Brixton-born grime artist Big Narstie shares his philosophies with Toby Hood: on Scouse behaviour, racism in the music business, and how his experiences have helped him to become an agony aunt…
It’s a balmy, early spring day in the centre of Liverpool, and St. John’s shopping centre is abuzz with families, teens, bargain hunters, and, for today only, a South London rapper and his entourage.
I meet Big Narstie’s team in a small clothes outlet on the first floor of the mall; they are snacking on Subway sandwiches as I approach the tour manager, before being promptly introduced to the man himself. “He’ll be ready in a few minutes, bruv.” His merchandise is on a trestle table at the front of the shop; caps, t-shirts, weed grinders.
Tyrone Lindo – grime artist, campaigner, YouTuber, agony uncle – is exactly how I expected. An iconic figure in social media circles, and a self-declared mouthpiece for urban millennial struggles, he has an unassuming and humble presence, and his answers to interview questions are short and to the point.
A great one for pithy soundbites, Narstie comes out with succinct, vernacular philosophies on society and modern life. “Scouse behaviour is its own behaviour.” He says, when pressed on his impressions of the ‘Pool. “There’s a lot of kids from Toxteth who can relate to me. If you come from a sh****le it’s easier to get BDL.”
BDL is the Base Defence League, the name adopted by Narstie and his contemporaries to describe the emerging demand for grassroots garage music; a revival that has been steadily growing and infiltrating the mainstream market since the early 2010s. “It’s a new England,” he explains. “A movement of like-minded people, who care about changing reality.” This brings me quickly to the topics of race and discrimination; common subjects of Big Narstie’s songs as well as his YouTube shows.
“F*ck the music industry. Things need to be changed in life.” He responds to the question around what needs to change for black people to feel more accepted in the business. “A racial problem doesn’t happen in a couple of months, it takes hundreds of years.”
Narstie prides himself in being able to connect with people of all races, particularly his large Asian fan base. “Being connected with people from all over helps me.” I then probe him about collaborating with white, mainstream artists like Robbie Williams and Ed Sheeran on his forthcoming album. I’m interested to know how relationships like that work.
“I think it’s natural. They respect me for the artist that I am.” And what kind of artist is that? “I’m known for being very outspoken and just very hyper. Anyone who appreciates that from me, gets the best out of me.”
Of course, lately, it is his partnership with Craig David that has secured his star in the UK music scene. While Big Narstie admits that featuring in David’s When The Bassline Drops was a pivotal moment in his career, it is his ventures on social media that take up Narstie’s main focus.
With a regular slot on Grime Report TV’s YouTube channel as “Uncle Pain” (the man on the street’s Dear Deirdre), Narstie has built up an impressive online following. He has released his own app, called Base Invaders, and enjoys an influential position on Twitter. His latest single, They Don’t Know (video, top, featuring singer/producer Xaviour), shows a more serious side away from his irreverent videos; the opening line “I came out the womb and it was over” is particularly poignant, given the loss of his father at the start of the tour.
A Brixton native, Narstie is no stranger to difficulties where his personal life is concerned. “I had no choices,” he tells me. People from his neighbourhood typically sell drugs, he reveals, but, as soon as he could, the young artist seized the opportunity to get away, “see the world, and be free.”
For now, that means touring the UK, supporting Craig David’s critically acclaimed live shows and endorsing BDL values; appearing in Leeds, Manchester, and playing Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, London, this summer (7 July).
As we wrap things up, Narstie has some autographs to sign and snaps to take, so I couldn’t help but be included in that. It was difficult to realise that I’d met one of Britain’s leading and most influential rappers; not narsty at all, rather quietly impressive.
Image: Big Narstie, courtesy the artist