This article was originally featured in ASBO MAGAZINE; Issue 11
Big Narstie is a precious gem in British media, cut and polished in Brixton. Today he shines on every open platform, smile on face and spliff in hand; leaving creased expressions all over. ASBO presents an interview with the most chilled out icon seen on telly, humble beginnings and the real deal, here goes.
“I’m a rare anomaly. Everything that you see me execute; there’s a person who stays up at night, planning to do what I do. I don’t do that. I just smoke weed and live my life.” This is how Big Narstie, the successful Grime MC, BAFTA winner, owner of several businesses, author and internet sensation describes himself and his fame. We were trapped inside this irony, sitting outside some Hackney Downs studios while the sun shone and he smoked a spliff larger than man’s middle finger.
Starting his career in 2002, Narstie (Natural, Artistic, Respected, Sexy, Talented, Independent and Educated), became a pioneer of grime; a genre defined by fast beats, electronic sounds, British accents, and frantic energy. How? Step by step. Once upon a time, this guy sat on the block after his daily shop: 30p lemonade, custard creams, and an eighth or two (weed). Time was spent writing double-sided pages of thoughts, thoughts became bars, and bars gave him music.
“When I first started doing music, I was only big in Brixton, then Clapham, then Stockwell, then Battersea. So, it all started from home and then it spread.” Signing his first deal with the charity ‘Raw Materials Music & Media Education’, Narstie was given a fresh opportunity in the form of 10,000 blank CDs. “With these CDs, my boy DJ Suicide did a 40-minute mix, and that mix went everywhere. Sui and I would travel in his green and sky-blue Fiesta, we would hit up every place with the CDs, and eventually it just spread.”
Babies born in the TikTok era will never understand. Nowadays, it’s all about uploading your stuff online and algorithms working their magic. A few double taps, some shares here and there, and that video of your dog farting could reach the big 1-mill. But 20 years back, it was all organic. Fortunately for Narstie, he’s been popular and magnetic since the start.
“I’m fortunate to have always been a social person. People ask me, ‘oh, what’s it like to be famous?’, but I’ve always been famous. So, me in the predicament that I am in now, it’s just a bigger stage from being in school and in my local community. I’m the testament of what word of mouth can do. I’m from the era where you wouldn’t know what your favourite MC looked like. You would just hear them on radio and see their name on flyers. You didn’t have the opportunities and accessibility that we have now. The curse of social media is that the nostalgia of what artists do is gone.”
Though the world recognises Narstie as a big guy with flashy chains, there was a time when he had to budget carefully at the supermarket. He may have transitioned into celebrity, but the guy is still humble. And I mean… he may own flashy chains, but Big Narstie also uses what looks to be an iPhone 8, and states that he only pays around £300 monthly for his car.
Why choose to stick with less when he could afford so much more? His response brought a wise perspective: having money doesn’t mean you should overspend, and it most definitely shouldn’t make you forget your origins. “I wasn’t supposed to be famous, I’m a normal person who stardom found. My whole thing is about having a happy life, not a stressful life. There are loads of people who have loads of nice things. But they struggle every month to maintain those nice things.”
“I came from a life in which I used to go into the corner shop and had to rush with what I was going to buy. If I was going to treat myself to something nice, something else had to be sacrificed. I couldn’t have everything at once. I’ve worked hard enough to reach a stage where that’s not my situation anymore. I can go into the shop and have everything, but never can I forget that one fast moment and some bad choices can have me back in the shop, choosing whether to have a luxury or a necessity.”
But how did Narstie make it? “A lot of prayer from mum and grandma, being gifted with a talent, and just understanding patience” But it wasn’t till his daughter’s birth that the rapper started truly focussing on his music career. “When my daughter came, she was like, my lucky charm. The transformation happened from her, even to the sense of how serious I was taking it, because I had a responsibility. That’s when music started becoming lucrative to me. So, at the time it felt like when you put coins into a slot machine to try and get all the change. When my daughter came is when I hit the belly, and all the change came rushing out at once.”
The average Brit knows Narstie from his Channel 4 programme: ‘The Big Narstie Show’, which he co-hosts with comedian Mo Gilligan (yes, the ‘Julie, get a couple cans!’ guy). This broadcast isn’t made for Sue to sip the tea; instead, viewers experience a televised personality cocktail, with a unique emphasis on black expression, and it’s working. Season 1 boosted Channel 4’s young viewership 94%. The “blackest thing on television” has cracked the code. Youth watching the box again, crazy. “The TV show was proposed to me for my personality and stuff. Once I had the opportunity, I thought ‘rah, I’m gonna make something that fully represents my culture and the life I’m living.’”
The best episode? Straight away, “Stephen Fry, Stephen Fry is the epitome of what my show is supposed to be – the emergence of two cultures. A smart, sophisticated person like Stephen Fry and a f*cking sick kid like me. That’s a good balance” Narstie couldn’t anticipate common ground with Stephen, but as the man himself says: “assumptions are the mother of all f*ck ups”, and the mixing of Fry and Narstie went on to produce something real sincere, almost too true for TV.
One last question: “What would you do if the world was ending tomorrow?” to which he responds: “I would spend time with my family and friends and give every f*cking paedophile nonce what they f*cking got coming to them”. Bit of an intense wrap up there; but as we’ve gathered by now, Big Narstie is truly and shamelessly himself, and it’s his unfiltered personality that built the popular character on this cover today. Love him for who he is, because that’s who he’s gonna be.
Shoot credits –
Producers: Oliver Gill-Rummens and Ella Kenneally
Lead Photographer: Max Auberon
Second photographer: Nicholas O’Donnell
Stylist and CD: Kitty Cowell
Styling Assistant: Emily Cornwall
Grooming and Hair: Amma Boakye