Image via Novelist
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A South London MV pimps his BMW into a traveling recording booth, before driving to the other side of the Thames and recording, producing and mixing a seven-track EP with the elusive Tracksuit Mafia member, Shailan. It sounds like Back 2 The Future happened in London but it’s the slightly bizarre context behind Novelist and Shailan’s Heat. Only difference is Skepta tweeted about the link-up prior and they actually go back in time – sonically – drifting through a highway swelling with 80’s synthwave, 90’s Memphis Rap, UK Drill, and of course, Grime.
The stylistic architecture of the EP is inspired by one of Novelist’s favorite films, the 1995 crime film Heat, directed, written and produced by Michael Mann. While the film is a true-story based film on a professional thief and detective going head-to-head in a cat and mouse chase. It’s a never-ending rollercoaster ride of robberies, a cat-and-mouse chase, coke-fueled theatrics and a blitzkrieg of gunfights. Pacino and De Niro play their respective roles as self-destructive, zealous detective Vincent Hanna and cool-headed, aloof criminal Neil McCauley. It’s an intricate and sobering examination of power, consequence and morality. While Mann chose to display those themes visually, Novelist and Shailan chose sound.
The crux of the film is the mano a mano diner scene; it’s the only direct conversation the two main characters have with each other and displays Hanna and McNauley’s rare and complete understanding of each other. It’s through this unique bond that underscores the lyrical profundities and the kinetic impact in Heat, as a Hi-Top, God-fearing-but-will-slump-you MC and a slightly enigmatic, tattoo-faced wise man spar throughout the tape. Although the chemistry isn’t at full strength throughout the seven tracks (I, for one, would’ve appreciated a Novelist verse on ‘Night & Day’) but it’s this three-song stretch that displays their ability to bounce off each other.
Grime has flirted with the vintage in the past – it’s not unusual for Grime artists to hide Easter eggs below the low-end bass lines, retro synths and white noise. Novelist and Shailan use those sonics to portray the dog-eat-dog world of London. “Myself” isn’t shy of its synth-pop influences, opening with a stark train of thought: “I was thinking about taking this nigga’s life / Then I had to stop myself / Because, I wouldn’t wanna get dropped myself.”
There’s an parallel in Heat when McCauley approaches ex-offender Donald Brendan on a gig to be a getaway driver:
INT. KITCHEN – TWO SHOT – DAY
Neil enters. Breedan turns.
Here comes your second chance
for a change of luck…
I need a driver. Remember
(looks at Solenko)
If you’ve watched the film then you’ll know how the robbery ends up (very, very bad), but the emotion channelled through those five, seemingly never-ending seconds, the tension gripping you as Breedan’s eyes pierce McCauley before he makes a life-changing decision. Moralistic heart-searching takes action within Novelist’s psyche when he’s propositioned between crossroads, a decision weighing whether you live to see another day. It’s a neon-lighted document on keeping yourself grounded amidst the madness of the Big Smoke. After passing the baton; Shailan’s bloodshot flow steadily courses slightly after the Prem-produced beat, muttering out Top Boy-esque soundbites and looking back on the haters plotting against him. Their verses observe the profundity of fate and how each decision – that’s followed through or jettisoned – can determine the direction of your life – “Myself” is the pivotal cafe scene of the tape.
Because of these parallels and brazen experimentation championed by Novelist’s curiosity in genre, Novelist and Shailan can flourish and flex on us, in unison or separately. “With Us” follows on with a chest-puffing Novelist roaring over Sus Trapperazzi’s Drill-inspired production with an earth-shattering bassline that darts from side to side. This is real life, not fantasy: Novelist doesn’t want to mix in with lames, he doesn’t buy that girl a drink in the club, he advises you to be careful of what you say but in the night-time, he’s praying to God for a future wifey with a big back. It’s a gun-finger-bussing, head-bopping anthem that will guarantee a shutdown – or more appropriately – a tune that will merit countless reloads when you blast it off your balcony.
“Direction” is the cool-down of the tape, the penultimate track in which Shailan’s bars become Novelist’s favourite instrument. Shailan’s bars that whisper like coke-dusted koans and loops intermittently in the foreground of the Eskiboy-influenced riddim that takes as much influence from the foggy minimalism of Burial as much with Kylea Cowie making beats in the cold winters of ‘04. Direction appears unfinished at first glance but it’s where the magic seeps in; the longer you listen to it – the more it engrosses you.
The EP was one of the many fruits of labour from Novelist’s 52 Weeks of Fire, in which he promised to drop an instrumental every week, a music video every two weeks and a project every month throughout 2020. But then a global pandemic happened; exposing the political flaws of Britain, our circus of a Government while we clapped ourselves to oblivion because Britain is full of spineless idiots who vote for their judge, jury and executioner every General Election as long as we get the bloody foreigners out.
Heat shouldn’t exist in these circumstances but it does, a moment of clutchness with a backstory that implies for Novelist and Shailan – malleability and survival is mere muscle memory for them.