It’s important to frame Big Narsite as the fire-breathing genre pioneer that he is because, amongst all the other things he does so bafflingly brilliantly, it’s easy to forget that Big Narstie is most importantly, a Grime MC of the highest calibre. His other monikers as TV and Radio Presenter, Restauranteur, Author, Cannabis Activist, CBD magnate and all-around legend have formed a ‘jack of all trades’ veneer around Narsite that unjustly suggests a lack of mastery. Not only is Big Narstie a master of the mic, but he has also become the “Best of British” ambassador to the world, taking garage, grime and the cultures that surround them to the masses. He is a swiss-army knife of savagery, dropping bombastic bare-chested bars side by side with icons like Black The Ripper, JME, Robbie Williams and even Enter Shikari.
Crucially, few artists have ever been able to traverse both the authenticity driven world of underground music and the character-centric realm of mainstream entertainment, with equal ease. Big Narstie’s chameleon charm and childlike cackle have allowed him to enter any room, whether it be at a TV set, talk show studio or pirate radio station and find a friend or a fan. Despite having his hand in multiple pots at the same time, the broths always turn out more potent, more soul-stirring, more Narstie than the last. However, perhaps what is most impressive about Big Narstie is that during his journey from Grime MC to live TV, he has remained ruthlessly rooted in his community, elevating other artists and businesses alongside him as he rises.
We sat down with Big Narstie to reflect on his journey to the forefront of contemporary British culture, dissect the details in the tracks, collaborations and business endeavours that have made him a household name.
Who were your superheroes growing up? Were MCs the man you looked up to, was it footballers, elders on the block?
I definitely had an array of people! The main person that I looked up to, I would say, would be Pastor Chris. After that Wrestlers like Jake The Snake, Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Legion of Doom. Music would have to be Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Bob Marley, Sanchez, these were just the natural vibes in man’s house. Reggae, Revival and Bashment was just the standard.
What made you make that switch from being a fan of music to a creator?
I went to see Major Ace at The Fridge in Brixton around 2001. His ragga style of rapping was close to home for me. As you know Brixton from the 60s onward was one of the largest black areas of our country, so it was different in many ways from growing up in somewhere like Birmingham, Liverpool or Sheffield as a young black British man. It was very different even compared to other parts of London.
Much like if you are a member of the Asian community living somewhere like Luton or Bradford, everything is very culturally based. That was the thing for man growing up, so the Jamaican food, music, fashion, lifestyle, dress sense was my identity. I’m third generation Windrush so you have to remember, for English kids like myself, it took us a while to find our own nationality. My parents are Jamaican but I was born in St Thomas’s hospital, my passport is red, I have the NHS, I don’t have the same upbringing as someone born in a tropical country. So my relationship with music is sort of a hybrid of both of those worlds.
Speaking of The Windrush generation, let’s turn to your latest single ‘Black Is My Colour’.You have this incredible ability to talk about crucially important and serious topics but communicate them in a way that is positive and radiates this brighter future mentality. This single is no different, in the way that you touch on things like the oppressive racism toward the Windrush generation and the Brixton riots, but embed those lessons in a positive up-tempo riddim. Do you think that powerful messages travel further and quicker when they are imbued with positive energy?
Yay & Nah. We hope so, but how many bad things happen despite us all knowing that they’re happening and us all trying to inform as many people as possible of certain problems’ existence. Highlighting the situation is just highlighting the situation. In school, I didn’t learn or communicate well with straightforward information, if a teacher just said “Pick up a book and read from pages 6 to 14”, I’m going to make paper planes and play noughts and crosses. So that way of communicating with me is never going to work but if you make it interesting in some way for me I’m going to give you my undivided attention and conform to your will. I’m sure its the same for lots of other people.
How do you balance your time? You have your hands in so many pots, do you have a set structure of how you dedicate your time to different endeavours or do you do whatever you feel on a certain day?
It’s definitely a bit of both, to be honest, big up my work wife Shar who is my business manager, she runs my life bro that adds that needed bit or organisation. Then the other half is exactly what you said where I do whatever I’m feeling inspired to do in the moment, which definitely makes Shar’s life very stressful haha.
At the beginning of your presenting career, did it ever get tricky to focus on the music amongst all your other commitments or did you always prioritise the music because that’s where everything else grew from?
First and foremost, I am and always will be a musician, my natural personality may have allowed me to get into these other situations but music is what made everything else possible. When I first started making music, it was a way for me to vent and the thing that kept me sane. I never did the music for any financial gain, I just did it because I wanted to go crazy do you know what I mean? Twenty years later it’s still the things I can go to just to vent.
You were obviously the first MC from the grime scene to really make this transition from a musician to a nationally beloved character and entertainer who is adored by pensioners that probably don’t even know what grime is. Did you ever find it confusing or conflicting in the beginning stages being that person representing the underground so truthfully in the very polished, very corporate, world of broadcasting and media that Grime often rejects?
In the words of my mate Anthony, “you can only piss with the cock you’ve got”. I’ve never been signed so everything I’ve accomplished has been with my three amigos. Even my TV show “The Big Narstie Show” is produced by our own company, Dice Productions. The record label Dice productions was a project I started over ten years ago and I still own a third of the company today so we’ve always been independent.
That’s just our journey, sometimes we get sixes, sometimes we get fours, but the important thing is that we just keep on rolling. You’ve just got to grab the opportunities you’ve got as they come along and make the most out of them. Also, the type of person I am morally and spiritually, it’s not really made for a mainstream company so trying to move into that structure to have a career would never happen. So although the platform has changed over the years we’ve never really entered any other world other than an independent one. I’m in the industry but at the same time I’m not because I’m not a conformal artist, I am my own entity because the gatekeepers didn’t open the door for me to be a part of that celebrity world, I did it through people power.
Do you prefer to put out smaller tapes so that you’re not sitting on music for ages? Does it allow you to experiment more?
Yer man, you know what it is, my personality can go to the person with no prepping whereas making a longer album require a lot of prepping to make it sound the way you want it to. I have ants in my pants, so I struggle to wait for a long time for people to hear my music.
Your genre dexterity and willingness to cross borders and jump around sounds is one of the most seamless transitions in the industry, but what beats jump out to you the most these days?
It’s always open man, my music should give a person who’s not from the United Kingdom, an idea of what it is to be from the UK. A cultural mongrel. It’s a sound that’s made from going to school with my Pakistani friends, Polish friends, Albanian friends, Somalian friends, you get what I mean? Not to mention my whole Turkish community. I’ve been round drunk Scottish people, have you ever heard drunk Scottish people? It’s the best thing in the world!
You’ve never been one to shy away from the unusual and instead trailblaze headfirst into some more unsuspecting collabs. Which were you more surprised to be asked to work with, Robbie Williams or Enter Shikari?
Robbie Williams! I thought it was a lie! I was so sure it was a hoax. He approached man! He actually contacted my booking agent. He’s a nice cat still.
I would love to give you a couple of names and just see how they hit your ear and find out what it is about the music you like or what made you want to work with them?:
What, fucking Grey Worm cuz! Come on fam, fucking Grey Worm! He doesn’t actually talk to me anymore though haha, I called him Grey Worm too much, I lived in character, and now I think I’ve pissed him off haha. Now I’m in an interview though I can speak to him directly and say “Raleigh, I love you so much and I loved working with you!”. Nobody messes with Grey Worm fam. The Worm of Grey!
Dev is fucking sick man, he is a real G. I need to shout at him still, he asked me to do something for him so I need to shout him soon! But yer, real nice guy man and a UK legend. I like him a lot. Good soul.
Good peoples man, I’ve known him for years! What I like about K Koke is that he is just always himself, he represents himself in the community. I said once on my TV show that there are colours of people and then there is a society of people. So poor black people and poor white people, regardless of their colour, all live under the same bracket of poor. A Tory violation affects us all equally. In any council estate, there are black people, white, Asian, pink, purple, blue, turquoise, golden, stripes, some with spots. Every person in that council estate is the same colour of life. We all fall out of place the same way as each other. That’s what K Koke means to me.
Let’s talk about the journey you’ve been on with Jiu-Jitsu. Beyond the obvious benefits in terms of self-defence, what do you think Jiu-Jitsu brings to your life and how did you get introduced to it in the first place?
It’s mad that you mention it because I’m actually getting graded on Friday! I’m nervous about it still because my Jiu-Jitsu great grandfather is coming down to grade me. I’m going to nail on my rolls though, give him an ankle-lock of justice fam haha. I’ve been doing it for four years now! My little brother, Little Narstie is actually an MMA fighter and my boy Zayd is a JJ blackbelt and the only blind Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt in Britain, I call him The Blind Monk. I just like fighting so I’m glad I have them to help me be able to do it professionally without ending up in handcuffs.
Through all your years in the scene has there been one other MC that you’ve loved to watch come up?
There’s loads of people man, P Money, DJ Spooky, D Power, Jaykae, Millie Major, Tion Wayne. The list is endless.
I would love to chat with you about Black The Ripper, as someone who got to know him and collaborate on numerous different projects. Could you speak to the level of visionary Black was?
R.I.P Black The Ripper man, I’m using my Dank Of England lighter right now! I would be lying if I said that Black and I were super tight certified bredrins but I did have the privilege of getting to know him and work with him. Black The Ripper was a cool cat and was 110% a real weed activist. We did share some disagreements about some of the tactics he was using as an activist, like the smoking in KFC and stuff, I didn’t happen to agree with because I always tend to think of the kids and my opinion is that we have to try and balance it out otherwise I feel like we tend to give them license to do it. I also didn’t want the association to become that weed smokers were just inconsiderate.
That being said, what Black The Ripper did for the cannabis industry in the UK and in Europe is plant a seed in everyone’s brain that it could have an openness to it. This is why he will always be a legend. His openness, his determination not to feel ashamed to be a weed plant smoker. We used to have over 1000 people come down to our 420 events and smoke with us. He was 100% an activist and a pusher for the culture. Through his hard work with Dank of England, his legacy will live on.
You’ve just launched the first every CBD recovery gym and steam room, tell us more about how this concept came to fruition?
So the first person I ever used my products on when I first got into the CBD game was my mum. She used the oil, the roll-on and aromatherapy and within two months my mum was able to recover and walk for the first time after a hip replacement. So from there, the proof was in the pudding. I got to work and realised that nobody had ever thought of a CBD steam room, so now fast forward and I’m the first person in the world to ever make a CBD steam room.
Lastly, if you could meet and chat music with one artist from history who would you want to sit down with?
Bob Marley! I have a track with his son Julien Marley still, so look for that one maybe sometime in the future.