NSG are the genre-hopping East London six-piece currently setting the UK ablaze with their recent feelgood mixtape ‘Roots.'
[Article originally published on 3 July 2020]
While NSG remain grounded in the culture that spawned their sound, the sky seems to be the limit for the group and their ambition.
You know NSG’s music, even if you think you don’t. Their 2018 single “Options” peaked at number seven in the UK charts. They followed up this success with “OT Bop” in May 2019. This too jumped into the charts, reaching number 17. Both songs achieved widespread radio play and mainstream recognition, even despite their uncompromising subject matter. “I was meant to go Uni/ Sold drugs/ Got Bagged/ Oh Fuck,” rapped Mojo on “OT Bop.”
“Options” and “OT Bop” even spawned wildly popular dances. Fans would film themselves mimicking the group’s dance moves from the songs’ respective videos before uploading them to Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
This level of success and popularity speaks not only to NSG’s ability as rappers but also to the way they have marketed themselves — they’ve created a sound that seems almost impossible to dislike and it’s growing by the second.
Members Kruddz, Mxjib, OGD, Dope, and Papii Abz all met at Arts & Media School Islington, while Mojo joined the group slightly later. The group bonded over their “love for music and dancing,” Kruddz explained.
NSG started making music in a studio behind Kruddz and OGD’s childhood home. “It’s where the history started,” explained the group. As well as providing a kick starting point for their music, the studio also kept them safe and out of trouble. It was in this DIY studio that OGD stopped producing dubstep and started working with his brother JAE5 to produce NSG’s signature sound.
Papii Abz told us after the group’s Notion photoshoot that this sound is a result of their upbringing and the variety of sounds they grew up with. “These sounds kind of framed us, the dancehall, the deep afro stuff, you know, even more slyly commercial stuff — it’s all a mix.” The result, he says, was that NSG became a sum of all their parts “but we’re able to deliver something we feel like is fresh to the world.”.
The group’s latest mixtape, ‘Roots,’ released on 19 June, wears its influences on its sleeve. From the reggae-infused opening track, “Political Badness,” onwards, ‘Roots’ is an exploration of London living for African and Caribbean communities. NSG might not be known for their politically-charged lyrics, but ‘Roots’ shows that they are just as conscious as any of their contemporaries.
“It’s extremely important to celebrate who you are, your background, your culture,” says Abz, “like celebrating who you are through your music is like, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.”
NSG want others to join their movement and have cultivated an enviable social media following to help spread the word, amassing some 260,000 followers on Instagram, 36,000 on TikTok, and 35,000 on Twitter. The group even use their personal accounts to leverage support, commenting on popular Instagram meme pages such as ImJustBait, YoungKingsTV, and UrbanTV.
The reaction to ‘Roots’ on social media has been remarkably positive. Fans were tweeting “This NSG Roots Mixtape I literally have it on repeat all day everyday.” Some even went as far as to say “With both albums being stellar, the truth must be told. NSG Roots >> J Hus Big Conspiracy.”
“People are noticing it [NSG’s music and videos], and it’s allowing them to celebrate their culture and their upbringing,” says Abz. “It’s what we’re trying to do, and we’re saying people should be able to do their culture’s dances, their melodies, all of that.”
Scroll through NSG’s Instagram or Twitter and you’ll see that the group’s fans are certainly getting involved. There are hundreds of clips of people dancing to the group’s songs: groups of girls, groups of boys, people young and old doing the Shaku and more.
This positivity around black culture feels particularly pertinent at the moment. “People are fighting for their rights, their human rights,” says Abz. “So it’s important that this is the message we’re bringing across through our music — pushing to the roots and pushing your culture.”
It’s no coincidence, then, that their song “Lupita,” has proven so popular, racking up almost 400,000 plays on YouTube and Spotify in less than a week. There aren’t many songs which are so explicitly positive about Black women, especially those with darker complexions.
The UK’s music scene has a difficult relationship with colourism, whether it’s Wiley rapping that Lethal Bizzle’s mum has a “Flat face, flat chest, blacker than soot” back in 2010 or Maya Jama quoting a comedian on Twitter in 2012 saying: “Dark skin bitches shaving their head expecting to look like Amber Rose when really they end up looking like Micheal [sic] Jordan.” Looooooooool.”
The chorus on “Lupita,” meanwhile, actively celebrates darker-skinned women. It also helps that the chorus is as infectious as it is conscious. “She break her waist like Dua Lipa/ I don’t mind if you go a little fupa/ Dark skin girl like Lupita/ I’m in a spaceship I’ll fly you Jupiter/ If I ever done you wrong, you deserve it/ Baby girl this loving, you deserve it.”
The group’s recording process might be a big factor in why their music emerges with such positivity around Black culture. “That’s the best bit, the process, it’s a vibe, it’s actually a vibe,” enthuses Abz. “Sometimes you’re subconsciously getting a melody in your head but it’s a switch-up of a melody you heard growing up but you can’t remember exactly what it is. But then other people hear it and it’s like, it takes a while for that nostalgia to hit and I feel like it’s great to incorporate the sound in your music, like going back and celebrating your influences, incorporating all that music.”
Has lockdown changed NSG’s attitude and way of making music? Not a chance. “Once we’re in the studio, we’re in the studio,” says Abz. “What’s happening in the world, like you just go in the studio and forget about the outside, you’re able to express yourself there.”
Lockdown didn’t hamper the group’s ambitions for ‘Roots,’ either. “We were going to stop at twelve [songs],” says Abz. “But then, as we do, working, making music every day, it’s inevitable that we ended up adding six more tracks.
“We didn’t add them because we thought they were bangers or whatever [though they are], it was because we felt like they fit in with the theme of Roots and the music we were trying to put across.”
Of course, for a group to put out an hour’s worth of music, with a distinct theme and purpose, and not call it an album seems counter-intuitive. “Album is next level,” explains Abz. “So we’re going to have reach for that next level, this mixtape we’ve given you is there but the album we know is bigger and better, BIGGER AND BETTER.”
“I dunno how soon but you’re definitely going to get an NSG album but the mixtape has given us time before the album to make sure we release our best creation for our debut album. Don’t worry about it, we’re going to live up to the expectation.”
With the recent release of ‘Roots’, expectations for an NSG album are going to be through the roof. The mixtape has 18 songs and runs for more than an hour but the songs are genuinely all killer and no filler.
“Political Badness” featuring Randy Valentine kicks the mixtape off with some chilled-out reggae vibes. “It fits in well with nice Sunday vibes,” says Abz. Next up is “MCM,” which is a more traditional UK rap banger with a heavy beat that provides the perfect canvas for NSG’s laconic flows.
“Lupita” is closer to an R&B slow jam and features some seriously cool saxophone riffs. “Nonsense” featuring Chip is a return to the heavy basslines of “MCM” but has a more lighthearted tone, talking about the group’s troubles at school. Chip, clearly in a rich vein of form at the moment, kills his verse.
“Tinder,” has a decidedly afrobeats flavour and will get anyone’s head bopping. “Why Stress” and “Zanotti” bring back the chilled vibes. “Zanotti” also has a brilliantly catchy hook — “She gets extra naughty/ When I put her in some new Zanotti/ Pretty gyal you want spend my money/ But she can only spend a night, I already know your type.”
“Porsche” is up next and is the first of the pre-released songs on the mixtape. Produced by 4Play, the beat is complex with a host of unusual sounds and effects accompanying the brooding bassline. It’s this kind of effort that often elevates NSG’s work above the stereotypes of UK road rap.
“Expensive” clearly draws influence from commercial US rap. Some of NSG’s members even mimic the triplet style of rapping made popular by Migos.
“Expensive” is followed by “dRuNK gUiTaR,” Abz’s personal favourite. The beat has a definite afrobeats vibe but the layering of guitar riffs bring an almost Latin American flavour to the song. The eleventh song from the project is “Jorja” and it brings the slow jam vibe back again.
“Samba” starts with a hilarious ad-lib before launching into a catchy beat with NSG rapping about their signature designer streetwear. “Grandad,” which was released the day before the mixtape, has an addictive rhythm to it. The accompanying video, which features OAP rappers, Pete & Bas, is brilliant.
“Ourself” was originally released in February and, if this year’s summer hadn’t disappeared, you would have barely been able to move without hearing it. The chorus is as catchy as ever and the beat is perfect whether you want to turn up or turn in.
Titular track “Roots” is up next. The group speak to their Nigerian and Ghanian heritage, as well as their East London upbringing, with sincerity and focus. “I was born to be a winner/ All my life I’ve been a sinner/ But you know we gotta jugg/ Two gyal by my side cah I’m selfish/ If you don’t know your roots then worthless,” raps OGD on the hook.
“Trust Issues,” “OT Bop,” and “Options” round off the mixtape. And, frankly, if you haven’t heard them already, you must have been living under a rock.
Every song from ‘Roots’ also has visuals to accompany the audio. Some, such as singles “OT Bop” or “Options” naturally have full videos, but even the mixtape-only songs get unique short videos.
“We wanted to do something big for our project but because of lockdown, we needed to shoot visualizers to give a visual representation of each track,” explains Abz. “It gives people something to watch when listening to the audio, even if it’s only visuals on a loop, but you kind of understand the whole song.”
Many of the visualizers, and indeed NSG’s full videos, consistently feature two elements: the block where many of the members grew up and designer streetwear.
“This is what we do every day,” says Abz. “Where we shoot our video is the same old block, people say we have a spiritual bond with it but it’s where we grew up, where we go it influences us. The way we dress, that’s just how we dress on a regular so we just try to show ourselves, who we are, organically to the world without letting nothing change us.”
Being able to show the group’s journey, as well as remaining authentic to their upbringing is a source of pride for Abz.
“Where we are today is down to how we’ve laid the foundations and what we’ve learnt growing up and what’s made us who we are. So we can’t change that just because we’re now here, so we keep to that. So it’s very important for us to have in our videos the ultimate drip because that’s what we do every day, it’s also important for us to have our cultural dances in the video because that’s how we dance, so it’s just showing how we live.”
Of course, you can’t buy £650 plus Balenciaga Triple S trainers without some serious cash in the bank. But while NSG’s commercial success has allowed them to indulge their passion for fashion (amongst other things), the relationship between success and authenticity remains complex.
“Anyone releasing something, you want it to reach as many people as possible so, in that way, it matters,” says Abz. “But also don’t let that decide on how you’re making your thing or even releasing something, let it still be you. But the success, it motivates you, it motivates you to do even more. It motivates you man, 100%”
Hopefully, that motivation can bring us another project as good as ‘Roots’ – if not better. NSG certainly have it in them.