope”: Big Narstie On Grime, Skepta And How He’ll Save The NHS With A Free Tour

Grime godfather Big Narstie (aka Tyrone Lindo) has been on the scene for over 10 years, with a slew of mixtapes and MOBO awards and nominations to his name. As he prepares to play BSTK festival in Essex and Fresh Island festival in Croatia, and with a new Narstie album in progress, we chatted to the Brixton don about the resurgence of his genre, his agony uncle YouTube series and how he’ll single-handedly save the NHS with a free tour.

Grime’s massive at festivals at the moment, which perhaps wasn’t true a few years ago. Have you noticed that shift?
“I wanna take that back! Grime’s always been big at festivals. Grime’s always had an underground crew. It’s no different to back in the day when the ska movement was out and and Elvis Presley was taking on the radio. Ska music wasn’t flourishing, but when people saw [those artists live], they still got a big reaction.”

Is it frustrating to hear people talk about “the resurgence of grime” because for you it never went away?
“Definitely. It’s a bitter and a sweet. But at the same time I just good give God thanks and praise that [we’re] getting the respect finally. No one’s trying to hold onto the past forever. But let’s not forget, and call a spade a spade.”

It’s really interesting to see that Skepta can release such a massive album in such a DIY way, and on his own terms.
“Give Skepta props and praise for what he’s done, but that’s what’s been happening before. The only difference is that [his album ‘Konnichiwa’] has been seen on a bigger scale. But obviously… how can I say this? Imagine you’ve seen your dad wash the car every Sunday, but then a guy in a glittery jacket does it and it’s all over TV. They’re saying, ‘And this is the new way – the way the guy in a glittery jacket does it.’ You’d think, ‘But my dad does this every Sunday!'”

What a strange and excellent analogy. Do you think it’s unfair that some artists receive all the accolades while others are overlooked?
“But that’s how the world goes, isn’t it? It’s standard; it’s happened for centuries and centuries before. Lot of blues and jazz music came from slaves in Mississippi, but Elvis got the props for it. Remember though – it’s only a couple of years ago that my brother Ed Sheeran was named the ‘Most Important Act In Black And Urban Music’ [by the BBC].”

You’re mates with him, aren’t you?
“Yeah, and it just made me laugh. Because that wasn’t coming out of Ed Sheeran’s mouth; it’s people talking bollocks. I’m just happy and proud he’s doing so well. So all I said to Ed was, ‘Give it couple of years and I’m going to be the most influential white man in funk.’ Why not?”

As someone who’s been part of the grime scene from very early on, are you where you want to be in your career?
“I’ve been making music for 10 years and in the last four I’ve been seeing the rewards of my labour. I am very thankful and blessed that I haven’t had to sell my soul and be anything that I’m not. Everybody knows I fucking smoke weed and I’m a pisshead. There’s no skeletons in my closet. I haven’t had to do a big deal with the Devil to get everything; there’s no illusions of Narstie. I’m 110% loved for who I am and I make a living where I can help my mum and look after my daughter with it, know what I mean?”

I’ve been enjoying your Uncle Pain YouTube series, where you act as an agony uncle for your viewers. When did you realise you had a gift for solving people’s problems?
“I’ve always sorted out family dramas. I’m always the person who gets the call, ‘Cuz! Don’t you think he’s being a prick!?’ Me and mum have this crazy gift where people always come to us. Any person who is a bit crazy, anyone who has problems, they find themselves speaking to me. It’s just one of those things – every person plays a different role. My position in life has always been to be that person in the room who can make the conversation and break down any awkwardness.”

You’ve spoken before about how important the NHS is. I wondered what you thought about the fact that it’s expected to report a £2.3bn deficit at the end of this year – the worst ever?
“I think all artists need to help to do a fundraiser for the NHS. I would like you to put this out – I will do a free tour and donate the money to the NHS. God forbid, imagine I was having an asthma attack or something and I tried to phone 999 and couldn’t get an ambulance. I’m 30 years old and my whole life I’ve grown up thinking that’s not possible. Look, there’s two things in this world you can always bet on. One, you can bet you’re gonna die and two, your local sweetshop will always be open. You have never ever once woken up in the morning and thought, ‘Do you think my sweetshop’s gonna be open?’ So, with the NHS, if the situation is getting bad like that, we need to do something about it. When we go into the A&E, it doesn’t matter how much money you got, bro. The NHS means equality of hope.”

So you really want to do a free tour?
“Yeah! I’ll headline it myself. Fuck other artists; I don’t care if they don’t do it. Imagine your kids growing up without the NHS. My mum works with people with learning difficulties and special needs and I always just been brought up to help that way. It’s nothing about financial gain. With some things, karma is good enough. Lessons come back in different ways, you know what I mean?”

Big Narstie will perform at BSTK and Fresh Island next month