Grime began as a punk-like, revolutionary black British art form, conceived and amplified by the youth in response to marginalisation and disenfranchisement. The political messages combined with the energy and DIY production created a sonic depiction of inner-city London and provided something real and relatable for its inhabitants. Over a decade and a half later, as the genre continued to transcend its London postcode to become an intercontinental infatuation, Novelist started working on his debut album, incorporating the genre’s core values to document an equally turbulent time. The result: ‘Novelist Guy’ – the first full length project from an artist many would describe as grime’s prodigal son.
As an auteur, Novelist’s unapologetic control over every aspect of the LP is evident from start to finish. This has to be respected, but it could also be argued that a lack of compromise resulted in monotony. Although the record showcases that nostalgic, minimalist, Fruity Loop-like bedroom production, transporting you back to grime’s early days, the formulaic beats and bars at points feel a bit repetitive, from the intro track ‘Start’ to track nine, ‘Wait Wait Wait’. However, knowing Novelist’s strengths, regardless of how they sound in your headphones or on your sound system, those same tracks, when transferred to a stage, have the potential to manifest into something very different.
Track 10, ‘Whole 9 Yards’, is one of the album’s undeniable highlights. It amalgamates the elements of grime that, over the years, have contributed to its success and exhibits them with nonchalance. The aspirational lyricism, the playful flow, the quotable bars, the throbbing bassline, the aggression, the boyish narcissism and the DIY sound will be welcomed by old-school grime fans, and once again prove Novelist’s loyalty to the genre. The next highlight quickly follows with the similarly formidable ‘Nov Wait Stop Wait’. This track builds on the energy of ‘Whole 9 Yards’ to create an anthem that’ll ring out in the rave for years to come. Unfortunately, however, both ‘Whole 9 Yards’ and ‘Nov Wait Stop Wait’ were released before the project dropped in full so they aren’t really discovered and enjoyed as part of the ‘Novelist Guy’ experience, but beforehand as an album teaser.
As much as it is a sonic journey, in which the listener travels back in time to experience the sounds of the DIY grime generation and then to the present to witness Novelist’s innovation, the south Londoner’s debut album is also a political statement. In ‘Afro Pick’ he claims “I do what I do for the young youth from back in the day when I ran for the mayor” and in ‘Stop Killing The Mandem’ he includes an audio sample in which he explains “All lives matter but, right now, people are perpetrating against black people. Worldwide. D’you know what I’m saying? I’m just glad that people come together, liaise, march, sing songs, and make the world know that over here people care as well. D’you get what I’m saying?”.
As a poster boy for the new generation of grime MCs, Novelist’s debut album was one of the most highly anticipated in the genre’s history, so, before the release date was even announced, the 21 year old had an unavoidable responsibility. And although it could be said that it lacks the layers that could make it a classic, and is a farcry from the Mercury Prize-winning debut from a 19 year old Dizzee Rascal, it seems as if Novelist made the album he wanted to make, despite the external pressures, and gave us a project which is sonically, socio-politically and unapologetically grime.
Words: Patrick Fennelly
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