Issue 02: Novelist
Photography: Jack Bridgland / Interview & Words: Jack Siggs
This article is an excerpt from the Novelist interview feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: Heart & Soul. Available now from our online store now.
Novelist is a 22-year-old with the quiet and considered confidence of a grime veteran. His discography boasts up-and-comers and established artists alike. AJ Tracey, Skepta and Tom Misch to name but a few.
His passion stretches beyond grime to front-page social issues, most recently the epidemic of violence in the UK. This year he’s released an EP, a short film and multiple singles, further establishing his reputation as a versatile and insightful artist.
Some people are hard to contain on paper. They’re too big, too nuanced and too authentic to make permanent with words alone. Novelist is one of them – so it’s lucky he’s so good at self-expression.
I picked him up from his mum’s road in Brockley, SE4. He climbed in, reclined the seat and rested his head against the window. He seemed as comfortable here as he does on stage, on national news or in the studio. Talking to GAFFER, this is Novelist on community, family, faith and football…
Let’s start by talking about Brockley… What was it like growing up here? And what’s it like living here now?
I’ve been a Brockley boy my whole life. Growing up round here was kind of fun man. Everyone knows each other, and we did have a couple youth clubs. It wasn’t separate… white kids, black kids, everyone. Socially it’s not really changed that much. Most of the people I grew up with still live round here. Everybody knows me in Brockley… I’ll stop and talk with anyone who’s got something decent to say. What’s the point in me even being here if I can’t communicate with those that are next door to me? What do you think it’s gonna be like in heaven, you think man’s gonna walk past man and screw man? No, it’s gonna be ‘yeah, hello, good day’.
What was your path into music? And how has family affected your journey?
My uncle. We’d just watch him make beats. I started dabbling with Fruity Loops and Reason… I’m more of a producer than an MC but everyone knows me ‘cause I MC.
My people keep me grounded. I’ve got friends who walk a totally different path to me because their background at home wasn’t the same as what mine is. No matter what we had or didn’t have, there was always integrity and love in my household.
You released “No Weapons, See me” which references the issue of violence in the UK right now. What is the message you’re trying to put out with that song and short film?
The message is ‘it’s not worth it’. Anyone who’s got dead homies will tell you it’s not worth it. I’ve got friends who have died ‘cause of the path they were on. That’s what I want people to know… you’ve got the option to make the right choice. The youngsters are going berserk right now. I can’t tell a next man what to do, but I can be an example of what I think is better. When people see better, they do better.
It’s a turbulent time in politics and figures like Stormzy and Loyle Carner are commenting on the new Prime Minister. How do you feel about the political situation right now? What issues do you hold close to your heart?
I think people moan too much. When you have someone in leadership, it’s better to support… not everything they believe in… but support them rather than fight against them. Whatever needs to be fixed, I want to be involved in. Not for the sake of the camera… I’m not on this raising awareness garbage. I’m on doing things. ‘Cause what are we even alive for if you’re not here to contribute something, what’s the point?
“I just don’t change decisions that I make. I made it when I was a young G. You can’t change sides…. so through thick and thin, man’s a Man U man.”
You support Manchester United but you grew up a stone’s throw from multiple London clubs. Why United? What’s your relationship with football?
I just don’t change decisions that I make. I made it when I was a young G. You can’t change sides…. so through thick and thin, man’s a Man-U man.
I used to go to a place called Catford Pits to play, and that was sick. Now it’s privatised. It was a nice environment. I don’t know why they took that away bro. For my generation in Lewisham it would have been a lot worse – and more people would be dead – if we didn’t have that.
You’ve got a huge following on Instagram but only 6 posts. What stops you from posting ‘the lifestyle’ on there?
‘Cause I’m nothing like these other guys. I’m not like them in the flesh and I’m not like them on the internet. How could I play by the same rules as everyone else? I’m not even in the industry as far as I’m concerned, I’m just Novelist. My faith is in God, I don’t put my faith in tangible things or other people.
You know back in the day when U2 downloaded their album onto every iPhone… if you could do that, which tracks of yours would you choose?
‘No Weapons’, because of the message. And I love that song. I’ve played that song every day since I made it. I’ve got an EP called ‘Be Blessed’, I’d put that on there, the whole EP. And then one of my recent songs, ‘Different Shoes.’ That song’s hard.
If you could share one bit of life advice with everyone you meet, what would it be?
It’s something cliché but you have to practice it. Treat your neighbour as yourself. Don’t do anything to anyone you wouldn’t do to yourself. That is the key to life, literally. Deal with people how you wanna be dealt with. Because we want good in life, so give it. Give what you want.
However hard artists might try to convey authenticity, just saying ‘I’m down to earth’ doesn’t cut it. Novelist doesn’t just tell, he shows. Despite success that could see him disappear into the rap-star clouds, he chooses to stay in his community, spread positivity and create music with more depth and wisdom than more than a few 22-year-olds combined.
Like this article? Enjoy all cover features and interviews in Issue 02: Heart and Soul – available now from the GAFFER Online Shop.