Issue 02: Nafe Smallz

Photography: Alex De Mora / Styling: Nayaab Tania / Words by: Arri Grewal / Hair by: Nardia / Grooming by: Nicole Battolla

This article is an excerpt from the Nafe Smallz feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: ‘Heart & Soul’. Available from our online shop now.

Seven minutes of spitting bars with his dreads loosely dangling over his face was all Nafe Smallz needed in the make or break Fire in the Booth to show Charlie Sloth that he was a serious contender in the game. A then fresh-faced 20-year-old Smallz was unaware that his melodious flow and unfeigned lyrics would be recognised as one of the greatest by a swelling fanbase back in 2016. With over 13 million views on YouTube and a liking from the godfather of grime Skepta, Smallz’ viral seven minutes in the booth and thread of online mixtapes turned into a second EP album and features with some of the biggest industry heads – including Chip, Stefflon Don, and Yung Fume. 

Fast forward to 2019, Nafe Smallz has become one of the most promising and prominent artists in the UK thanks to his infectious melodies and composed demeanour. When grime and UK rap was having its movement, Smallz etched a crisp new style on the scene by blending an array of sounds to create his own distinct voice; picking up elements of everything from grime, dancehall and hip-hop, with heavy influences from cultures across the pond too. 

“Leading up to our generation, the generation before us went through a lot and paved the way for us all to do what we’re doing. So, there’s a lot more freedom for us now.” Smallz tells GAFFER. “The UK is getting more and more of a voice internationally and that’s powerful.”

Triumphing against the odds as a small town kid with big city dreams, Smallz has firmly put his hometown on the map with his heightened success. If you didn’t know anything about Luton, a town some 30 miles Northwest of London, then you’ll definitely know about it now. 

“The UK is getting more and more of a voice internationally and that’s powerful.”

Beyond his musical talent also lies a gifted individual that once thought football could be a potential career route in his youth. We catch up Nafe Smallz to talk about making it big out of a small town, his journey into the industry and his views on the parallels between music and football.

Coming from Luton, how was it trying to make a name for yourself in a small town? 

Luton’s small; it’s got its own unique style about it and it’s got a lot of swag. I grew up in Luton and I was quite a popular kid, so, when I started making music all the locals were supporting me and it was difficult to get the scene popping to where it is now, but I stayed, persevered, and here we are. 

Was there anyone in particular who influenced your decision to pursue music?  What inspired your first ever track?

Growing up I listened to all kinds of music, my Dad was a DJ so music was always in my household, a lot of reggae music especially. As I got older I started listening to 50 cent and as I got even a little bit older I started liking Lil Wayne, Drake. Now, I fuck with Travis Scott. What inspired my first track was just my lifestyle, my Dad and my musical family. 

What challenges have you faced in the music industry?

I faced a lot of criticism quite early for the sound because the sound is not the usual UK sound. I also got a lot of hassle from the police starting up, they wouldn’t let me do shows and that’s because they’d say I come from a gang cultured background. They would block my shows but, thankfully, we’re past that now. 

What is your relationship with football, how much of an impact has it had on your life?

Major, major. Football was the main part of my life growing up; I wanted to be a footballer like all of the youths out there. All of my family support Arsenal so growing up constantly around football with my friends and family; I was always either playing, watching or speaking about the game. 

What’s your favourite Arsenal memory and why?

It’s got to be ‘The Invincibles’ season because when I was growing up that was one of the things that I used to boast about. People used to say, ‘what’s your team?’ And I’d say ‘my teams been unbeaten still’ so that’s always been a moment I look back on with a smile. 

What do you think is so special about this generation of UK artists and footballers, why do you think they are rising up to be so powerful? 

Leading up to our generation, the generation before us went through a lot and paved the way for us all to do what we’re doing. So, there’s a lot more freedom for us now. The UK is getting more and more of a voice internationally. When it comes to football, look at some of the sick UK players who are playing all over the world, they’re sharing their talents and their story. The same as musicians too. This generation of musicians now are proper talented, there’s so much variety out there. The UK is getting more and more of a voice and that’s powerful. 

You’ve recently turned 23 years old and you’ve released a handful of tracks, collaborated with a number of admired artists and opened for Skepta at Alexandra Palace, what would you like to achieve by the age of 25? 

By the age of 25 I want a market share. I want many songs from Ozone music, an independent record label, to be as big as possible and I just want to be happy and free and content with my life. 

How have you, musically and personally, changed since your first mixtape dropped back in 2013 to your latest album “Good Love” which was released this year?

I’ve developed a lot as a person and I’ve changed both musically and personally. I’ve experienced a lot more in life since then so I would say I have a lot more wisdom and my outlook on life is a lot more open than I was before.

You have a Friday off, no one’s calling your phone and you have no work to do, what activities are you doing for the day?

On a Friday off, I’ll be in the studio and I might link up with mandem. I might hit the club depending on how I’m feeling, I might catch a flight depending on how I’m feeling. 9 times out of 10 though I’ll be in the studio or I’ll be with the mandem. 

There are tons of aspiring musicians from small towns who will be looking up to your thriving success, what advice would you give to them? 

Everybody who is working towards your dreams, just keep going man. Rome wasn’t built in a day and this shit is hard and difficult. You’ve just got to keep cutting through, have faith and believe in yourself. Convince yourself you’re the greatest.

Like this article? Enjoy all cover features and interviews in Issue 02: Heart and Soul – available now from the GAFFER Online Shop.

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Issue 02: Heart & Soul
Ada Hegerberg, Andre Gray, Maya Jama, Andreas Perreira, Christian Pulisic
GAFFER Issue 02: ‘Heart & Soul.’ Honouring the way football cultivates community spirit, empowers the next generation and gives fans, teams and players something bigger and more beautiful to believe in. Be prepared to meet the people who are driving the culture to new heights and those who are set to change the face of the game forever.
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