Nico Lindsay has been one of the most tireless MCs of the past year. Returning in 2015 from a hiatus that was a result of “turning up to radio and not being a match fit”, he’s back in style – bringing his deep, hip-hop-inflected lyricism to a slew of features and radio sessions.
He’s collaborated with everyone from new wave trio YGG to veterans P Money and Trim, and club producers like Wallwork, bridging the gap between the London-centric grime scene and the disparate instrumental sounds bringing it to a worldwide audience.
In anticipation of his self-produced Codename Lin EP, we caught up with Nico to discuss his early days in north London, and advice for aspiring MCs.
You made your comeback in early 2015 when things were kicking off in a big way for grime, how do you feel 2016 compared to 2015?
There were a lot more releases in 2016, a lot more writing. It was different in 2015, everyone was meeting everyone, everyone was going radio. It was like, “cool, you’re such and such… you roll with such and such.” In 2016, everyone knew each other, and it was more about people building their individual foundations.
I feel like the grime scene just keeps on getting better, you just carry on seeing more things coming – even the latest Brit nominations, there’s Skepta, Kano and I think Stormzy nominated as well – three grime artists that have been nominated.
Tell us about your beginnings in grime.
I was in a crew back in the day called Northside, I joined them when I was 14. I went to a youth club with my friends from school, and everyone had their first bars, everyone was shitting themselves… everyone trying to pluck up the courage to jump on the mic. I jumped on mic, the people inside the crew liked me, so I joined the crew.
We had a radio set on [north London pirate radio station] Heat FM. It was Sunday, 8-10. We weren’t a huge crew, but locally, we were known. Unfortunately, nothing’s on the internet from those days. It hurts… nothing’s left, it’s deep. [Laughs]
Was your distinctive vocal and lyrical style always there?
When I first started, I was just saying what everyone else was saying, my only difference was that everyone said to me, “when you say a bar, it sounds like a story”. When I got to the age of 16, I started to pay attention to the more lyrical side of things.
I’ve always been a rap fan. I can’t lie, I used to hate grime. When I first heard grime I couldn’t stand it. I was like, “what the hell is this… I don’t know what you lot are saying!” It wasn’t until I heard D Double, then I was like, “yeah, say no more…”
Was it a different process doing hip-hop as opposed to grime on the release with Trim?
To be honest, I wouldn’t say it was different. Obviously, it’s a different BPM and the instrumentals let off a different vibe. I guess you’ve got a little more space to fill up. With grime, it’s like, “cool, you got 16 bars and that’ll be, like, 28 seconds… what can you say in 28 seconds?” But when you’re doing hip hop, 16 bars is 58 seconds, so you’ve got a load more time.
What are your bars an outlet for?
These days, when I’m writing, it’s like I’m capturing a moment. When I listen to some of my older tunes from when I was younger, I can remember the time, when I made it, what the studio was like, what was going on during those times. These days, it’s like I’m capturing a moment. Whether I’m being bossy and saying some braggadocious shit on grime, or it’s coming from a more introspective place.
For example, something like ‘Storm’. That whole tune is based on going through hard times. So it’s about that – battling through a storm and staying strong throughout it. The tune’s bubbly and energetic but you may not clock on to the concept 100% when you first listen to it.
Do you think the grime sound is diversifying?
Grime’s opening up different doors within itself. People could look at Boxed for example. When you hear Boxed, that’s a particular style of grime, and when you see the Boxed name you know this is the particular style they come with. Same with Harddrive: Terror Danjah, P Jam, Trends and that. They all give off a particular vibe. It’s kind of like sound systems –everyone’s got their own vibe, their own angle, their own perception of grime.
This is when people can start debating if it’s grime or if it ain’t, but at the end of the day, it’s that it comes from the core – it’s still influenced by the main grime genre. I think all the new things happening are good, all these new doorways open up a new audience to the genre. They’ll see this happening and then go back to the essence.
What do you think the recent spate of venue closures means for grime?
I think with all of the closures… whoever’s gonna want to pull it down is gonna want to because it’s something they don’t like. We could start bringing in people to review these raves and put them in newspapers, so these people who want to close the venues can see that everyone’s having a good time. We’re playing energetic music, but nobody’s injured, everyone’s having a good time.
You hosted Nervous Horizon’s third-anniversary party as an MC, how does hosting a Nervous Horizon night differ from doing a conventional night?
I’d approach a show with them kind of like a garage show. I’ll be hosting and keeping the vibe, ‘cos when you’re spraying bars over the percussion, sometimes you just get drowned out. You’ll see me on the mic with veins bursting out my forehead and you’re there thinking, “alright, cool, you’re there on the mic but I can’t hear you, bro!” [Laughs]
How about in the studio?
For the tune ‘Facts’, those bars were lyrics I was saying on radio. It wasn’t really the same with ‘Fiyah’s structure, I’ve never done something like that in my life before. I do a verse, talk, and then the beat drops and there’s a chorus. I can’t even remember the structure for ‘Storm’, I just tried something new for that. The majority of the time I’ll tell Wallwork or whichever producer I’m working with, to send me the beat and I’ll be there studying, thinking how I’m going to approach it.
It’s always better to come prepared
Yeah, I dunno… sometimes. I can write at the studio and do it there and then if it’s a feature verse, I don’t mind and I’ll do it fast. But a whole song, I wanna have an intimate moment, I wanna light some candles there. [Laughs]
What have you got planned for the next year?
My new EP, Codename Lin, is out soon. I just got it back mastered and everything. I produced all the beats, all the vocals, everything on it. It’s 100% me… codename selfish. Hopefully this year I’ll drop one instrumental EP, ‘cos I’ve been producing quite a bit. But I don’t wanna reveal any of that, I want the EP to drop first.
How long have you been producing?
I first tried to produce in 2007 – it was a myth – I’ve just carried on trying throughout the years. Around 08/09 I figured it out a bit, but couldn’t figure out making beats that I wanted to vocaI. I started again in 2016, so I’ve taken a few years off… I’ve been going ham. “Lindsay go ham”. [Laughs]
Having returned from a hiatus and become pretty successful, what would you say to an MC who might be struggling now?
Sometimes you wanna do music but things in real life are going on. Sometimes it could be you wanna do music but then the things you’re doing in music ain’t actually gonna get you to where you’re trying to go. So I’d say to anyone who’s dealing with real life – put music on hold, deal with real life, and then come back.