Nafe Smallz

Selected by: James Keith

Name: Nafe Smallz

Where He’s From: Luton

When He Started: 2013

Genre: UK Rap/Trap

File Next To: Yung Fume, One Acen, MoStack, Belly Squad, D-Block Europe

Sounds Like: “People call artists similar to my style wave or wavey here in the UK, but I’ve always defined it as zone music, Ozone music to be precise. I was the first person in UK to have this sound and now it’s become a trend. It’s vibey, out of this world, and above everything else going on right now. It’s different frequencies and vibrations and I feel like it makes the world a easier place to live. So yeah, Ozone music.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “A reggae song my dad was playing, probably a Bob Marley song. I don’t remember which one; I was just a little toddler [laughs].”

Since releasing his 2014 debut EP, Ozone Music (taking its name from the melody-heavy brand of trap-meets-rap that he coined), Nafe Smallz has scaled the heights of the music scene at an astonishing rate. The past few years, in particular, have been an almost vertical incline and it is no accident. Crucial to Nafe’s success is the delicate balance of US and UK influences, making his ‘Ozone’ style particularly appealing on both sides of the Atlantic. His first tastes of major league success came in 2015 with the Project O EP and his Fire In The Booth session the following year (Chris Brown has since praised that freestyle on his Instagram), but things really exploded in 2018 with the release of the fittingly-titled Movie Music, a magnum opus if ever there was one.

Besides spawning some of his most successful singles to date—“Gucci” and “Wanna Know Ya”, to name just two—Movie Music gave us a good look at just how much clout and pulling power Nafe Smallz has built up. Features came in from Chip, Stefflon Don, Gunna Dee, Sleeks and more; but that was only the beginning. Subsequent standalone singles have included Skrapz, Blade Brown, Future, Wiley and more, and last year’s follow-up Good Love saw him draft in even bigger names. Steff and Chip returned and with them, Tory Lanez, Yxng Bane, M Huncho, OG Mano and Lil Berete. As the release of his recently-announced Goat World tape approaches, it’ll be interesting to see which other big names will have been drafted in besides the already-confirmed appearances from Wretch 32 and Geko on “Ocean Deep” and “Plan Tonight” respectively.

Nafe’s unique take on the rap blueprint didn’t happen in a vacuum, though. From an early age, he was nourished with a wide range of styles, usually those of a melodic disposition. “My dad’s a reggae DJ,” he says. “My kitchen and every other room in my house, except the bathroom and front room, was all full of speakers and sound equipment. Every few nights he would take them all out on the road to whatever show or set he was DJing at. Then, in the early hours, around 6-7am, he’d bring it all back in. He was always playing reggae music and soul music in the house morning to night—‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s... all different eras, all soulful and uplifting music. My dad is the wickedest selector I know when it comes to reggae and soul.” His father would bring him along to his studio every other weekend, even before he was able to work. Not surprisingly, it wouldn’t be long before he wrote his first song, “Stop The Killing, Stop The Violence” when he was just eight years old.

Beyond the new tape, Nafe is setting his aspirations on even greater heights and has mapped out big, yet achievable dreams. He tells us he wants to “make an album and movie for people to understand my personality and why I am the way I am. I don’t really use social media as much as I probably should. I don’t do interviews and stuff like that. So with the movie and the album, I feel like I can express the reasons behind why I turned out this way so people can understand me better as a person.” That should just about see him through at least the next two to three years; but before we all get ahead of ourselves, keep your attention focused on his imminently due Goat World project, because if you take your eyes off him for too long he’ll leave you in his dust.

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Posted on April 15, 2020