Over two weeks have now passed since Novelist dropped his debut album, Novelist Guy*, and now that the musical dust has settled around what was a crazy two weeks for fans of hip-hop and rap, I can finally get my teeth in to it. I’ve been a fan of Novelist ever since I got in to Grime about 5 years ago; the fact that the 21 year old has even been putting out work for that long is a testament to his confidence and his lyrical ability. This freestyle from 2014 is an apt showcase of his talent, him and fellow Square member Faultsz go back to back in a way that consistently elevates me to gas mark 5. Novelist is clearly feeling it too, and his infectious energy and love of the music is one of the reasons I love to listen to him, his dedication to the bars is almost Wiley-esque, so safe to say I was expecting a lot from this project.
The slow, minor piano chords that bring in ‘Start’ are somewhat disarming, a departure from the chaotic, brazen production that marks out so much of Novelist’s repertoire of tracks. Still, when the next layer of piano comes in, followed by an almost robotic chant of a flow from Nov ‘Yo when you get the chance/Start’ my unease was quickly mollified. It’s as much a statement of intent as an introduction, and it sets us up for an album that’s as much gospel as it is about being on crud, all with an unmistakable homage paid to old school grime. The next track, ‘Dot, Dot, Dot’ is a prime example, coming in with a haunting, repetitive synth filled with reverb, and as the beat drops the MMMYEH chief lets us know what he’s thinking: how’s he “gonna make evil stop” how God’s gonna get “rid of dem fools at the top”. The bombastic, dissident production seems an unlikely background to a song, and an album, full of references to God and with a message against the violence that plagues London’s streets; but the Lewisham native is using his sound and his roots to spread a message of positivity, that you can still blare through the bluetooth in your whip and on the block.
Nov goes through the full spectrum of old school grime on this album, ‘Gangster’ is an anthemic cut, full of braggadocio and swagger. As the hook comes in ‘Gangster, Gangster, Gangster/All we know is/Gangster, Gangster, Gangster’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nov is about to come in with a self-indulgent banger for the radio about how he can still do road. But despite the chantable, provocative hook this is actually an incredibly conscious track, detailing how Nov has navigated life on the ends and used it to learn, and learn way more than just “how to get a stack”.
This is music with a message, not a cursory one either but an explicit, targeted message to the youth of London. He couldn’t make it much more obvious with ‘Stop Killing the Mandem’, a line he repeats 16 times for the hook (a far cry from many of the 16s you’re likely to here in a grime set), before launching in to an intelligent decimation of the mindset that leads to the violence on London’s street. Frustration shines through his lyrics at the plight of the kids on the block and the bad name that violence on the streets is giving to his race, his music and his culture. It’s not preachy though, far from it, even when he breaks down the flow in the outro, speaking over the beat directly to his young listeners his message is positive, one of hope, “Put your energy in a good place/Man are moving nuts/You get me?”, he again references his faith in God, but shows that you don’t need it to be a good yute, you just gotta get your priorities straight.
All of this comes over a backdrop of beats that could have come straight out of Jammer’s basement in ’06. Nov produced, mixed and mastered it its entirety, and the disjointed, sometimes disorientating ensemble of thundering synths, sharp snares and hypnotising melodies are a showcase of the young man’s considerable talent, reminiscent of old school grime riddims, but entirely is own sound. Despite releasing several instrumental EP’s, Nov is criminally underrated for his production skills; here his heavy hard-hitting beats are the perfect complement to his take-no-shit flow. The partnership reaches apogee on ‘Afro Pick’, a single that wouldn’t be out of place in the club, on pirate radio, or the soundtrack of a Guy Ritchie movie. Kicks and snares punctuate an anime-influenced melody over which Nov confidently spits “last week I was a younger, g/Now I’m who I wanna be”. It’s a stand out track, full of self assurance with a thumping hook that it’s impossible not to sing along to.
Nov abandons none of his energetic, often aggressive demeanour in the 48 minutes of bars he provides us. He uses interludes to knit the album together, and send messages about the things he really wants to tell us. His faith in God and his own ability shine through, making him feel, and sound, invincible; the only lyric in one interlude is “no weapon formed against me will ever prosper”. He elegantly swings between dissing other guys who aren’t on his level and try to bred him on ‘Wait, Wait, Wait’, to using a lyric of the song to craft another stage show banger in “Nov Wait Stop Wait”. The whole thing is closed out with a return to the production used on ‘Start’ coming full circle to ‘The End (Don’t Lose Faith Riddim)’. Here, no words are necessary, the piano, electro-style synths and drumkit combine to produce a soundscape that show that Nov is not just an artist who can imitate and build on the work of his grime olders, he has a lot more to come.
Novelist succeeds in crafting an album, in a genre known more for clashes and radio sets, impactful eights and slick sixteens, that stands strong as a collective, not just a group of tracks. If the Grime resurgence is gonna take hold, and not just fade away like another fad it needs albums that can last the test of time, as well as draw in new fans and payoffs for the new pioneers. Novelist has done just that, and done it in a way that is uncompromising, not trying to cater for the new fans of the genre, but sticking to its underground roots, and it’s truly impressive.
*This review was originally posted on stateofh.wordpress.com, Novelist Guy was released on 13 April 2018