In-depth with @novelistguy
Novelist has been making reference to his new music all the way through our editorial shoot, so when he finally asks us if we want to hear some of it as we’re finishing up our interview and calling the day a done deal, the answer around the table is (obviously) a resounding “YES”. The next minute, though, a wide smile spreads across his face, as he laughs “I wish I could man, but I can’t yet. January, it’s coming in January.”
We’re disappointed – the album’s been a long time coming – but we’re willing to wait (okay, so yeah – technically we have no choice). Anyway, we’re just glad to hear it’s nearly here. Given just how busy the Lewisham born and bred MC has been over the course of the last year, we’re surprised there’s an album at all.
Following on from the success of breakout Mumdance collab, 1 Sec two years ago, 2017 has seen him release an EP (Be Blessed), get MMMYEH – the record label he founded in 2016 – off the ground and establish Ruff Sound, a new music genre he describes as an offshoot of grime with a pace of 150-180bpm.
Away from the music side of things, it’s also the year that the powers that be in the streetwear industry have sat up and taken notice of Nov, too – namely, a long list of brands that are banging on his door for endorsements, partnerships and promotion. It’s attention that he’s taking with a pinch of salt – “I know what I like, I’m not dressing for anybody apart from myself or going out dripping in labels for the sake of it. If there’s not mutual respect there, I’m just not gonna do it” he tells us.
Fortunately, he’s into the rail of clothes that we’ve lined up for him in the 18montrose studio, and when he’s finished a yoghurt, he’s straight into them and in front of the camera.
Including just-landed styles from Stone Island, The North Face and Champion, check out the editorial above or read on to hear what went down as we talked to him over lamb samosas and watermelon coolers post-shoot.
Nov. Tell us about your earliest musical memory.
I remember my uncle got some music software and I watched him set it up on the computer when I was about six or something. He started making these basic beats and I’d just sit there listening, and from there I had it set in my head that I wanted to make music – not necessarily as a career, I just wanted to do it. We always had music on in the house – I’m from a funky black family, you know? We’d listen to all different genres, so from a young age I appreciated a lot of music. But seeing my uncle making these beats was what made me really want to get into it.
What kind of stuff was he making?
He’d make all kinds of stuff – hip-hop beats and house beats, mostly, but sometimes soulful or grime beats too, whatever vibe he was feeling that day. He was the first Novelist – he was called Novelist before I was, he gave the name to me.
Okay, so that was our next question – where did the name Novelist come from in the first place? Why was your uncle called Novelist?
My uncle’s a deep guy – you’d have to ask him. He’ll tell you something that’s deeper than I can (laughs).
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
The main inspiration in my whole life comes from the Bible, but what I’m listening to right now is a lot of Roy Ayers and a lot of Yutaka Yokokura – he’s this amazing Japanese jazz musician whose music sounds sick because they’ve got loads of instruments that we don’t have over there. When it comes to writing, I’m inspired by my feelings. My feelings combined with experience. I’m not just saying whatever I feel though, I’m saying it because it’s the truth. That’s what inspires me the most, the truth.
You set up your own label (MMMYEH) last year. How’s it going?
Yeah it’s cool – we’ve just been making a lot of music behind the scenes you know. It’s not always about ‘here we are, we’re coming in to take over the whole thing’ – it’s just grinding away, establishing yourself. I’ve produced a lot of my new stuff, my brother has been producing for me, sometimes I might give him a beat or whatever. It’s me and my boys making music. At the moment, I wouldn’t even say I’m in the music industry because I have no real ties to it – my label’s outside of the game and we’ve got our own thing going on. But everyone’s going to hear it, eventually.
Who are you working with, who are you tipping on the label?
My brother PREM and a young artist called DeeCee who I’ve been rocking with for a while. And my G Sus (Trapperazzi) who DJs for me and produces and writes himself, look out for him. That’s basically who I’m rolling with when it comes to my label but I’ve got a lot of other friends in the industry – we might be here a long time, I wanna tip all of them.
How important is being independent to you?
It’s the most important thing for me, because no one can tell me anything – no one. I’m doing things my own way.
Did you ever want to be signed?
I was working with XL at one point, which was cool because they’ve done some legendary stuff but it was never like ‘I wanna be signed to them’. I’ve always been interested in establishing myself in the way that I want to, and if that means I have to work triple hard then I’ll do that. It’s not easy, it takes years of grind. I want full control over what happens next, my music and how it’s put out there.
How do you feel about the way grime’s become more mainstream in the last few years?
I love the fact that people have been able to make more money, that’s sick. But as for the sound of grime, no one knows who’s doing what now – I see so many people that have ‘grime’ attributed to their name but they’ve never done pirate radio or a full grime mixtape or anything – their beats aren’t even grime beats. Grime has become a word for black urban music in the UK. But it’s not a totally bad thing because everyone wants to move forward so it’s good that people are talking about it in a positive sense now.
As for me, I’m not waiting on anyone’s approval for shit. I’m gonna keep making grime, but I’m going to do it as Novelist making grime – I don’t care if it blows or it doesn’t blow, I’m gonna do it anyway. I know that when I drop my music it’s gonna be perceived as real grime and it’s gonna add an element of confusion for a lot of people – it’s gonna be outside of this blanket statement grime has become recently.
You created your own genre, Ruff Sound, last year. Do you think that’s how grime’s going to evolve, into smaller sub-genres?
Yeah. It’s a sub of grime, it’s a sub of ragga, it’s a sub of jungle – it has so many elements, it has to have its own thing, a category of its own. But you can hear it comes from grime – the sound, not the words, the original sound. When you hear that beat, you know it’s a grime song – you can hear that instantly with Ruff Sound. And it’s not about the scene either. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the ends or if you’re in Australia, if you can make a beat like that, you can be Ruff Sound.
So say you were putting on an MMMYEH gig. Who’d be your fantasy line-up?
Okay, KC and the Sunshine Band…ah man this is hard, you’ve gotta think about the energy, what kind of energy do you want it to have? I would like to say Eazy-E, but that’s too much profanity, it wouldn’t match KC. So I’ll go with Roy Ayers in his prime, Michael Jackson in his prime, me, in my prime – which I’m about to step into, I haven’t done it yet – and Diana Ross. Is that five? Yeah, done.
Moving on to fashion. Tell me a bit about your personal style.
I’m just into looking good, and I’m not about labels or being flash like some of these dickheads that think because something is expensive, it automatically means it looks good. It’s such a weird way to think, like something looks good or it doesn’t, the price tag doesn’t matter. My whole thing is simple, plain, smile – I used to hate my smile, but now I think it’s a blessing – do your hair, have a shave, smell nice, drink water. My style is fresh. That’s all it is, it’s fresh.
What were your favourite pieces from the shoot today?
The Stone Island jacket. I like the size of it and it’s white – I like big, white clothes. I’m not down with this whole tight shit. I don’t like to wear tight clothes. Like you do you, if you’re into them, great, but they’re not for me. I think I look weird in them and I feel weird in them. If I was to have to do some mad shit quickly, I’d want to be able to manoeuvre, I wouldn’t want to be chafing. It’s long.
Is there anyone whose style you admire?
Michael Jackson in his prime, the West Coast look of the ‘90s, that kind of thing.
Is there anyone in the grime scene that you think is doing it well?
Who’s the worst dressed?
I’m not gonna call anyone out (laughs). If they think they look good, then good for them, it’s not for me to judge.
Last question - what’s coming up for you in 2018?
I’m gonna drop some music that makes people stop and scratch their heads because if your music isn’t doing that then you’re chatting shit. A slap in the face and a kiss on the cheek can have the same effect, both of them will make your cheek red. That’s what my music’s gonna be, both sides of the sword. I’m gonna be revealing the truth, for better or worse.
Images by Mollie Dendel