In the past year, grime has had a meteoric rise. What was once a little-known music genre from the underground of East London is now a sound that’s championed by millions of fans across the globe. A talent that’s played a pivotal role in this ascendance is 20-year-old Kojo Kankam, perhaps more widely known as Novelist.

To commemorate this shift in popularity, the young MC has joined up with OG streetwear brand New Era to take part in The Acts of Grime – a three-part documentary series and cap collaboration, which also includes contributions from fellow rappers D Double E and Tempa T. We caught up with him to talk through his design, UK politics and what the future holds for the scene.

So at what point did you realize that grime was starting to take off?

When Stormzy and I got nominated for MOBOs at the same time, that was the moment when I realized that him and I have opened up grime for our generation. As there’s more than one generation involved in the sound, I can see it going further as a genre. Youngsters are going to get into it – it’s not a little buzz that’s died, it’s constantly developing. You see how dubstep sort of started and stopped? It could have a resurgence if someone started making sick dubstep. And that’s what happened with grime when guys like myself started making good tunes. House is gonna come back in at some point too, that’s just how it goes in the UK.

How would say that your specific approach helps to develop the genre?

I made everyone remember that it’s not about chasing the future; sometimes it’s best to look into the past and continue to do what you were doing. I’ve reminded people about the basics. Do radio sets, don’t waste money on certain big brands that don’t care about you and be aware of what’s going on in politics. No one was talking about that shit before me, other than people like Akala. I’m just glad that everyone’s gotten into their heads that we represent something that’s influential. It’s not just a hobby, so don’t treat it like that.

What were your thoughts when you first heard about this collaboration with New Era?

When I was younger, I always used to save money to get New Era caps, so I just wanted to be involved with the brand as a whole – I like them, I always have. I had the option of looking at different styles of hats, too, which was interesting for me because we would just buy 59FIFTY fitted, we didn’t really have snapbacks.

Thinking about this collaboration and the likes of Skepta x No Fear, would you say that the scene plays an instrumental role in current fashion?

A million percent, and I’m a big part of that. People started copying what I dressed like from 2014; the minute I got some limelight. I have to big up Joyrich because they wanted to get into the culture before it became fashionable, and they’re based in Japan and LA. If you look at Americans in particular as well, they were dressing completely different, wearing baggy clothes and shit, and now they want to look European. It’s a whole other vibe.

In terms of the hat design, then, how did you come up with the idea?

I basically wanted to merge together a few ideas I’ve wanted to do since I was young. I’ve always liked that Retro Electro club look, that Miami look. That’s why I went for the purple and pink with a fade. It’s got that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City feel to it. The concept was to have an old-school-looking cap but to make it look futuristic at the same time, with an element of nostalgia to it. There’s a fine line between the two but I feel like I’ve achieved it.

In comparison to Tempa T and D Double E, where does your hat rank?

I hope everyone’s choosing their own as number one, but I’m putting mine first cause I made it! I never see art as a competition though, so if it has come out exactly how you wanted it to, then you’ve won. It’s like that with music as well. There’s always comments like: “Who’s the best this? Who’s the best that?” The best at what specifically? There’s guys that spit metaphors and there’s guys that stick to simple rhymes – it’s a diverse genre, so it all depends on what you’re individually looking for.

Picking up on the genre itself, did you ever expect that grime would reach the level that it has?

For me, it’s not a surprise because I grew up in it. I’m also a part of the reason why it’s become so expansive. But at the same time, it’s nice to see that it’s gotten to this point. I don’t think it’s made it yet though because I haven’t dropped my album!

Grime has definitely come to play a role in UK politics. What are your thoughts on that?

We made Corbyn get into power. This all stems from us saying what we wanted to say – don’t get it twisted. It’s about more than voting for one guy to get in at a certain point in time. It’s about getting people to pay attention to politics as a whole because it concerns everyone. Man’s more powerful than these politicians and they know that.

Do you feel it’s your responsibility as a grime MC to educate young people in general?

What better way to teach someone other than music? It’s got the whole world dabbing, but certain people think that using your own terminology is stupid. Slang is another language. If I can contextually understand what someone’s saying to me without them having to say a grammatically correct sentence, I look at that as a talent. I’ve got the best of both worlds – I understand what mans on the roads are saying as well as the upper echelons of society. The latter are borrowing from slang as well, and that’s exactly what they did to Shakespeare. How many words did he make up that are now in our vocabulary? Over time, more words that we’ve created will end up in the dictionary. That’s what happens with “urban” young people.

Is grime as a genre going to be absorbed into the mainstream, then?

I don’t think anyone wants that to happen. I do think that someone like me and a couple others that are going to come up are going to create a new wave. What that will do is allow grime to be mainstream but it wont be filtered – it’ll just be real. That’s way better than commercialization happening to the genre as a whole because it’s not about changing to fit someone else’s agenda. It’s about showing you what we do and you’re going to understand it because it’s now normal. It also won’t be difficult to stay true to the sound because people like Stormzy and I are leaving the blueprint. Rappers in America have gone independent and made it work, so what’s the difference? I truly believe in that.

For more of our interview features, take a look at our chat with OG chillwave maven Washed Out right here.

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