Rap renaissance man Not3s talks his new project 'Son of the Soil', seeking spirituality and making music with an uncompromising vision.
Lukman Olanrewaju Odunaike, better known by his stage name Not3s, is in high spirits. Having returned from a Hennessy-filled evening celebrating the release of his new project, ‘Son of the Soil’, the singer-songwriter sounds chirpy, reminiscing about the party that unfolded in Cafe KOKO the night before we speak. He’s back in the country after spending time travelling several continents around the world. Understanding different communities has become a pastime for the Hackney-born vocalist, who values the wisdom conceived from cultural hotbeds across the globe.
Somewhere that’s become increasingly influential for Not3s is Nigeria, his mother’s birthplace, where he often resides to make art and catch a vibe away from London. Since the 1970s, Nigerian music has rapidly gained popularity. Contemporary West African styles like Afrobeats have become international phenomenons, as stars like Burna Boy and Wizkid top charts with their relaxed rhythms and gracile grooves. “Nigeria is beautiful, but we can’t deny that there’s corruption,” he explains matter-of-factly.
‘Son of the Soil’ was partly created during the #EndSARS conflict, where a decentralised protest movement took a stance against police brutality in Nigeria. Thousands risked their lives to put an end to the abusive police unit, known for its aggressive treatment of civilians. Not3s was taken aback by people’s bravery and he made time to visit the areas affected while travelling there. “It really affected how I view the world. It made me think that people in England take things for granted. It’s a different world out there, that we’re incapable of understanding”.
Nevertheless, Not3s describes himself as a “proper Nigerian boy”, which you hear so unequivocally on the EP. ‘Son of the Soil’ exhibits the next stage of his artistic maturity. Growing into his skin, while offering moments of introspection, the ‘Aladdin’ singer looks to Nigeria’s past and present as a way of defining his future. “I wanted to let my branches stretch as far as possible and experiment with different sounds and flows,” he says poetically. Blending genres with a new-found prowess, it’s clear Not3s wants to blossom into an artist unwilling to compromise his vision.
‘High Fashion’, featuring Odumudublvck, stands out among the seven tracks, thanks to the natural rapport between the artists. Flexing his melody muscles over an ama piano beat, Not3s rides the summery production with his loverboy harmonies. The wordsmiths’ relationship formed naturally during a visit to Nigeria. Hearing the Native Records signee’s music in shops and raves, Not3s instinctively knew that they had to collaborate. Just days later, the duo found themselves at the same party, and after verifying their respect for each other, they pitched up in an apartment block bedroom and got to work. A natural, party-like vibe sufficed, and the thrilling ‘High Fashion’ was born.
Working with Odumudublvck wasn’t the only enlightening experience he had out there. In fact, ‘Son of the Soil’s existence is somewhat down to Not3s’ impromptu visit to Fela Kuti’s grave in Lagos. Invited by one of the late, great revolutionist’s sons, he was enamoured by the artist’s unrestrained vision and political endeavour. “Fela was for us what Bob Marley was for Jamaicans. He’s talking about corruption and about the stuff that isn’t right in society,” declares the London musician. “It was a real eye-opening experience for me.”
Not3s has been on a stratospheric journey since he helped to popularise Afroswing in the late 2010s. ‘Addison Lee’, the club-ready anthem that propelled him into the mainstream, was posted to Soundcloud before being snapped up by GRM Daily. The music video was made soon after, racking up millions of views on YouTube.
“In the London scene, especially from my community, no one was speaking about love or caring for girls.” He explains with an assertive tone. “That’s probably why so many people resonated with it because they wanted to care about love.” Smooth and sultry, the track’s giddy with adolescent romance, but it also speaks to freedom. Not3s himself had been working in Footasylum before treating music full-time and the lyrics, freestyled in a Stratford studio, were recorded with a youthful fearlessness.
‘Aladdin’, the braggadocious trap single, followed. Proving he was far from a one-hit-wonder, the track plunged Not3s into a pool of the most exciting vocalists in Britain. Soon after, he found himself on the double platinum-selling ‘Butterflies’ with AJ Tracey. The ‘My Lover’ star, however, admits he didn’t believe it would accumulate such numbers. It took the Tottenham native a while to convince Not3s that the single was right for him. Tempting him over with a few games of FIFA, AJ had producer Nyge waiting to record the verse, and after some light peer pressure, Not3s laid down his velvety feature; the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Before the prevailing heights, and even now, Not3s has used music as a form of escapism. Teaching himself to write lyrics in Primary School, after being lauded for his talents by the headmaster, the then-budding artist joined a choir and has been singing ever since. It became an obsession, and he would bunk off class to record music in the studio. “It was a distraction from a lot of things happening in Hackney, things I really didn’t want to be a part of,” he mentions resolutely. “I thought I could end up either in jail or dead.” A wise head on young shoulders, no one can deny that Not3s made the right decision. Recoiling to the studio and making those breezy jams has afforded him a life away from the vicious cycle of criminality so many kids are tempted into. Now, he wants to give back to the communities that have made him.
Over the past few years, Not3s has been researching areas in Nigeria without drinking water, and where many brave long walks in the scorching heat to get some. Building multiple taps across the country, the melody maker knows more needs to be done if lives are to change on a mass scale. “When I visited my mum’s city, they threw me a parade; the people genuinely cared.” Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t something Not3s is doing for his own vanity, he’s found visiting these communities distressing; it emphasises the need for his charity to work and work better than it ever has before.
Closer to home, he wants to find ways of giving back on his own terms. Not3s tells me that he enjoys passing on wisdom to the next generation, helping them to record, write lyrics and produce music with the same headiness he experienced as a break-out artist. With ‘Son of the Soil’ out now, and more projects in the pipeline, Not3s may have been around for a while, but you get the feeling he’s only just getting started.