Novelist review – rabble-rousing MC makes grime political

XOYO, London
The south London rapper combines breathless rhyme schemes with insightful analysis and anti-Tory sentiment – and even threatens to run in the next election

It’s rare to find grime MCs devoting set-time to political discourse. But in a sweaty Shoreditch basement – performing in the one microscopic area of stage not allocated to selfie-taking audience members gurning into their smartphone lenses – the 19-year-old Lewisham MC Novelist is trying to change that by leading 800 Generation Z-ers in a riotous summary of the Brexit vote. Their chant consists of three magic words: “FUCK! DAVID! CAMERON!”

For the last few years, Novelist has been trying to marry his rhyme schemes with politics by sampling cabinet members’ speeches and making frenetic beats with titles such as David Cameron Riddim, as well as publicly joining the Labour party and tweeting Jeremy Corbyn with the message that “the mandem need you”). As bone-crushingly heavy basslines strafe the room, he repeats a lyrical motif that boasts: “Might run for the next election.”

Rabble-rousing aside, Novelist is an astonishingly versatile performer. There are segments for which he spurns a backing track and demonstrates a breathless flow that sends staccato syllables crashing relentlessly into one another. He lyrically veers between silly odes to Lewisham McDonalds and insightful analysis about the futility of urban London youth’s obsessive loyalty to postcodes. It’s rare that he makes it to the end of a song without the DJ having to rewind the track because of the roar of the crowd.

Novelist at XOYO. Photograph: Maria Jefferis/Redferns

For the last 10 minutes of the set, there’s another star of the show: his DJ, Grandmixxer. As a succession of guest MCs take the microphone, the crowd’s interest starts to wane, until a flurry of bass-heavy, crystalline early-noughties grime beats start the walls rumbling. When Dizzee Rascal’s I Luv U plays, the first two rows fly into the air as though yanked on string. At one point, the rapid-fire mixing is so impeccable that Novelist actually stops MCing to jump around, flailing his arms like the world’s most erratic goalkeeper.

Then, as they’re halfway through a track, the music stops and bright lights illuminate the stage. The set has overrun and there won’t be any more songs. The crowd begins to boo, until Novelist gives them a message: “Fuck the Tory government, yeah?” The boos turn to rapturous cheers.

Grime and politics: perhaps they won’t be curious bedfellows for much longer.


Alexi Duggins

The GuardianTramp

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