When Nick Brewer raps, he often surprises people. “It even catches my family members off guard when I tell them that this is my career, but it’s not like I intentionally made myself look anti-rapper,” he says. He’s knows the effect he wants his music to have and his brand new EP, Four Miles Further serves up a few impeccable tracks – bristling with hooklines that are great to jam to and bursting with vitality. His own background provides enough scope but the thing about his particular formula is that no-one knows his secret.
Almost out of nowhere comes this “white, middle class church boy” who is undoubtedly the most impressive surprise to hit the British hip-hop scene in months. His triumph is his ability to turn his struggles into an aesthetic virtue and tracks like “The Drop” and “Miss Online Superstar” set an impressive standard for underground rap craft. His sudden acceptance has not only caught many by surprise, it’s also creating for him an audience that knows very little about his journey. We spoke to the 24-year-old, Essex-born wordsmith about making soulful hip-hop, sudden fame, working with Little Simz and more.
People seem to really like you.
That’s good to know [laughs]. I hope that’s a good sign.
The hip-hop part is a bit of a surprise — does that still catch a lot of people off guard?
Yes — especially when I perform. If people don’t know who I am, when I’m rapping or when I even mention I’m a rapper there’s always that surprise, like, “What?” People generally don’t know how to react, but my hope is to always pleasantly surprise. It even catches my family members off guard when I tell them that this is my career, but it’s not like I intentionally made myself look anti-rapper. I’ve just kind of been on this long journey of discovering who I am. I’m white, I’m middle class and I was raised in a church — this is who I am. I think rather than being embarrassed about those things I’ve always sort of embraced who I am
As far as you’re concerned do you feel like you’ve overcome having to prove yourself to people? Perhaps especially because hip-hop can be such an insecure industry?
It really is and even though I love rap music — rappers seem to always want to talk about how great they are and how many women and cars they have got. But as much as there is space for all of that in hip-hop, there’s also space to talk about your struggles and voice your doubts. I’ll admit it; I haven’t got everything in my life all together. There are things that I’m still working on and that’s what I almost want my music to capture, my growth as a person.
So why do you rap?
First of all, because I love it. It was something that came naturally to me when I was really young. The first rap CD I ever got at the age of nine was Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You.” It just struck something in me and I just started writing raps from that age. It was my way of expressing how I was feeling or what I was thinking, because I was quite timid and shy. In the end, I managed to find a way in building my confidence through music. I hope that when people listen to me there will be something for them to take from it.
How would you describe your style of music?
I feel that I have got something for everyone to hear, not that I want to preach or force anything down people’s throats. The greatest thing about rap music is that it’s about the individual, so when I’m listening to Eminem or Nas, they are essentially telling me about their lives. They both have completely different lives but you really get to know them and hear about their relationships and their struggles. That’s the thing I love about rap when it comes to content. In terms of sound, I love hip-hop, jazz, grime and acoustic music, and that’s why I try and make soulful rap — good vibes and easy listening. I think that’s the simplest way I can describe it.
Have most of the rappers you’ve met been more welcoming than competitive?
If I’m honest, all the rappers that I’ve met have been super friendly and really encouraging. There obviously has to be some competitiveness because it’s like a sport. I know when I hear a really good tune or a flow from another rapper I’m always inspired into wanting to do better, not in a bitter sense but in a competitive sense.
You worked with Little Simz on “The Drop.” How did you meet?
We’ve got loads of mutual friends and she’s also friends with my producer, who I’ve worked with on all of my stuff. She’s super cool and she’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. She’s a sick MC and is so talented. I remember someone suggesting her to be on the track and I was annoyed that I didn’t think of that sooner. She came down to the studio, wrote her verse there and then and smashed it. That was it.
Tell me about your EP Four Miles Further. How did it come together, and what was your objective?
I’m still relatively an unknown rapper but when I got signed people started to hear about me and that’s when I thought I need to deliver something. I was almost building up a hype for myself. I recorded everything I had done before going into the studio at my friend’s house in Holloway, Islington. They recently relocated to a new studio in Brick Lane, and the distance between Brick Lane and Holloway is four miles. That’s the idea behind the title and the music came really naturally when I was recording. I just wanted to showcase my ability to tell stories, make tunes that people can vibe to. Without trying to sound too arrogant I believe I can rap and spit pretty well, so I wanted to be able to show that off on a body of work that plays really well.
What comes to mind when you hear the words “Straight outta Compton, a crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube…?”
I just think of real gangster rap and people with boomboxes on their shoulders. When I first started rapping I remember there was an estate on my road and everyone would be in the playground going for it and hyping each other up. That’s what that song reminds me of, that organic rap vibe.
Is there much of a hip-hop scene in Essex? That’s not the first thing I associate with it.
[Laughs.] It’s weird, because I kind of live in a strange area in Ilford, which is right on the outskirts of East London, but it is Essex. I mean, there are a few people that rap like, Devlin — he’s like the poster boy in a sense for the Dagenham area.
Can you tell when you’ve made a really great track? Is there a moment between recording and being able to know you have done something exceptionally great?
Probably not, but I know when I’ve made an exceptionally bad track [laughs.] I think they are easier to notice.
What do you think is your personal responsibility to hip-hop?
To be real, honest, stay true to my music and never loose who I am. I think once you start to talk about things that don’t reflect you or your music you’re pretty much lying to people and that’s not what hip-hop is about.
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