Big Narstie: The ‘lighter’ and funnier side of grime
Grime has existed as a genre for over a decade now and in that time has, for better or worse, never quite broken through and left the underground. Dark, dangerous and serious, it is a genre which can be intimidating to outsiders and, unfortunately, this lends itself to harmful stereotyping. The sight of a tracksuited youth, fronting and posing with expensive trainers and a bandana masking his face in grime videos is, for many, all too reminiscent of scenes from London’s 2011 riots and is just one of the many image problems faced by what is probably the UK’s most imaginative and innovative genre.
Step forward Brixton MC Big Narstie, a man on a mission to crack a smile on the face of a genre which perhaps takes itself slightly too seriously at the best of times. For those who aren’t familiar, Big Narstie is one of grime’s most popular artists, famous for his hype-inducing live performances, entertaining freestyles and his unique catchphrases. This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Narstie’s appeal, as can be seen by the huge popularity of his self-help YouTube series, Uncle Pain, which racks up tens of thousands of views per episode, or his TV Guide series for Noisey, both of which have helped cement Narstie’s reputation as grime’s most lovable personality.
Anybody who has watched any of the Uncle Pain series will be aware of just how tangential a conversation with Big Narstie can be, so I was not surprised at all when our interview overran by an hour and touched upon subjects ranging from Thatcherism and Elton John to Jeremy Kyle and “Muay Thai” technique (perhaps the politest way I can put it). “The reason my management get upset with me the most is that they don’t know what’s going to come out my mouth,” he tells me. Narstie’s righteous indignation is both relentless and hilarious but has landed him in trouble in the past. A video of him discussing the now-infamous Tulisa sextape caused a stir but he remains unrepentant and tells me, “it was on f****** YouTube! Of course I was watching it!”
Narstie, however, is much more than just a court jester and he hopes that his upcoming EP Don’t F*** Up The Base will mark an important change in how grime music is perceived by the mainstream. “I’ve created a new sound,” he tells me, “I’ve actually brought back dancing and vibes, it’s more universal.” This aim is evident from ‘Feel’, the first track to be released from the EP. Feel sees Narstie vocal Dexplicit’s Wave Machine instrumental, the winning track from the producer’s That Bass Life competition, “Feel was the 2nd song that I did with Dex for the EP, trying to get the sound,” he says, “I don’t spit straight away so you can get into the beat and when I start to spit it’s majorly, majorly gassed, trust me.” The resulting sound is one which maintains grime’s tempo, rhythm and deep bass but combines with trance-esque synths and a slow, melodic chorus to act as a pop contrast to Narstie’s street sensibilities.
For Narstie, the trait that has held grime back the most is a lack of faith from those involved in the scene. “Everyone uses grime as a footstool,” he tells me, “but imagine Biggie Smalls started doing hip hop and it started going well and then he started making RnB, there would be no hip hop!” The mainstream success and subsequent abandoning of the grime scene exhibited by artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Kano and more recently Dot Rotten can be something of a sore point for grime fans, however Narstie believes that one success from within the scene will lead to another, thanks to what he terms a “shepherd and sheep” attitude in the UK.
He illustrates this point in typically blunt fashion by telling me: “If I made a song in pink boxer shorts and green gloves called Sexy Girl and got a number 1 the whole fucking grime scene would be in pink boxer shorts making a f****** remix.” If you need any proof of what Narstie is saying, then a cursory look at the number of UK versions of Otis, Hustle Hard or I Don’t Like on YouTube should provide it for you.
As you can imagine, a lack of faith in grime music and in his own music is not a problem that Narstie suffers from, “I didn’t get played on radio or TV for 3 years,” he says, “they all told me the same thing, it was too urban”. This attitude is something Narstie believes prevails within the grime scene for both artists and DJs, but isn’t one that he will allow to hold him back. “They don’t see grime music as commercial music” he says, “but all music is commercial, it’s how you make it, that’s what I’m trying to say.”
Don’t F*** Up The Base is available to pre-order on iTunes now.Tagged in: Big Narstie, Don't F up the base, grime, NAA, Narstie
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