Exclusives Interviews 26 February 2024

GRM Exclusive: Nafe Smallz Talks ‘Ticket To The Moon’, Independence, Fashion & More

26 February 2024

It’s 19th September, KOKO, Camden is flooded in attendance as a surging crowd wait for their headlining act. At the forefront of the iconic venue is an artist who’s been held in high regard around the globe. With a career that spans nearly a decade, it’s no wonder that Luton’s lyrical genius that is Nafe Smallz is considered to the 1500 capacity crowd as a generational talent.

This was a night for the memory books. Nafe recollects fond memories of festival performances across the pond in Europe, but Northwest London remains at the forefront, with KOKO being held as the pinnacle of all shows. So much so, that is stamps its mark as the blueprint to his latest body of work. “As soon as I left that show, I was straight to the studio. The inspiration came straight off the back of that energy.”

Ticket To The Moon is the next chapter being readied to take off into uncharted territory. The 15-track tape bolsters Nafe Smallz customary wave essence, along with what realities he’s been going through as he invites verses from the likes of AJ Tracey and Lancey Foux to connect with his listeners. Whilst the release will undeniably be a success, there are other paths which still need to be walked before the curtains close. Skepta, who is a musical colleague, friend, and inspiration to the lyricist, is seen as a constant reminder to Nafe that anything is possible, as the Luton native envisions steering towards different genres of sounds, whilst climbing up the fashion ladder simultaneously.

We spoke to Nafe Smallz about KOKO’s iconic night, the direction of Ticket To The Moon, having independence in music and much, much more.

What can listeners expect with your new mixtape?

“It’s lit man. Another self-explanatory project. It was inspired off the last show I did at KOKO. That show was separate to all the others I done. This one is another vibe! I’ll be explaining what I’ve been going through at this phase of my life so there’s some depth on there for the listeners. I think it’s the coldest tape so far so should be good!”

So you’re relating it to the headline show at KOKO – Can you take us back to that night?

“We did KOKO end of last year and the show and energy were mad. All the artist that came out for man was crazy. As soon as I left that show, I was straight to the studio. The inspiration came straight off the back of that energy. This year, I wanted to do a show dedicated solely to the project where the fans can be connected before they come. On this project, I told the fans from top to bottom I’m prepping them before the show! I was going to do a few shows and cities, but I’ve decided I want to do one sick show in London. That’s going to be 30th April.”

Staying on the topic of live performances, is there more of a personal buzz when headlining your own show opposed to travelling globally and performing at festivals?

“The best part of it is doing the headlining shows where everyone is there for the music. Festivals are good as well. Everyone is turned up and off the shits! It’s a different vibe. In London, it takes them a minute to get going but abroad they appreciate the sound a lot more. Same time, my London show has been my craziest show so far so I can’t downplay that! Everywhere I go abroad there is mad love though.”

What would you say is the best place you’ve performed at abroad?
“The place I had the most fun was Portugal, Rolling Loud with Huncho. It was right on the beach, bare people, the vibe was sick, weather sick. In terms of connection with the crowd, I think KOKO has got to be the best so far for me.”

AJ Tracey and Lancey Foux are just some of the features on Ticket To The Moon , what was the importance of having these artists on your project?

“On this one, I wanted to work with artists I haven’t released music with before. The concept of Ticket To The Moon is like tickets to the sky, going up with it and all the artists I have on there can get in that bag of turning up crowds and turning up the stage. I think the features just made sense for the vibe we were going for. I rate all these artists. Real recognise real.”

Do you find that there’s a difference when working on a mixtape compared to an album?

“Yes. So right now, I’ve been working in the background on the album. There are certain songs that get made and the level of them are separate. I keep developing them but with the mixtape, because I make so much music, I can’t drop three albums in a year. I see the mixtapes as a diary for me almost. When I listen back to them, I remember what’s going on at that point in my life. It’s the same amount of work, but when I drop my first studio album, people are going to know it’s a separate ting! The amount of time that I put in each individual song, it could be nine months on one song. The mixtape, I made the last songs in the last few weeks.”

Being independent, what would you say is the best thing opposed to being part of a label?

“I think it’s just the freedom of doing whatever you want to do. My creative process changes all the time. Labels might require a certain amount of songs in a certain category to class as a single to release. I feel like nobody can tell me what music is good to come out. When I first started music and dropped “Smokin”, nobody really understood it around me from my camp. Everyone was a bit sceptical of releasing it, but I was like “Trust me it’s a banger!” I dropped it and that was the start of my career. From that moment onwards, I kind of knew I gotta go with whatever my instincts are telling me.”

What is your process when making a track? Do you have a concept in mind or is it more about hearing a sound and going with the instrumental?

“It varies. Sometimes, if I’m hearing a deep beat or a start of the beat, I like to work on the beat before it’s fully complete. I feel like if it’s fully complete, there’s less room and less pockets for the vocal to go on. I like working on something as soon as the first sounds in, and the ideas start flowing. Sometimes, I have a concept where I’m going through shit, and I just want to get it out. It’s like therapy music. Another day, I don’t want to cap where the song can go, so don’t wanna’ put a concept on it so it’s all about one specific thing.”

You now have a catalogue of projects that extends nearly 10 years, what’s been the evolution to your artistry in this time?

“I think it’s just growing up bro. when I first started, I was just a kid. My view of life is a lot different to what it is now. The fans have kept me going. Growing up with them, some of the fans were just kids and now they’re adults. They’ve been there the whole way and that’s kept me going.”

In this same time bracket, what track comes to mind as being a personal favourite?

“I think the Fire in the Booth was probably one of the sickest parts of my journey. I put a lot into that freestyle, and it had a big impact not just for me, but the scene in general. The Fire in The Booth is one of them moments I cherish the most.”

You’re from Luton, were there any local inspiration that motivated you to start doing music?

“When I first started music, my first manager was Shine. He passed in 2013 and that’s literally when I started. He made me want to take the music ting seriously. After he passed, he left the studio for me. I was in there 24/7, living in there!  There was another artist from Luton called Young Kye. He was a rapper as well, so sick. All the olders from my ends were making music. We all locked in and starting building from the ground up. It definitely inspired me and made me wanna explore different types of rapping.”

Luton is also back as a Premier League team, have you ever thought about doing a collaboration with the club?

“I need to design a top for them because the top is not that great! I told the mandem pattern that, they need to get me in there to design one of these tops! They’re doing their thing, early days. We won 4-0 the other day that was a good game. I think we’ll stay up this season!”

We’ve seen a selection of fits on the socials, what is the importance of fashion to yourself and what is your current go-to brand?

“My current go-to brand is ‘Aime Leon Dore’ because all their clothes have a vintage feel to it. Fashion for me is part of my day, part of my life. What you put on determines how you feel that day, how you step, the kind of conversations you’re gonna have. A lot of people overlook fashion and what they put on. For me, it’s important. I’ve been going fashion weeks and seeing everything in the heart of Paris. It’s inspiring.”

What was the experience of Paris Fashion Week like?

“They’ve been sick. I was invited to a couple shows last minute. Super sick. The Kidsuper show was so crazy. They had Ronaldinho walk out on the runway. Giggs done a collab and they played it on the runway. That was an epic moment. The afterparty, everyone was there. Huncho, Giggs, Kano, Daniel Kaluuya. Seeing everyone in there was sick. The last one I went to, I only really seen Skepta over there. It was sick still.”

You mentioned Skepta, I want to touch on being an artist and expanding away from music. Is that something you see yourself venturing towards in the future?

“100%. Skep is like one of my biggest inspirations in this thing. From the start of my career, I’ve looked up to him. We worked together on “Greaze Mode” on his last album and that was sick. I went to Drumsheds for his last Mas Timepo event. I’ve been keeping up with all the sounds what he’s been doing, and it’s inspired me to take another step and make separate shit. I’ve been cooking up House bits, 80’s bits. I’ve always wanted to do it, but seeing Skep do these kinds of things reminds man anything is possible. Definitely new sounds coming off the back of all that!”

What’s the best piece of advice given to yourself along the way?

“It’s going to sound cliché and normal but just to stay humble and stay grounded. A lot of people say to me when they see me that they expect me to be different. They say I’m super down to earth and I think that’s important. A lot of people get some exposure and then get on their high horse. Everybody is different but for me, staying level-headed has brought me this far so that’s what I would say to somebody else. Don’t get too gassed, just keep it real and remember where you came from.”

What advice do you have for those who are trying to pursue a career in music?

“Same thing, just consistency and if you believe in something, don’t let nobody else tell you it’s not possible. You gotta see everything out for yourself and consistency is key in whatever you’re doing in life. Not just music, whatever you’re working towards, you got to be consistent and have discipline.”

Finally, what three artists are currently in your playlist?

“So you got Dange, he’s part of my camp. You got Tom Did It who’s from Luton as well. He’s cold with it. You got OG Mano. All three are part of my section and keep an eye out for all three of them. All from Luton.”