BOYS OF TOMORROW VOL: 7
For a number of artists, the pandemic and lockdown forced a re-assessment of the creative process. For Novelist, it presented an opportunity to step away from the often misgiven label of grime artist to explore entirely new sounds. Ross and Nov discuss “Quantum Leap”, an instrumental EP recorded and produced in South London. From there they talk about playing Grand Theft Auto, listening to G-Funk & West Coast rap, and missing Los Angeles…
RW: Usually with this, I’m actually with the person but this should be cool…
N: Yeah it’s strange bro, I feel you.
RW: I guess the first thing that I wanted to note was this project, Quantum Leap, you originally dropped in November 2020. What was it that led you to release a fully instrumental EP?
N: Well, the EP has a purpose. The purpose of it was to add a soundtrack to the mentality that is displayed in the title itself and that is depicted in each song.
RW: Wait, so you came up with the title first?
N: Nah, I had these records and I usually name my songs with purpose anyway and I wanted to make a project that gave someone that Quantum Leap mentality - these names and songs usher them into this mentality. If you look at the titles on the project, the original project, not the BBC Deluxe version, you’ll see that they are all positive and success based.
RW: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to mention also because this is an entirely instrumental project, aside from the intro. You are talking over the intro and summoning these positive messages - what made you put that in? Did you consciously think, ‘that’s the one track with vocals in it’ or did you not need to think about it?
N: For me, I wanted to add a bit of my soul to the music. You can hear my voice but still appreciate my creation and I approach the music Biblically - like how God approached things.
RW: That’s what it reminded me of in the intro, it sounds almost like commandments. You’re talking from high above the clouds.
N: Yeah exactly and that’s why I am declaring “let there be…” because by saying “let there be”, historically, the first things were created so I wanted it to have that and respect God’s energy.
RW: Since you mostly produced Quantum Leap yourself, how would you compare your creative process with this project in comparison with another project where you have the lyrics to focus on as well? When you’re making music do you set out to do one or the other, or does it just come out as either being vocally driven or just instrumental?
N: A lot of the songs on this particular project transcend what I could ever possibly do with words. So when I was producing these songs I couldn’t put words to them because they were almost divine, so to speak. When you listen to Freedom… like what could I possibly say over Freedom? You know what I’m saying? So when I made it, I realised that these tracks were so stand-alone, I thought, just let the music be the entire audio to the theme. There’s no words needed for that because I don’t need to tell someone what it is, they can visualise and see what was intended just by the music alone.
RW: Yeah, I see what you mean....
My next question is just to record in some way what we were talking about last night, how we connected last year and talking at the time about our current influences - like MC Eiht and West Coast sound, G-Funk and also GTA at that point. I was playing a lot of GTA during the first lockdown and listening back to old Project Pat and MJG, Memphis stuff and also West Coast stuff like MC Eiht - that's what pulled me to your releases last year. You were listening to MC Eiht a lot at the time also. I guess there's a couple of questions here or things to mention: one is that you championed a Grime sound in 2013/14 when Grime wasn't really the flavour of the month and fast forward to 2020 you’re mixing UK influence with all sorts - West Coast, Phonk, Memph style but again, I didn't really hear anyone else on that vibe. I didn’t hear anyone else coming out with that sound or in that zone around me at the time and I was really digging through genres because I had more time at home without having to do normal life stuff, so when I clocked your releases of 2020 I was thinking it sounds like Nov is in the same world, we’re in the same space.
N: Yeh for sure...
"I had to show them glimpses of how unlimited I am, in my world."
RW: So what is it that brought you to this space and these influences in your sound because it really sounded to me like a collage, it definitely wasn’t all London or British, it felt more global but definitely U.S and definitely West Coast influenced?
N: I think I can summarise this whole point by saying I do what I like, you know. For example it seems to be a common theme for the music industry to follow the music industry. For me, the music industry doesn’t exist. I’m my own industry. So when I sincerely enjoy music or a sound, that’s going to grab my ear and have an impression on my own approach to my music if I let it. That’s how I work, more so than just following the times. Now it’s not to say that I neglect the times, but at the same time I am an individual built up of my experiences, so my music has to reflect who I actually am if I am to make music from a pure place, of my character.
RW: I hear that. Talking again about more 2020 released work, I felt that Novelist as a musician and artist as a whole had stepped up another gear. I knew you were talented but I felt so pleased to hear you flipping between influences and genres, there was so much great music coming out, all of a high quality and consistency. If you compare "Active", "Different Shoes" or "Pay What is Owed" to "Stay With Me", "30 Seconds Flat" and "Major Player" they are different ends of the spectrum, sonically. I was so excited to hear the variation and versatility together with the momentum that you had with releases and the consistency in quality - I felt that you had really grown as a true artist.
N: For sure. I believe I was labelled by other people before, I didn’t label myself and I’m not on a label. So I make whatever I feel like making. Last year, I just thought to myself like bro, I realised most people didn’t actually know me because I had been limited. I had to show them glimpses of how unlimited I am, in my world. Bro, I’m so content as well to not release music because I live unlimited. I thought that people needed a glimpse of my capabilities because I got to the stage where I was ready to not be boxed in. I had to come to my own understanding to realise I didn’t need to be boxed in.
RW: I think as well because you haven’t stifled yourself, you’ve carried yourself and you move like a unit of one. You’re your own producer and MC… and engineer.
N: Yeah, and engineer.
RW: That’s being self sufficient and can only help.
N: It certainly does.
RW: As a producer, are there any artists that you have in mind to work with?
N: No I don’t - that answer always depends on natural vibes. I’d have to be inspired on the day or meet someone and know within myself that I want to do something with them. I don’t really like to premeditate music collaborations or working with people. Most of the stuff that I do, if not all of it, comes from a very authentic place. It’s even like us two working, yeah, like bruv we’ve got a rapport. It didn’t come out of nowhere you get me. It’s probably more like that with you because at the end of the day fam, I’m not making music for anyone. I’m not even making music for the fans, really.
N: I appreciate that I have people supporting me on my journey and obviously whatever I have to give I offer it to them, that’s the exchange.
RW: When is it that you even first started making music?
N: I first started making music when I was 6 or 7 years old. How that came about is that my uncle, who is the original Novelist, I just asked him for his name and he gave it to me, he had the software on his computer. I would go to my nan’s house and watch him make beats and make beats with him and sometimes when he wasn’t there, in the house, I would make beats by myself and the ball has been rolling ever since really. I was making beats way before I even considered being a proper lyricist.
RW: Wow, and does your Uncle still make music?
N: Yeah, he does his name is Rukai Madden. That is my main inspiration in life. In human form.
RW: Wow. He lived near you in South as well?
RW: I didn’t know there was an older Novelist, that’s mad.
N: Yeah, I am technically Novelist the 2nd. When I was younger I was “Younger Novelist” but it’s not a younger/older thing, I’m just Novelist.
RW: Was he producing and writing?
N: Kind of. He doesn’t limit himself. He is more likely however to write a song that someone else will sing - he’ll produce it.
RW: As you said, right now, you are independent. I know the music world has changed a lot within our lifetime, like it has in fashion/clothing whatever, the role of a label or a big entity isn’t required to propel the artist to the forefront. I was going to ask what kind of advice would you be able to share with a new artist looking to break into music?
N: I’d say if you are an artist, the main thing you should focus on - but it depends on why you’re in the business really I guess? I can only talk from my perspective and why I am in the business. I am in the business because I love music. And I think it’s fair that I make money from what I love doing. I don’t want to live a life where I don’t love what I’m doing. I’d say, to an artist starting out, extensively study becoming the greatest version of yourself, skill wise. Be great at music. And then the opportunities will be infinite because you’ll be able to build off of every one of your capabilities. I have a lot of stuff to offer because of my different skill sets within music so I’d say that should be the main focus. Also, everyone should have an understanding of being business savvy too, as a human being, because we’re in a world that requires you to handle your business.
RW: Yeah, and being aware at all times.
N: So I would say to anyone starting out to get business savvy because you need to be business savvy. But the main thing is focus on the art and focus on being able to execute. You never want to be stumped, where you feel like you can’t execute your idea.
RW: 100. Another thing I admire in your work but also as a person is the feeling of community and pride for your people and area. Have you lived in Brockley your whole life? How was it growing up in South London?
N: Yeah, I’ve always lived in Lewisham and Brockley my whole life and it’s been great man. It’s been hectic - I’ve experienced life and death. I nearly lost my life. There’s been a lot of love, there’s been a lot of fights. I have friends that aren’t here anymore. It’s been wild, still. But every hood in the world is the same, the dynamics might be different but the heart of man doesn’t change. It’s the same everywhere. There’s people that are blessed, there’s people that are envious, there’s people that are greedy, there’s people who give a lot, you make friends, you lose friends. There’s people that you grow apart from. For me, my part in this has just been to maintain the integrity of my character. So no matter who I am around, they can feel comfortable in knowing what I’m about.
"I have always been a spiritual person from young, my guys will tell you. I’m a peacemaker."
RW: Yeah and I know as well that your mum is into music, right?
N: Yeah, yeah my whole family really.
RW: So what do you recall hearing when you were growing up? Was there a certain influence from an artist or musician that you remember hearing? I know you’ve mentioned your uncle already and I know that you’ve been around music your whole life.
N: Yeah, bro, I’m from a very eclectic family when it comes to selection and what gets played. I’m from an unlimited household. The music was not limited. I wasn’t limited to what I was hearing in the house. So it’s kind of difficult to answer that question without making a big list, we’d have to be sitting down for ages to really answer that question.
RW: That’s cool. There was no ceiling on your influences early on.
N: None. No ceiling bro.
RW: That’s good.
N: I just chose to do Grime on my come up because it was the local genre. You know what I’m saying, it was the local scene that the young people were in and I just maintained it even at the time where some people were saying Grime is dead or whatever, I still chose to do that but I’m way more skilled than to be just boxed in to doing that.
RW: Also I think a lot has to do with you being such a spiritual person. Has this been something that you've harnessed more, the older you've got?
N: Yeah I’ve harnessed it more but I have always been a spiritual person from young, my guys will tell you. I’m a peacemaker. It takes a deep mind to be a peacemaker, you get what I’m saying? You have to weigh things up. And sometimes you’ve got to put yourself on the line to be a peacemaker and you’ve got to have a lot of spirit and heart. That’s who I’ve always been and at the same time we have stages and phases in our life where you’re gonna need to know yourself. For me, and I believe for every man, when you have a divine relationship with God Almighty, something happens where you become such a version of yourself - you become so much of yourself that you don’t have to answer to anyone. You answer to God. You naturally want to do what you’re supposed to be doing because that’s what your identity is.
RW: It’s like an enlightenment. You are enlightened at that point.
N: Yes you are enlightened, that is exactly it. That’s a great way of putting it. You are enlightened. It’s like you let your light shine when you know inside yourself that you have a light to shine.
RW: With everything that is going on right now in the world, not just in music, it was good to hear your positivity on the Quantum Leap project with the intro especially like “let there be”… and the song titles themselves. As a musician you carry yourself very matter of fact, I guess because you’re feeling that enlightenment that you’ve just mentioned. What are your goals for your career over the next 12 months?
N: For sure. My goal is to prove to myself that I can do better than what I have been doing. I want to get better at producing, I want to get better at singing, better at mixing down, better at my skills because that’s all I need. I don’t need all this other stuff. There’s a lot of bravado. There's a lot of additional things but at the end of the day bro, I started with my skills. I started with my own mind and my own soul so I want to build on what I possess. I’m not really looking for anything more than what I have. I know that the fruit and the results of doing well is that you are more blessed so I’m not really chasing a blessing - it’s more a desire to build on the foundation that I already have.
RW: Yeah that’s what I was going to say because you are so well equipped and you know your goals, how are you going to measure them?
N: Exactly, I measure it by looking at myself bro. I look at myself like ‘wow, I remember when I couldn’t even do this.’ Or when I wasn’t doing it at least.
RW: Why was that? Why weren’t you doing it?
N: Just because with life everyone evolves. Like, we weren’t having this phone call 5 years ago.
N: But we knew each other 5 years ago. You know what I’m saying? So it’s like we are still ourselves but there’s just more now. That’s really what I want to work on, just building myself.
"One of my main goals is preserving a great quality."
RW: Yeah and I know that you love to travel usually and take places in. Once we are allowed to safely travel, globally again, where is it you'd like to visit first?
N: Bro, I love LA. I will live there.
RW: That’s where you’d go first, right?
N: My brother I reckon I’m going to Cali man.
RW: Yeah, same.
N: Nothing long. That’s my second home and soon to be my first home. I’ve got a good foundation there and I’ve got friends there. I remember the place geographically too.
N: And when I say LA, I mean generally, more like Cali really. I really like all different areas of California. I even like driving to Vegas bro. Not actual Vegas glitz and glam, I just like the car journey into Vegas, Nevada from LA.
RW: I think a lot of it is to do with the comparison of scale and space, especially on those long drives outside of LA. We have romanticised that landscape because of all the movies and music videos and computer games we consumed, growing up here. When I got to LA the first time I just felt like I was actually inside GTA, like I am inside the game because the streets and areas influenced the game so much.
N: Yeah bro, I feel that 100%.
RW: We definitely appreciate it more as well because we didn’t grow up with those things around us. I wasn’t very well travelled at all as a kid so the older that I’ve got, the more I really appreciate travel because that has always been a luxury to me.
N: Honestly bro.
RW: I fell in love with LA the moment I stepped off the plane the first time I was there.
N: That’s it and you feel that warm air. We have a very similar story in that sense.
RW: I guess this is the final question I have, in the next 5 years where will we see and hear Novelist?
N: In the next 5 years bruv… [laughs]. Bro the next 5 years, my life is just going to be a big celebration. That’s it. In the next 5 years people are going to thank God. Even non-believers are gonna say thank God. That’s where my life is gonna be fam.
RW: And you’re going to be In LA as well, full time.
N: Oh for sure, for sure, I’m certain about that.