Novelist – ‘Novelist Guy’ Review

The Skepta collaborator's long-awaited debut album is a meticulous, circular thing

18 months ago, south London MC Novelist passed on some good advice to NME: “You don’t have to talk for conversation’s sake, ever,” he said. “You choose what you want to say.” Almost four years on from his first EP, ‘Sniper’, the Lewisham rapper has brought that same sense of rigour to his debut album ‘Novelist Guy’. And for Kojo Kankam, if something’s worth saying, it bears repeating.

From the outset, the 21-year-old’s mantra-like lyrics hammer each song’s point home. “I only wanna live the honesty ting,” he says throughout the upbeat, frazzled opener ‘Start’ – and he goes on to prove it across the rest of the album. Every sentiment on ‘Novelist Guy’ is deeply felt.

All we do is gangster, gangster, gangster, gangster,” he drones knowingly on the dreary scratch of ‘Gangster’; conversely, on the bleak ‘Dot Dot Dot’, he’s gathering his thoughts, painstakingly drafting his message: “How am I gonna make evil stop?,” he wonders aloud, “I don’t wanna hear any more guns pop.

The heavier bars reach a head with ‘Stop Killing The Mandem’, titled after a viral placard he held at a south-London Black Lives Matter protest in July 2016: here he’s not just addressing the police: breaking with the pounding rhythm of the track he insists: “Oi fam, stop killing the mandem yeah? It’s not a joke ting. And I’m not just chatting to the boidem. I’m chatting to you young Gs, fam, you man are acting up… Fix up, get your priorities straight… Put your energy in a good place.” On an album where Novelist never sounds less than commanding, this is his undeniable peak – though on ‘Afro Pick’, too, he doubles down on his advocate role: here the former Deputy Young Mayor of Lewisham raps: “I do what I do for the young youth from back in the day when I ran for the mayor“.

Elsewhere Nov finds time to push away potential sycophants with ‘Wait Wait Wait’, pays tribute to pirate radio with ‘Nov B2B DeeCee’, and on ‘Whole 9 Yards’ makes the extent of his ambitions clear. He has a lot of fun, too, with the pounding banger ‘Man Better Jump’. But on the penultimate track, ‘Better Way’, the album’s pummelling BPM relents, the synth melodies brighten, and Novelist takes a breath to take stock of his achievements: “I’m showing love so I can get rid of the pain“, he raps, drawing his self-produced, independently released debut towards its close. “Still in the hood I’m thanking god I’m here today, he’s got my back I’m never lacking when I pray.

It’s here that the album circles back on itself, with ‘The End’ returning to the assembly-room piano that forms the basis of ‘Start’. Just like the looping lyrics it contains, ‘Novelist Guy’ is a meticulous, circular thing.