Originality is one of the rarest commodities in the world and Niko B has it in abundance. Rarely does an artist burst onto the scene that has no traceable stylistic predecessors or precursors, seemingly inventing a new sound with every single. He lies somewhere on the scale between Weird Al Yankovic and The Streets, creating humorous, sarcastic and satirical records that have found fandom both in mainstream and underground circles. However, his wistful whimsy and tongue-in-cheek delivery should not be mistaken for a lack of penmanship or skill, for his cascading single success has been built on foundations speckled with an acute understanding of contemporary culture and promising production prowess. Moreover, the endorsement he has received from both his local area and national artists like NSG has laid the table for Niko to flourish on a much larger scale.
Niko first rose to the rank of up-and-comer after his single Mary Berry struck a chord with those looking for Bake-Off themed bombastic basslines and off-kilter rhyme schemes. After dropping a swift succession of equally witty and well-rounded tracks like ‘Who’s That What’s That’ and ‘Quick Drive’, Niko quickly became a bright spot in British alternative rap, establishing a loyal fan base that flocked to both his music and clothing label “CROWD” with equal enthusiasm. Now, his latest track, ‘I Had A Fist Fight With An Emo Outside of Subway’, is building on the fruitful foundations he has already firmly established, developing a deeper understanding of his distinct flow.
We caught up with Niko towards the end of his first-ever UK tour to reflect on his road from attending Reading Festival to performing at it two years later. We also had to break down the bafflingly brilliant bar ‘The next GTA should be set in Milton Keynes’ and discuss the impact of sleepy suburbia on his singular sound.
Firstly mate, how is everything going?
Everything is good man, the weather is starting to get better and I feel like that’s when I’m more excited to release music because my music is made to be listened to on a hot and fun day in a field or some shit haha. I just wrapped up my first ever Niko B tour as well! I got all the way to my 7th show and then got Covid so I’ve rescheduled three of them and they’re coming up in 2 weeks. We nearly made it to the end but it could have been a lot worse, so all in all, I’m good.
Growing up, what music was playing around the house as a kid?
It was a lot of Kerrang, do you remember Kerrang? My dad used to absolutely love it. He also used to have one of the original iPods which I thought was just the maddest thing. I used to listen to everything on that, which was mainly Rock like Green Day. I always used to talk about music with my dad, that was our main topic of conversation. One day I remember he showed me Weird Al Yankovic, which isn’t exactly Rock, but I remember thinking it was so sick because of how funny he was. It’s like he kind of takes the piss, but also not so it makes you want to just keep on listening. Every song I heard after that moment, if it was a bit tongue-in-cheek, would just blow my mind and make me think “how are they being this funny in a song and it still sounds sick”. Also, I used to watch this show called Young Ones and I used to think that the theme tune to that was sick too and that’s always stuck with me.
Your flow and style of music are incredibly unique. It’s this incredible cocktail of elements from artists like The Streets, Talking Heads and Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn. When were you first introduced to rhyming and flows?
I think it might have been after my dad first introduced me to his music that I first went on the internet and began exploring my own stuff, things like old Tim Westwood freestyles and Fire In The Booth. I used to think that every freestyle was created off the top or in the moment which was just the most impressive thing in the world to me. I was always obsessed with being able to do weird but awesome things, party tricks I guess. I used to do magic and Diablo’s until I thought “being able to freestyle would be a mad thing to be able to do”. I remember that there used to be this song that John Cena had where he freestyles and WWE used to stage these rap battles for him that got me even more gassed about rapping. I always just had that inkling to say silly stuff and rhyme because it made myself and others laugh. In school, I would make comedic parodies over Chief Keef beats and I guess everything evolved out of those few touchpoints with rapping.
Who were the artists who inspired you as you were finding your style? Is it true you’re a big Erykah Badu fan?
Yes, she is so sick! Actually, I’m not sure that there are specific artists, it’s more like I draw something out of everything I experience or encounter and incorporate it into the music I’m making. It could be Jazz, UK rap, Drill, old 2016 Soundcloud beats, or even TV shows, movies or daily life.
When you first began rapping, did you spit in an American accent like many MCs do when they first set out?
No, I never actually did, but I absolutely hated my voice! I still don’t like the sound of my voice. On Mary Berry I kind of just had to get over it and realise that there’s no other voice I can use other than my own so it’s pointless thinking or worrying about it. You can’t change things like that so you just have to push on.
Someone I know meant a lot to you was Sean Lock, a legend and an all-around lovely man, who sadly passed away earlier this year. How do creatives outside the music world help build your sound? Do you think your love of comedy leaves a trace in your music?
There are just so many random people who aren’t even in music that I can learn or take something from or that I just really appreciate. Ferris Bueller, Walter White, Tyler the Creator, I love people that do things in their way. With comedy, the best jokes are the ones that you can never tell where they’re going and I’ve definitely tried to carry that over isn’t my music. I feel like whenever my music first came out, people couldn’t pinpoint it or define what it was and I like that.
‘International Baby’ is my favourite production of any single of yours thus far, at this stage in your career, how are you picking beats? Are you trying to build a synonymous related sound throughout all your tracks or are you trying to experiment and find the boundaries?
I love that production too man. I’m trying to do a bit of everything. I push to pick beats that don’t feel too familiar or comparable, if I’m making something that sounds like something that’s already out there then there will already be someone that can do it better than me, so I just do my own thing. I am so particular with my beats, almost to a detriment sometimes, as I’ll have a full song written but will spend an eternity trying to find the perfect beat for it when obviously nothing is ever perfect so I end up never putting a beat to a lot of lyrics.
A track like ‘It’s all gone’ obviously has a lot more DNB elements in it, whereas ‘WTWT’ is a more funk house driven beat. Are you working with the same producer on all your music or are you working with as many people as possible?
Right now I’m working with so many different producers. I’m trying to build a little network of producers that I can go to collaborate with and bounce ideas around. Mary Berry was a YouTube beat, ‘Who’s That What’s That’ was produced by a mate of mine back in Milton Keynes, and International Baby was made by a producer called Trey McNair who is so talented. I DM’d on Instagram and began working on International Baby almost immediately. ‘It’s All Gone’ was made by Future Cut, who are absolute legends, they did a lot of Rizzle Kicks stuff and all of Lily Allen’s first album as well as some of Olly Mur’s tracks. I love working with the full spectrum of producers, whether it’s young kids on YouTube or big Grammy-nominated names. It’s a cool mix. It helps with the creative process a lot because one day I’ll be in a small bedroom and the next I’ll be in a massive studio in West London with all the kit.
Your latest single ‘I HAD A FIST FIGHT WITH AN EMO OUTSIDE SUBWAY’, is both hilarious and also a sick evolution of your flow complexity. First off, the most important question needs to be asked. What’s your go-to Subway order?
Hahaha, so I used to work at Subway which put me off it for ages but now I’ve found an order that works. So I go for a herb & cheese bread BLT but instead of ham I have it with turkey, add in some onions and peppers, sweet onion sauce and chilli flakes. It’s solid, I can’t lie!
“The next GTA should be set in Milton Keynes” might be my favourite bar of all time. Growing up in Milton Keynes, how does the suburban house party scene form the visuals that you want to soundtrack your music to? Are you making your tracks for yourself in that way, imagining that they’re playing at the parties that you used to go to?
Yer 100%. It’s that regular UK teen existence. There is nothing to do in Milton Keynes, you’ve kind of just gotta make do with what you’ve got, if all you’ve got is a field then you’ve got to improvise to make that field popping you know? I think that helped with my creative process, having the bare minimum bedroom set up and making something from it. It’s the same as when I started my clothing label, I was using Microsoft Word for the first three years to design the graphics, you just have to make the most. In general, though, all the experiences I’ve had since school up to now feed into the music.
Looking at all the different creative avenues you’ve gone down, did it take you a while to decide that music was the form of creative expression you wanted to explore primarily rather than the fashion side of things having started your label ‘CROWD’ or the cinematography side of things that you previously dabbled in?
I honestly didn’t think about it at all. I just thought “making a song could be fun”, and I loved making videos as well so it allowed me to make a music video which was always something I had wanted to try out. That was the whole thought process. I went on youtube, found the beat, wrote Mary Berry and the next day recorded it at my mate’s house.
Do you think exploring other avenues of creativity strengthens the music?
Absolutely, the way that I release clothes feeds into how I release my music or how I shoot a music video might influence how I build a chorus. In more literal ways, all the merch that has come out so far was designed by me.
Is it true Merry Berry was written in a single afternoon? Do you think there’s something to be said for the simplicity of the first idea and not trying to get too deep in overthinking what it is your trying to say?
Yer I was sitting in my living room around midnight! Absolutely, I had a phase where I was getting too deep and overthinking everything to the point that I wouldn’t get anything done. The first thought tends to be the best.
Is there anyone in particular that you show your music to before it comes out?
I show it to quite a few people actually because it’s fun for me. I don’t let anybody’s opinion feed into how I feel about a track, if I’m a fan of it then I know it’s good. I had a phase where I was making music that I thought people would like instead of what I felt but it’s literally impossible. The most genuine reflection of the quality of a track is how I feel about it.
Lastly, who are three artists or creatives that you think deserve more recognition and wanna shout out?
There’s a cool artist from New York called Father Steve who I’ve been loving recently. I love Action Bronson too. Lastly, my mate Clint 419 runs Corteiz and he’s been killing it lately.
More on CULTED