With over a decade in the game, Big Narstie is still reaching his peak.
Starting back in 2004 as part of N Double A, alongside Grandmixxer and Typah MC, Narstie's rise to fame has been a gradual but steady one and now he's one of the most well-loved characters in grime. From day one, he had the respect of his peers, showing he wasn't just a performer but that he could freestyle and battle with the best of them, too. Earlier this year at a Boiler Room event hosted by Logan Sama at the ICA, it was Narstie who stole the show and found himself at the centre of a mob of fans outside, all of them desperate for a chance to even be near the magnetic South Londoner. It's easy to understand Big Narstie's appeal in this day and age. With so much emphasis being placed on appearances and pretensions, he stands in stark contrast to that.
Though he makes music for the people, nothing Narstie does is guided or steered by anyone else, and that's why he can appear on the latest Lord Of The Mics CD one week and then hit the studio with Ed Sheeran the next, and it is accepted. Both seem like natural moves for a man who stands alone like Big Narst.
Besides the expansive fanbase and critical acclaim, the emcee also finds himself as an unofficial spokesperson for grime, regularly appearing on shows like Charlie Sloth's on 1Xtra to educate the youngsters about grime's history and what it means to be a mic man. I asked him whether it irritated him that grime had gone out of fashion for a lot of people only to be picked up again. "As an artist, this is the price you pay," he says, "and people are getting to know it more than before."
I'm not into fucking force-feeding people things. It has to build naturally.
When it comes to grime maintaining its popularity and gaining a more permanent place in British culture, he recommends people "keep doing it and not being sellouts. Grime couldn't have that when people are looking out for something else to come round. But there's been good times and there's been bad times." And why shouldn't he put a positive spin on things? It seems his fanbase gets larger and more rabid almost by the day, his crowds are getting bigger and bigger and he can seemingly do no wrong. Sure, things haven't always been this good but everyone has a trajectory.
In fact, only last year, as he puts it, "there was nothing... none of these festivals." But then something changed. It wasn't him though, Narstie did as he always did: made the music he wanted to make, and it paid off. "This year it was blessed, bruv. Glastonbury, Fresh Island, Hijacked Festival, and still got more to come! I'm loving it all, still. I'm appreciating having to go out there and make some moves." And it's been a hell of a year. 2015 has seen him host the Grime Karaoke at Fresh Island Festival, as well as appearances at Godiva Festival, Woodstoke, and Everywhere Festival. And that's not even counting Outlook (Croatia), Bestival (UK) and more which he has yet to come.
But we didn't just talk about the past when we called Big Narst. He has a new single called "Hello Hi" with Show N Prove (out August 21), and he felt the need to clear up a little confusion. This is an entirely separate song from the similarly titled "Hello Hi" from last year which featured Jme, and the True Tiger-produced Hello High EP from the year before. All are absolute bangers, but it is legitimately confusing if we're honest. And between Uncle Pain, his regular live shows, constant online videos for various magazines and YouTube channels, there's a lot to keep up with.
The whole thing leaves Narstie with a difficult balance to maintain, and there's "an art to maintaining it. [Hello Hi] needed time to resonate with people and get out there," he explained. "Build up that hype. I'm not into fucking force-feeding people things. It has to build naturally. And because I've got so much other things going on, my music gets covered by everything else, so it needs time to breathe." A wise philosophy, but no mean feat. Still, from our end, things couldn't be better. Barely a day goes by without a new Uncle Pain video, a new single, or a freestyle or live performance going viral. So it makes sense that he let things breathe. We have a new EP to look forward to shortly, as well as a Base Defence League album—the contents of which appear to remain under wraps for now.
However, by far and away the most exciting thing to come out of our conversation—and we're not even remotely kidding when we say that—is that Big Narstie, wait for it, has recorded material with Ed Sheeran, and some sort of release in some sort of way is in the pipeline. Narstie couldn't tell us anything more about the collab, only that he [puts on patois accent] "just wannya watch!" At this point, he doesn't have to ask us twice.