Interviews with Big Narstie are generally guaranteed to be a laugh but we’d no idea what we were letting ourselves in for as we sat down alongside Stanza and Sukh Knight of True Tiger to discuss their first collaborative EP, ‘Hello High’. Within minutes, Narstie was singing broken Spanish to the waitress bringing us drinks and talking about his irrational fear of fish, while the rest of us sat around in hysterics – it felt more like ‘An Audience With’ than an interview.
That said, for all his jokes, slogans and penchant for speaking his mind, it’d be lazy to attribute his recent success to just his larger than life persona; it’s worth remembering he’s been an active MC since 2002. Having learnt his trade with iconic grime crew NAA and striving to stay, as he puts it, ‘politically correct’, for years, you get the sense that his recent output represents a sense of freedom long yearned after. He should get more credit than he’s given for his credentials on a mic too but whatever it is that makes him tick, it’s certainly working.
As for True Tiger, they’ve remained a go-to production unit for the industry for years now, combing their stellar underground pedigree with a marked professionalism and more importantly, an understanding of how music works from an industry perspective. ‘Hello High’ represents their first venture with Narstie, but follows on in a similar vein from the barnstorming work they did with P Money on 2010 banger ‘Slang Like This’.
Musically, the EP itself represents a powerhouse meeting of minds that joins the dots between grime and dubstep effortlessly, relaying a sense of fun and freedom often lost in translation with similarly-themed releases. Lead single ‘Head Gone’ is a no frills banger too, filled to the brim with rude, angry bass bangs and trademark Big Narstie slogans, whilst ‘Barracuda’ picks up the slack on similar footing. Essentially, it’s grime with a welcome dose of studio polish and although not to everyone’s taste, sets a tangible and moreover, realistic precedent for other MCs to follow or at the very least consider.
With that in mind and after Sukh Knight was finally served his brandy, we started talking..
So, ‘Hello High’ represents your first collaborative EP – can tell us a little bit about it?
Stanza: It came about just through being mutual fans of each other and always bumping into each other out and about I think. We became friends and it’s just gone from there.
Big Narstie: I’m the better looking one of the friends though. We’re all talented artists and we decided to ying and yang our talents and infuse them like something that needed to be f***ing infused. God bless ganja, alcohol, bad behaviour and BASE. It was those key ingredients that resulted in Hello High. It’s good, honest 140BPM English music with hardcore elements of grime and it’s brought us to fancy places like this where people ask if you want cucumber with your water.
Sukh Knight: Imagine if they asked if you wanted cucumber with your brandy though? (all laugh)
Obviously work with grime MCs is something you’re no strangers to. ‘Slang Like This’ with P Money was actually the first track I ever reviewed online and I remember Sukh being involved with quite a bit of production on ‘Money Over Everyone’. Is it a different challenge working with MCs? What was it like working with Big Narstie?
ST: Working with Narstie was easy really, everything just flowed because he writes so fast – we had the EP done really quickly.
SK: The levels were so high as well, like up in space high..
ST: I think MCs and singers make it more interesting for us too and the EP was generally about having fun. We didn’t know it was gonna be an EP when we wrote it to be honest actually but he was so quick, we had tracks finished in no time and it made sense to put it together. Sometimes, it can can take MCs a long time and some won’t always understand the industry which makes it difficult. It’s been good to work with someone who’s on point and does the basics like turning up on time and generally just not being long. That was a proper producer moan wasn’t it?
BN: Man’s just about this life. BASE!
Did you find either of you had to adapt to fit each other’s styles or was it fairly organic?
ST: We had the ideas started already and he liked them so it was just a case of finishing the tunes and arranging vocals. We’re only saying this ‘coz he’s here though, the EP was actually meant to be out in 2012 (laughs).
You’ve said in a few interviews that you always wanted the chance to work with True Tiger. What is it about their sound that stands out?
BN: They were the only guys to have used our sound and put it in the public eye. They’ve had man like Ed Sheeran on BASE, no acoustic strings or anything like that, proper BASE. Everyone else is like ‘lets steal David Guetta’s tune and get a number one’? Nah f*** that, they’ve kept it trill. They wanna make good music for the sake of making good music, they’re happy with what they put out you get me? They don’t put shit out to make a quick buck.
SK: We’re just making music for the music’s sake to be honest. I think everyone should focus on making what they like and what they’re into, rather than thinking about money or anything else.
ST: Plus everyone’s putting out a lot of commercial stuff at the moment and there’s a lot of MCs concerned with appeasing their labels. It’s good that an artist like Narstie has built up a big fan base just through being himself. We represent a UK sound and now that a lot of artists are playing around the world and making big money, it’s even more important that people remember to keep things authentic. We do a lot of album sessions to fit a brief too don’t forget, so it’s good to produce stuff like this that we can make our way.
Why do you think the grime and dubstep crossover sound has been so profitable for MCs? Do you think it’s a workable means to making grime more commercially viable?
BN: Look, dubstep is the white Michael Jackson and grime is the Black Michael Jackson you get me? This is what it is so combining the two, you get a mixed race Michael Jackson and that Michael is our Michael. We love you Michael. What about Tito?! (followed by fits of laughter from everybody)
TT: I don’t reckon it is necessarily, I think grime suffers from crap mix-downs at times. The production’s not great always either, melodies aren’t always as technical and people aren’t as bothered. I think with dubstep there’s a lot more regulating going on so I think that helps. People seem to get Narstie more on something like this because they can hear everything better. If it’s a shit mix-down, then it’s not rocket science, it’s not gonna carry as far. It’s a shame really.
Looking back at starting out with NAA, did you ever imagine you’d be where you are now?
BN: Nah. I was one of the fortunate ones because options are limited. The fact that I’m here is a blessing. What makes it better is that things are moving because I’m just being myself, I’ve not got a PR representative or shit like that, I’ve got this far just being me. Don’t get it twisted, some people probably hate the sight of my face where as other people might love me, I’m a marmite personality. Me being myself has helped me and blocked me too but tough luck, that’s how it goes. I want my first song to chart to be based around music that I like, not 8 bars over David Guetta, wearing pointy shoes and working on my JLS routine, f*** off man.
How do you think you’ve developed since first starting out then? What do you think explains your rise in popularity over the last few years?
BN: I played the game for so long. I tried to be politically correct but every person has something to offer and it’s up to you to tune into yourself. My boy used to say to me, put your personality into your music because I never used to do that. I just made angry music but deep down I’m a funny person. I’m angry-funny really, it’s fucked up, I got issues man but I’ve learnt to do it. I feel like people can get to know me through my tunes now.
Talk to us a little bit about ‘Uncle Pain’..
BN: Bruv, I’m the hood’s Jeremy Kyle, I’m the gangster shrink you get me? The gangsters holler at me for the advice like I’m the roads’ reality checker – I just ask where these guy’s minds are at basically and give them the truth.
Do you think that your personality can sometimes mask the fact that you’re actually a skilled MC?
BN: It’s a gift and a curse. Sometimes it does overshadow it but other times it brings it all together. All it is really and truly is just me and what man puts out though. I am a bit of a joker. What was I gonna say again? I started thinking about that apple juice that chick’s bringing over you know, my mind’s blanked out. But musically I am sick.
‘Hello High’ is out now on your label Stripes. Is Stripes affiliated to True Tiger Recordings?
ST: We just changed the name but it’s the same. We started a a label and when we got together as a unit, we decided to call it True Tiger. The label got overshadowed by the act name as we got bigger though so It made sense to change the name because the brands became too interlinked. Stripes will always be a place for us to release our music independently though.
Looking ahead, have you got more plans to release collaboratively?
BN: Yeah, hold tight Jim from East Ham.
ST: He’s gonna get a zip of beats tonight, we’ll leave it at that for now..
Do you think it’s important for more MCs to branch out and look further afield for inspiration like Narstie has?
BN: Right now, guess what’s in my car? You ready for this? (Starts singing) ‘Breaaaak a mirrroorrrrr, rolllll a diceeeee, run with sciiiissorssss through a chip pan fire fight. Go into business with a grizzlyyy bearrrrrrr … but just don’t sit down because I moved your chairrr’. Are you nuts cuz? I’ve been stopped by the police twice and I’ve had that playing. See Adele as well, ‘Hometown’ and shit like that – that’s not grime, that’s just banging music. They’re good at what they do, just like I’m good at what I do. ‘What’s The Story Brixton Glory Part 2’ is coming out in the new year by the way, that psychedelic shit cuz.
ST: I ink it’s important for MCs to do what they like, rather than worry about what they should be doing.
SK: You’ve always got creative freedom you know, people forget that as well.
ST: Yeah and I think people should focus on building a sound too. If you look at all the proven successful MCs, all their early albums had a coherent sound. From Dizzee to Jay Z to Kendrick, their albums have a definitive sound. Whatever you can say about Jay Z, he still has a lot of straight up, real hip hop tracks on his albums and that in itself helps keep the sound relevant. I mean, we’ve not had a ‘Boy In Da Corner’ album since, well, Boy In Da Corner. Nobody’s done it. I still listen to that album now just for that specific sound. So yeah, as much as MCs should experiment, I think they should try and build their own sound first, rather than trying to make a million different genres. That’s what’s so good about Big Narstie – his hype is all from grime.
So, what can we expect in 2014?
BN: ‘What’s The Story Brixton Glory Part 2’ is out on New Year’s Day. There’s an ‘Uncle Pain’ DVD on the way and t-shirts and shit as well, all at bignarstie.com. BASE!
ST: Well, we’ll be doing another EP together..
BN: ‘Hello, High Again’ innit?
ST: We calling it that yeah? Ok (laughs). We’ve got a few new True Tiger EPs coming too and Sukh’s got a new EP forthcoming on Stripes. We’re all gonna be shooting a video for ‘Barracuda’ as well, so you can look out for that soon.
The ‘Hello High’ EP by Big Narstie & True Tiger is out now on Stripes Records