At the time of writing, 17-year-old, Lewisham-based MC and producer Novelist has just been nominated for Best Grime Act at the 2014 MOBOs – a year ago, the genre didn’t even warrant its own award category.
Whether that’s indicative of a shift in industry perceptions or whether artists like Novelist, alongside fellow nominees like Big Narstie and Meridian Dan, have made it impossible for grime to be ignored any longer, change is certainly in the air – and Nov’ is at the heart of it.
“2014 has been a sick year,” he tells us. “It’s been healthy for the music, and my crew The Square have been coming through, so it’s been large.”
For all the recent hype, it’s probably these few words that give us the best insight into what makes Novelist tick. He’s spent the last four years learning his trade predominantly on south London’s pirate radio and, despite all the doors that have opened for him this year, he remains fiercely bound to the culture and the crew he fronts.
“The Square is the best grime crew in the world,” he says. “We’re all just Lewisham kids with something to say.”
So, what makes Novelist stand out from the rest? It’s in part down to his outlook. He was, for example, the first MC to embrace Boxed, the London clubnight that’s grown to engineer a worldwide strand of instrumental grime all of its own. And, in turn, they were the first to embrace him, the fruits of which can be heard best via Mumdance & Novelist’s ‘Take Time’ – the one record that seems to embody the raw power and appeal of 2014 grime music better than most.
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An able producer too, Novelist has shied away from earning attention via the tried and tested YouTube freestyle and mixtape formats, and instead focused on developing his art – if he’s not recording, he’s on the radio.
This, combined with his willingness to experiment with production (see debut EP ‘Sniper’, released by Oil Gang earlier this year), has earned him the respect of producers and fellow MCs alike – even the likes of Skepta, Wiley and Jammer have welcomed him into the fold. The secret?
“My secret isn’t a secret really – it’s literally been a case of sticking to my plans, being open to new ideas and communicating, nothing special. It’s just about doing things properly – I’m not trying to be some wasteman in the ends with nothing to do.”
As far as milestones go, a Room One debut at Fabric with Butterz, his first-ever booking abroad at Outlook Festival, improvised live sets with Mumdance and now a MOBO nomination must rank highly, but although acknowledging that Outlook represented “one of the best moments” of his life, Novelist’s personal highlights are indicative of the respect he has for those around him.
“This year, I went to my first Boxed night and the vibes were wicked inside, so shout out to all the Boxed massive. But another of my favourite moments was playing a dance in Southend with Mumdance – it was a proper fun vibe down there, and the beach the morning after was sick.”
Granted, it might seem fairly trivial, but it’s this humble, levelheaded manner that’s defined Novelist’s success so far. Mumdance for one has called him “a pleasure to work wit” and describes him as having a “great attitude”.
So, with so much going for him and, in light of the MOBO news, for grime as a whole it would seem, what are his ambitions?
“I aim to win. It’s all tactics, fam.” And with that, we’re certainly not betting on him to lose.
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Words: Tomas Fraser