We caught up with Bristol psych-pop maestros Cousin Kula mid-way through their latest UK tour to talk about their new music, their shared love for Syd Arthur and The Louisiana...
Features / Interview
Nick Brewer Talks His Breakthrough, Label & New Music
We caught up with Nick Brewer ahead of his London show to discuss the hit that was his breakthrough, label politics, and what’s next for the hungry humble rapper.
Photography by Will Beach
East-London rapper Nick Brewer is no stranger to the limelight following the huge success of his 2015 Top 20 UK Single ‘Talk To Me’. Since, the 20-something year old has been on a musical and personal journey towards progression and self-assurance.
We caught up with Nick during his two support slots for US Hip Hop Icon The Game’s 45 European Tour in Manchester and London, to discuss the hit that was his breakthrough, label politics, and what’s next for the hungry humble rapper.
Last time we talked was nearly 4 years ago at Wireless in Birmingham. At that time you told me that you’ve been on a long musical journey. My question now is, where are you now, are you more comfortable?
I just realised you just keep learning in life. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and I think my goals in music have matured, in a sense of I now feel like the most important thing for me to do is to say what is mine to say, and not necessarily try and chase things. I was chasing hits, trying to be everywhere. And then things started to go wrong for me at that point. So I just realised I have to like, as cheesy as it sounds, be myself. If I actually be who I’m supposed to be, whatever comes my way, will.
So that brings about my next question, why did you start in the first place?
I’ve just always loved music, and to be totally honest, it was never something I planned to do. Whilst I’m from a supportive family, my dad started working at 16, it was that sort of thing, go to work, music was perceived as more of a hobby. I never imagined it would be a career. In terms of it becoming a career and a viable option for me, it all happened fairly quick, and it was a lot of working it out as I go along. I learn a lot from mistakes, or reflecting on things. I try to apply my lessons to the present, to now.
If we take it back to ‘Talk To Me’, in 2015. That was like your breakthrough, first Top 20 UK Single. How did that come about given the picture of artistic adrift you’ve painted at the time?
That whole thing was such a great experience for me. Like I say…hindsight is a wonderful thing. It almost came a bit too soon for me and I wasn’t able to capitalise on it correctly. I like that song still and I think it represents me well, but I think maybe I could have gone down a route where I would have just had to keep making hit after hit after hit. Naturally, as an artist, that’s still something I still try and do, but it’s like, actually I want people to buy into me as a person. ‘Talk To Me’ is a good example. People know that song a lot more than they know me, and that’s never the greatest place to be in. Capitalising on it would have been like ok, now they know the song, let’s get them to know me…but you know, for various reasons, it just didn’t happen.
And that was supposed to be the lead single for the debut album right?
Yeah, it was, and it came about really organically. It was made with the producers I had been working with from the beginning, and it was natural, easy. The label heard it and loved it. It was all good. Then, however, you have to have the follow up, which we did come with, but it just wasn’t the right song. I can say that now. I had my doubt, but you know, I had people in the label at Island, and others saying “yo, no this is the one.” What I learnt from that was that I have to be fully into something. I ended up putting a follow-up single which my heart wasn’t fully in, thus it didn’t really do much.
So after that single and the follow up in 2016, you were still working with the label?
Yeah, I was, and still, there’s a level of relationship to this day. But back then, we got into this position where the label didn’t really want to take a risk after that second single, and I just ended up in this weird sort of no-mans land. I was making music, as I always do and sending them off, but it just got very stagnant. It wasn’t necessarily the label’s fault, you know sometimes, it’s just politics or what not. So I needed to take matters into my own hands and started to release freestyles on my own.
Back to music, and you know, your 2014 project Four Miles Further was a very mellow, intrinsic vibe. Then as the next few years progressed up until now, it transformed into a slightly more outgoing, lightly aggressive, rap-centric presence.
Without trying to sound arrogant, as a rapper, I can flow on a lot of different sounds. Harder, faster, slower, mellow, and that is a strength, but all strengths can be a weakness. I’ve ended up at times, therefore, doing a bit of everything and then it becomes messy. I’ve worked with different producers, and I was trying different things, you know, trying to keep growing as I still am.
I’ve realised the most important thing for me is what I have to say. I’m a pretty normal guy, with emotions, feelings, and I’ve been through stuff as has everyone. I’ve got my story to tell and that is my responsibility. How people receive my music is something I can’t control, but what I can control is if I like the music I’m making if it represents me, and if my heart is in it.
I’m a lot more confident.
100%. I see that, in particular in one of your latest track, ‘Really’. I can hear it.
Yeah. And that’s the thing. And I said it kind of tongue and cheek, in the first line, “I’ve got bars but they’re not for the time I guess”. What I’m saying is that you know, I do love what’s going on in the UK in terms of urban music, but what I’m making doesn’t sound like that. It’s just not for the time, I’ve got my own lane to carve out, and I trust that like-minded people will resonate with that I’m in my twenties, I love music, I’m passionate. I’m going for it man.
I’ve done more performances so far this year than I did all of 2017. I was trying to chase something, I had that hit and everything started happening, but then I started viewing music like a business. Whilst you have to have a business mind, music has to be true. I lost a bit of that, but now I’ve got my head back. People listen to music for the music. Nothing else. I’m a lot more content, I’m being who I am. You can like it or not, but I don’t think you can not respect somebody being themselves.
Project this year?
For sure. People move on quick nowadays, so after Talk To Me, there was a lot of music I put out that didn’t really get heard, but now I’m working on a mixtape which I’m hoping to release in June/July. I’m happy and I’ve got more tracks I’m gonna’ put out.
2 More Q’s.
First piece of music you purchased?
So Solid Crew – Oh No and Busta Rhymes – Fire, about 16 years ago on vinyl.
Stage or studio?
Studio. But there is a feeling about performing you can’t get anywhere else.
Nick Brewer is playing Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen on Wed 25 April. Get your tickets to this show and upcoming Nick Brewer shows here: ticketweb.uk/nickbrewer