The NSG acronym stands for a number of things: ‘No Sleep Gang’, ‘New Sound Group’, ‘Non Stop Grinding’ and ‘Never Stop Growing’, the latter two speaking for them especially. Their music has been described as “Afroswing” by some, “Afrobashment” by others, but whether they’re sprinkling in hip-hop or dancehall elements, there’s no mistaking where they’re from and the people they’re doing this all for. The London-based collective’s rise to greatness can be largely attributed to the heavy African influence within their music, which has worked greatly in their favour.
Few UK-based acts embrace and champion the motherland quite like NSG, whose whole team rep either Nigeria or Ghana. Growing up in Britain during the ‘90s and 2000s, being of direct African heritage was frowned upon—which even the likes of Skepta has highlighted on tracks (“When I was in school, being African was a diss,” he spits on Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” remix alongside Drake). In this current day, however, being African is very much celebrated—thanks in large part to the explosion of Afrobeats.
Made up of six members—Kruddz, Mojo, OGD, Dope, Papii Abz and Mxjib—it would seem NSG have popped up out of nowhere, with their infectious, charting-invading singles and viral dance crazes. Quite the contrary. Since 2013, when they dropped their first track (an Afrobeats remix of Charly Black and J Capri’s dancehall hit “Whine & Kotch”), they have been on their grind. Six years later, in 2019, they scored their first Top 10 with “Options” featuring Tion Wayne. That same year, they embarked on two tours and proved they were no one-hit-wonder with their Top 20 cut, “OT Bop”. Despite living through a global pandemic, 2020 saw NSG release a Top 40 project titled Roots and bless Nines’ No. 1 album, Crabs In A Bucket, via “Airplane Mode”. They also became the first act to reach No. 1 on the Official UK Afrobeats Chart, launched by the Official Charts Company last July, with Roots standout “Grandad”. Frankly put: NSG have worked hard to be here.
NSG are currently working on their debut album, which they say is 80% done. We went down to the video shoot for its lead single, “Colonization”, to have a chat with the guys about their career so far and their exciting future.
“Our music’s reaching a point where it’s getting deeper and we’re saying deeper stuff. It can’t just be us vibing no more.”—Kruddz
COMPLEX: Hey, guys! So we’re here today at the video shoot for your new single, “Colonization”, which is co-directed by Kruddz and Kevin Hudson. So I guess the first question is for you, Kruddz: when did you know you had a thing for directing?
Kruddz: In secondary school, I did drama and in A-Levels, I did media, so it’s something I’ve been doing. Also, as an artist, you’re the one that gets the idea of what you want people to see… Our music’s reaching a point where it’s getting deeper and we’re saying deeper stuff. It can’t just be us vibing no more. I want to paint a picture of what we’re saying in our music, to reality. The best people that can do it are the people saying it, so that’s what got me into directing.
What was your first directing experience?
Kruddz: “After OT Bop” with BackRoad Gee. That song’s more of like a freestyle vibe, so that’s why I did the whole one-take thing to match the vibe of the song. But with “Colonization”, it’s more cinematic so I wrote a storyline and, trust me, everyone’s gonna love it because there’s a twist at the end of it. It’s 50% movie, 50% NSG vibe.
What’s the story behind the track’s title?
Kruddz: We’re shooting a video called “Colonization”, the entire world is going to hear our sound—our sound is going to influence—and that’s what colonization is: people adapting to your culture, using your culture whether they like it or not.
In your own words, what do each of you bring to the NSG table?
Papii Abz: I bring togetherness and keep that chemistry within the group.
Mojo: I bring the fun side, the good vibes, to the table.
Papii Abz: Kruddz brings a lot of ideas, such as directing our two videos, and MJ [Mxjib] brings so much creativity. He’s the guy who thinks outside of the box; he stands outside and looks in for the group.
Mojo: Dope thinks for the people. He understands our consumers, and what we should do next for the audience, so we can grow as a group.
Papii Abz: OGD also brings a lot of creative ideas to the table, from producing the music to the music-making process.
How would you describe the come-up of NSG, from 2013’s “Whine & Kotch” remix to the present day?
Kruddz: That was a controversial moment. Bashment was running things back then, we grew up on that, but we are proud Africans so we flipped it using our culture. Especially growing up in Hackney, where it’s very diverse, we loved dancehall but we put our little spin on it to show people who we are. We’re all proud to be African but we jumped on what was popular—some people didn’t like it, but others were like: “Reh! This is not too bad. It’s a new sound.”
What does home—aka Hackney—mean to you?
Dope: Home is where the heart is and that is Hackney! Hackney’s so diverse; there are different backgrounds and cultures that play a big part in our sound. And there’s so much raw, underground talent: from the Unknown Ts and IVDs to, of course, NSG.
People often get confused when it comes to differentiating ‘Afroswing’ and ‘Afrobeats’. What’s the best way to describe the two sounds?
Papii Abz: Afroswing is that UK swing, whereas Afrobeats—while it has a western influence—leans more towards the original afrobeat sound made popular by Fela Kuti. Afroswing is a pot of everything we’ve all grown up on—from hip-hop to R&B and dancehall—while afrobeat, without the s, derives from old-school West African genres like Highlife and Fuji. It’s deeper than just the music, though.
The Official Charts Company established the Official UK Afrobeats Chart last year. You guys basically live in those charts now [laughs]. Would you say the UK Afrobeats scene is finally moving?
Papii Abz: The Official UK Afrobeats Chart allows the masses to appreciate the Afrobeats genre a bit more, which is allowing it to grow because it represents the culture and that’s what it’s all about. Culture never dies, and anyone that represents culture always wants it to prevail. So people who represent UK Afrobeats, from the NSGs to the Darkoos, will push the genre more. We’re here to inspire the new generation. That’s the aim.
“The next step is global domination.”—Mojo
What qualities do you feel NSG have that perhaps some of your peers in the scene don’t have?
Dope: Realness, consistency and being able to have fun with it! As a group, we’ve made it a point to embrace different cultures and you can hear it throughout our music… We’re just different, man [laughs]. That’s it.
What has been NSG’s biggest career highlight thus far?
Dope: I don’t think we’re fully there yet. Because of COVID this year, we couldn’t do some stuff, but last year was a big year: we got nominated for a MOBO, dropped some big singles, and we were the first to go No. 1 on the Official Afrobeats Chart… I’d actually say that was the biggest highlight.
When I saw your video for “Lupita” got a MOBO nomination, I was excited for you. It was a really great look. As you just mentioned, 2020 was generally a great year for NSG and, more recently, you’ve had some big collabs with the likes of Potter Payper and BackRoad Gee. So what’s next on the list?
Mojo: The next step is global domination. The main aim is to take our sound—which is the core and roots of the UK and Africa—worldwide. But it’s all about continuously growing as a group. A wise man once said, “Life is a staircase, so it’s all about elevating.”
At some point, do you see the group signing with a major label? If so, when will be the right moment?
Papii Abz: As time goes on, we’ll understand our power more independently. We’re going further away from signing and creating our own stamps, but we will make some business moves. That doesn’t mean we’ll sign because NSG is a label itself, but there could potentially be a partnership in the near future. For us, it’s all about ownership and having the power to say yes or no as we please.
Your collaborations, so far, have been quite eclectic. Who would be the dream NSG collab, though?
OGD: Burna Boy and Future are two artists I listen to religiously and I would love to know what we can cook up with them.
Where are you at with the debut album? Any name or main theme for it yet?
Papi Abz: We’ve been discussing names but haven’t settled on anything yet as we really want it to have meaning and relevance. Our fans, and anyone who follows us, will see that NSG basically live in the studio. We’re always creating music—practically every day—so we’re kinda 80% of the way there when it comes to having a full body of work that we’d be happy to present as an album. There’s some big tracks in there that we’re excited for people to hear... We’re nearly there.
Where do you see the group at the end of 2021?
Mojo: At the end of the year, we see ourselves with the best album of the year, sold-out shows, headline shows in our hometown, London, and other cities. We want to see pure success and you can expect pure good vibes from us—today and forever.