Hailing from Tottenham, the stomping ground of the pioneering likes of Skepta, Wretch 32 and Jme, Nippa is currently championing his “hood R&B” sound. Delivered with his soulful and playful charisma, the north London artist’s music, he tells NME, is “a combination of everything I grew up on, from grime down to my mum’s R&B CDs”.
The 22-year-old, real name Jordan Adebiyi, properly introduced himself in late 2020 with the tracks ‘Squeezin’ Ya’ and ‘Change My Tone’, which were recorded when Nippa was studying at the University of Kent. The following year, his Toronto hip-hop-inspired single ‘Ride Or Die’ and the trap-soaked ‘Situation’ both caught ablaze on social media, with the latter grabbing the attention of super-producer Boi-1da (Kanye West, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar). Nippa’s self-titled debut EP then followed in November 2021, featuring the likes of ‘I Know’, ‘Pay The Price’ (which place the listener on a late-night train ride through the frontal cortex) and ‘Confidence’, which pulls subtle cues from Drake and Bryson Tiller’s playbook.
By interlinking the EP with tales of block life, romance and partying, Nippa’s brand of “hood R&B” finally connected with the cultural consciousness, resulting in a frantic label bidding war. The arrival of the EP, meanwhile, came around the same time as its creator opened for the LA rapper Blxst on the latter’s UK tour, an opportunity that led Nippa to meeting UK garage legend Craig David. The pair have since struck up a creative relationship, resulting (so far) in the swanky, synth-heavy June single ‘G Love’. “To listen to Craig David’s ‘Born To Do It’ growing up is one thing, but to make a song with him is just crazy, man,” Nippa says of the opportunity.
NME recently caught up with Nippa to discuss working with Craig David, his own journey so far and his thoughts on the changing UK R&B landscape.
NME: What does “hood R&B” represent for you?
“I’m just myself. I come from north London – ends – where there weren’t options for me to be a theatre kid or get singing lessons. Hanging around my boys growing up, the stereotype was that if you sang you were a bit lame, you were wet. I was a Channel AKA [Channel U], P Money and JME kid. I started rapping at first, but Drake was a big inspiration when I saw him do both [rapping and singing] and do it well.”
What made you want to transition from rapping to singing?
“Probably when I was rapping with my boys, I’d drop a melody right in the middle of it and then go back to rapping. Everyone was like, ‘Oh shit, do it again’. After a while, my manager told me that I’m not even that good at rapping, to be honest, and I should stick to singing. That’s kind of how my sound came to be. The R&B inspiration came from my mum: Craig David, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild and John Legend albums often sat by the CD player.”
When you dropped your first couple of singles, you were still at university. Where did you make music back then?
“I never used to record in my uni bedroom – my early songs were made in a friend of mine’s room who had some decent equipment. Right now I don’t have my own studio, and I often head to wherever the producer is. My habits have changed over the past two years since I started: instead of using YouTube beats, I can make the beat myself with the producer. I’m trying to get much more involved with the production side of things.”
Did you ever envisage ‘Situation’ blowing up in the way that it did?
“Nah, not at all. None of my bros really rated ‘Situation’ like that when they first heard it. That’s on record [laughs]. My boy Rambo was like, ‘This is calm’, but no one was feeling the song to the degree they do now. That’s why when labels were offering large amounts of money to control everything, I felt like I still needed to promote my music in the ends. When you get with a label, you can get complacent too quickly if you haven’t got the right head on you.”
Navigating the label bidding war must have been surreal. How did you feel at the time?
“I think I rejected every deal that came my way. The rejection mainly came down to fear, and the feeling that I had a lot more groundwork to do. I feel ‘Situation’ did its thing, and now certain people might perceive it as [being] bigger than it was. It’s hard to articulate.”
What was the creative process like for your new single, ‘Where They At’?
“I worked with Show N Prove, who’s worked with Potter Payper and Nines. The song was recorded over at his studio in Hornsey. Not too much has changed – I’m still up and coming. That song is just me being me: talking about the issues you might have with people who throw shade, but keeping the track light-hearted and fun so it’s not all negative. For my EP, I worked with my boy and producer 6 for a lot of it, whereas Show N Prove is taking me in a new direction on this song.”
How do you feel about the current UK R&B scene?
“I think the term ‘UK R&B’ is problematic, you know? You wouldn’t listen to a French R&B singer and go, ‘That’s French R&B’ – you’d leave the [category] and keep it moving. Sometimes, the term ‘UK R&B’ turns off some people from just that impression alone. I think a lot of people group a lot of UK R&B artists under one umbrella, but we’re all different. If you really go digging, you’ll find music that matches and exceeds American R&B.”
“When you get with a label, you can get complacent too quickly if you haven’t got the right head on you”
How did you first meet Craig David?
“I wish there were a big story behind everything, but it’s straightforward: he saw me when I opened for Blxst. The next day, he hollered at my manager and we talked; Craig told me he liked what I was doing. This was surreal, because I’m like, ‘That’s Craig David, MBE. I grew up on ‘Born To Do It’”. When we met, things were hella cool: we were talking on a human level, and there’s definitely similarities between us. Craig is a pioneer of UK garage and R&B, while my music is a mix of my experiences in ends, with R&B of course. It makes sense.”
Working with one of your idols on ‘G Love’ must have been a huge moment for you…
“Me and Craig David putting out a song together was never my original plan: I was just going to write a couple of songs for him. I penned a house tune and an R&B one, but right afterwards he asked me what I had vocally. Producer Mike Brainchild played the ‘G Love’ beat and Craig put together like two lines of a hook. The song was still pretty early, so I messed around with the instrumental, changed the pitch and wrote Craig David’s first verse. Afterwards, Craig told me it’s his favourite song off the ‘22’ album.”
What did you learn from touring with Craig?
“My biggest hurdle as a performer was my Blxst show because that was my first proper time on stage, so I had to work many things out. When it came to touring with Craig and TS5, I felt a bit more confident. The O2 was a big one for me and my career, getting my music out to new people. Later in Craig’s set he brought me out to do ‘G Love’, which was sick. Craig really let me do my thing, and just do things how I want to do them. He’s a legend, so of course I naturally picked up on his process, but I really respected how he let me just share my ideas with him and be creative. Craig taught me how to put trust in myself and my music.”
Nippa’s new single ‘Where They At’ is out now