This has been a big year for grime – and not just because Kanye and Drake finally discovered London’s very own fast and dirty strain of hip hop. Veteran MCs like Skepta and newcomers like Stormzy have both broken through to huge new audiences in 2015. But rapidly rising to the top of the game is Kojo Kankam, aka Novelist: an MC from Lewisham (and until recently part of The Square crew) whose incredible bars and innovative collabs make him one of the most thrilling artists working in London today. And he’s still only 18.
When did you start making music?
‘I’ve been into it since I was a kid. When I was young – I’m talking 6,7, 8 – the older people around me were listening to the radio and making music using software. When we were in school we’d stand round in a circle spitting: if you didn’t have a bar, you were a wasteman. We’ve always been MCing, whether we took it seriously or not.’
So when did things get serious for you?
‘When I got to 16. I started bunking off school to go to the studio: I was hungry. But I don’t look at what I’m doing as anything more than continuing what I was introduced to at a really early age. I used to watch the DVDs and see what the olders were doing and think: That’s sick. I want to be one of those guys.’
‘Grime’s always been a part of my life. It never went anywhere’
Do you think that grime is experiencing a resurgence?
‘People say it’s a resurgence. I think that’s bullshit – it’s always been a part of my life. It’s not like grime left and then came back: in the ends and for me, it never went anywhere.’
Even though people like Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal went off and made pop tracks?
‘Yeah. That was because they didn’t realise their own influence, that all the little kids were listening to them. They didn’t see them at raves, so they didn’t realise they had London and England tuned into what they were doing. It looks like grime died, but it had a big impact on the kids.’
Do you get advice from the older generation of grime MCs?
‘Yeah, all of them: from Flow Dan and Flirta D to Wiley and Skepta to P Money. They’ve all given me good advice. They’re always happy to free the realness – they know I’m not just some fan kid from Essex.’
So how has that helped you in your own career?
‘I feel like I don’t have to make certain mistakes because other people have made them before. The older lot have done the trial and error stuff, so I can see it first hand.’
What about you? Do you think you’re an influential figure yet?
‘I’m young, I’m a London rude boy. Getting young people involved is one of the main things I want to do. I know younger people are listening to me.’
‘I’m not a dickhead. I read a lot of books’
Novelist © Patrick Johnson
You talk a lot about your area. How important is it to what you do?
‘It means everything and nothing at the same time. It’s fucked up: bare mad shit happens – good and bad things. Two of my boys got murdered last month. I’ve been stabbed myself, had altercations. But the energy of the whole thing gives you so much to say and live for.’
Some people might think that concentrating on your area so much narrows your horizons.
‘It’s always had an influence on me down to how I talk, how I dress. But everything I do, the hood shit and that, that’s for the style. I’m not a dickhead. I read a lot of books. I don’t like reading newspapers ’cause there’s a lot of propaganda in there, but I’m in tune with what’s going on.’
Will you stay in Brockley once you start getting really successful?
‘Not necessarily, but I’ll always go there and check my people.’
Even when you’re covered in gold chains?
‘I’m not really a jewellery man. I’m not wearing gold till I get my first million. I’m not wearing platinum till I get my first five.’
Novelist appears with Rinse FM at Rough But Sweet soundsystem at Notting Hill Carnival.