It has been fun to follow Novelist’s music over the past few years. Even in his earlier days as a pure grime emcee, he followed his own path; preferring to look deeper into his personal influences rather than follow the crowd.
This piece is the first in a new monthly series. I’ll be taking ten tracks from an artist’s back catalogue, looking at the changes in production and lyrical content along the way.
Photo taken from Facebook.
It makes sense to start with ‘Take Time’. Released in 2014 as part of the Mumdance EP of the same name, it wasn’t Novelist’s first go at releasing music. He’d built a buzz in underground circles via radio sets, clashing, vinyl and freestyles; but ‘Take Time’ undoubtedly opened him up to a bigger audience, introducing some ideas he would build on later in his career. Perhaps the biggest is the bold approach. Jumping on an instrumental as weird as this may put some emcees off, but Novelist sounded at home, presenting himself as an artist unafraid to follow the masses. Elsewhere he spits about remaining steadfast in the face of distraction, creating an image of someone independent in both his life and creative process. A banger for the ages, ‘Take Time’ is a solid introduction to Novelist’s recorded output, setting the tone nicely for what would come next.
The “1 Sec EP” followed ‘Take Time’. Novelist and Mumdance released the joint EP on XL Recordings; a massive achievement for any artist, let alone the emerging emcee Novelist was at the time. The title track – ‘1 Sec’ – follows the same experimental line as ‘Take Time’. This time the elements are stripped back further, arguably creating something more alien-sounding than the predecessor. Novelist hadn’t yet incorporated a spiritual angle into his lyrics, but the bars were acute, as he touched on the state of his area and briefly chatted about single mothers. Overall, ‘1 Sec’ feels like a modern classic, created by an artist who at the time was on track to turn heads with his music.
By 2017, Novelist had appeared on countless more grime sets and collaborated with Skepta. It would’ve been easy for him to release an album full of tracks in the style of ‘1 Sec’ and lean into being the next grime superstar.
He took a different route. ‘New Path’ was the first release on his label MMMYeh Records, building upon the steadfast lyrical content heard in earlier tracks, as Novelist spits about inspiring others and being on top of his game. The beat – produced by Prem – falls under the ‘ruff sound’ tag; something that Novelist coined in 2016, mixing grime with west and east coast rap, g-funk and jungle at varying tempos. ‘New Path’ is the first official ruff sound release, as previously the style had been limited to freestyles and radio sets. Where some ruff sound tunes are sped-up and intense; ‘New Path’ feels polished, playing up the g-funk influence with a big bassline throughout.
No Weapons / See Me
‘No Weapons / See Me’ dropped in 2018, a single released in the run-up to Novelist’s debut album ‘Novelist Guy’. Much like ‘New Path’, he sounds assured, and there’s the feeling that as he grew into his artistry, he became more comfortable with showing his listeners more of himself. Here, he talks about the importance of family, asserting that he’ll stand on his own two feet in an adverse situation. The beat features a winding lead line, at times blending with Novelist’s repeated hook to ingrain his message into your brain.
Stop Killing The Mandem
“Novelist Guy” dropped in 2018. ‘Stop Killing The Mandem’ is the sixth track from the album, featuring Novelist addressing police violence and directly talking to his listeners, telling them to pursue other paths in life. Novelist is arguably at his most political here, but his message doesn’t come off as moralizing, more him using his own experiences to show a different way for others and using his lived experience to speak against injustice.
Like ‘No Weapons / See Me’, the hook for this track is repeated, so much so that it feels hypnotic. Together with the beefed-up percussion, Novelist’s message shines through without needing to be complicated, a direct approach he’d go on to use in later tracks too.
‘Better Way’ is the penultimate track from ‘Novelist Guy’. While Novelist’s relationship with religion is a big part of his debut album, he zeroes in on it here, as he talks about thanking God for another day; the importance of a positive mindset, and how he takes the young people in his area under his wing.
‘Different Shoes’ was released in 2019, marking the first time Novelist spat over drill production. Here, he talks about being the one others look to for guidance and staying true to himself throughout his life. Rather than make a drill track that follows the usual genre markers, he injects his own personality into ‘Different Shoes’. Sound-wise it could be seen as a departure, but when played alongside his other tracks it fits in seamlessly due to the lyrical content.
‘Active’ dropped in 2020. Here, Novelist spits about making moves with a poised edge in the opening; speaking on the importance of truth, avoiding vanity and taking a reflective approach to life in the verses. The hook plays out like a mantra, taking the one-line flow influence of grime to its edge, an idea heard on tracks like ‘Stop Killing The Mandem’ and repeated on ‘Active’. The beat – produced by Novelist himself – features the crawling drone heard on early ruff sound tracks, something that’s become a go-to technique in his recent work.
In It To Last
‘In It To Last’ is the final track from “Rain Fire”, Novelist’s third project of 2020. Here, the message is longevity, as he talks about his independent approach to life and how he cultivates relationships with all types of people through his personality. There’s a feature from rapper Big Twins, solidifying the East Coast influence on ‘In It To Last’, while the instrumental mixes overseas influence with Novelist’s trademark melancholic synth runs.
‘Stay With Me’ was first teased in 2019, and had fans desperate to hear the full version from then. Novelist finally dropped the single in 2020, and it’s one of his top five popular tracks on Spotify with over 200,000 plays.
‘Stay With Me’ encapsulates Novelist’s bold approach in the present like ‘Take Time’ did in 2014. Back then it was him spitting over a hectic beat; this time it’s him crooning over a synth ballad with a sax solo at the end. He does the unexpected, yet retains certain elements here and there, so a tune like ‘Stay With Me’ doesn’t sound wildly out of place in his back catalogue. In this case, it’s the thick synth, something that he’s used in tracks like ‘Active’ and ‘In It To Last’. The ideas are similar, just executed in a different context.
Looking into an alternate universe, where Novelist released an album of ‘Take Time’ inspired songs, would be interesting. But then maybe we wouldn’t have got ‘Stay With Me’, missing out on Novelist’s wide-ranging approach to music. As he’s introduced a spiritual tilt to his lyrics, spoken more about his religion and brought the moving parts of his influences together, his music has gained scope. Going deeper into your own process can yield great results.
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