It’s a cool crisp day in New York. Rain is predicted later, but we all know the weather forecast lies (shit, everyone lies). I’m navigating my way on the borderline hellish NYC train system to meet Finding Novyon, and I’m late. We’re due to meet right by the Brooklyn Bridge at 1pm, and after I unearth from the wifi-less subway at 1:15pm, Novyon is waiting for me at the spot. Damn – what happened to rappers being late?
It’s weird because this meeting is full of contradictions and anomalies. It’s been almost a year to the day since our first hour long Skype interview, and now this Londoner and a Minnesotan are both in New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made. For the self-producing and rapping Finding Novyon, things have accelerated fast. He’s in the city for a Red Bull Sound Select show alongside Shabazz Palaces and Dog Hream Blunt, before he heads to Philadelphia; music has taken him across the entire state. From LA, NYC to Atlanta, opening for the likes of Post Malone, Big Sean and RJD2 – Novyon is not only finding himself but the masses are now finding him. While we navigated our way around Brooklyn Bridge, between endless snaps, coffee and free smoothies, with the inspirational New York City skyline as our backdrop, Novyon and I discuss everything from anime, producer aliases and most importantly, finding that niche.
First things first, if your geography is bad like mine, you may have trouble finding Novyon. Hailing from Minnesota, Minneapolis, a place generally not associated with hip-hop, he’s an outlier, but that isn’t a factor that’s going to hinder Novyon: “When you tell people you’re from Minneapolis, people look at you like isn’t it farmland? But no man, it’s just like this, it’s a mini Brooklyn… well kinda. To be honest, I feel our sound is reflective of the area – it’s what you’d expect from people who aren’t in the traditional margins of hip-hop. I just love being able to do whatever I want!”
Novyon came onto my radar in summer 2015. As a fan of Allan Kingdom, when a dark, trap-esque single featuring Allan, alongside and produced by Novyon found its way to my ears I quickly schooled myself on his back catalogue. And a year after its release ‘Lots’ still goes off. “People still play it like it’s new, I don’t mind. There’s 2 types of artist. There’s artists who make music like that, and they get popular… But then they get mad that they’re only known for that song – because they haven’t got other songs like that… But for me it gave me a reference, let me know what people liked and it helped me in my performances, performing my other tunes like ‘On My Way’, ‘Let’s Get Lit’ and ‘Xans’ – like it helps me kill shit with high energy man.”
‘Lots’ was sort of a pivotal moment for Novyon, after the release of ‘Lots’ he was contacted by one of the curators of Red Bull Sound Selects to open up for Post Malone, at his first show in Minnesota. For Novyon, it was an opportunity for him to put a face to the song people in his city – and further out – had been bumping to. From that point, the live performances snowballed: “It’s weird, I was already booked to do Big Sean when I was doing the Post Malone show… In a weird way it gave me another level of charisma and swag… Even though when I would perform, people might not have known me, but I knew more was coming, so eventually they would”.
Having produced ‘Lots’ and also ‘On My Way’ featuring Milwaukee MC WebsterX, Novyon is one of those artists who flirts between production and performance. While we’re enjoying our complimentary smoothies, Novyon reminisces on the time his producer alias almost blew up more than his rapping one: “It’s weird, before my name started getting out there a lot, I had another Soundcloud with my beats on, like my producer Soundcloud, under the name Steeze Dolphin, and I would put produced by Steeze Dolphin on any of the tracks I did too [chuckles]. The Soundcloud actually started to pop off for a lil but, then I was like ermmmm this is kinda mad. I was getting hit up with people for the production haha — but at that time I want to be recognised as a rapper, so I had to reign that alias in and close it down”.
Coming from a place that’s not a home of hip-hop, it may be hard to see where he draws his inspiration from. Novyon is a huge anime fan, and he’s almost as passionate about it as music. At the start of the year, almost 6 months after his album ‘#TheFoodNetwork’, Novyon switched it up. Stepping away from the dark, moody sonics and content of ‘#TheFoodNetwork’, he dropped ‘Super Saiyan’, a seven track project that was a continuation of a three part series he started back in 2012, of course inspired by Dragon Ball Z. But it’s not just on his projects and recorded bodies of work where Novyon’s anime influences come to light; it’s in his live shows too: “I literally almost black out on stage every time I do a live show… Nooo man [laughs] not because I’m, fucked up, but because performing and music takes me to a different place, it’s like Yu-Gi-Oh… I love anime, Dragon Ball Z is my fave – Naruto is cool, there’s a new one called One Punch Man … It’s like a story of this guy who can kill anyone with one punch. His thing is he’s looking for a challenge because he’s too strong. Even when aliens come to earth still too strong for them, I like the whole idea around that.”
Anime aside, friends are a vital part of Novyon’s life, both inspirationally and in his creative process, and that’s probably what makes him such an easy person to talk to. The Minnesota hip-hop scene is growing, but still small, and there’s still that very home-grown feel to it. Novyon is with his DJ and friend Travis Gorman, he’s here for the first time in New York, and with a calm, chilled demeanour, matching Novyon’s it’s easy to see how the two are friends. ‘#TheFoodNetwork’ was made in Travis’ studio-basement and Allan Kingdom is his long-time friend: “My friends really inspire me. Being motivated by them, seeing where they’ve gone and wanting to level up with them – that’s a big thing that drives me and helps me be creative”.
Surrounding yourself in those circles, where everyone else is working and focusing on their dreams in a way helped Novyon create some of his most relatable songs. The gritty, minimalist and dark, ‘I Hate My Job’ is bitter-Novyon, he’s working a shit job and seeing people around him come-up. “It’s weird, things are different now, my life has changed so things I’m gonna write about have changed. I’m in a relationship and it’s been one of the best I’ve ever had, I just feel happy and that helps my creativity a lot too – it just gives me a different outlet and dimension to be in. The Food Network was dark, and Super Saiyan was dark too… so like there’s a lot more to me than that. I wanna do stuff that sounds brighter, not stuff you only listen to at 2am when your high, shit you can listen to in the day I want do”.
Now releasing his music via So Cold Records, created by Allan Kingdom, the So Cold squad are harnessing the Minnesota sound. And what’s dope is, it feels authentic and what it is, is not gangsta rap – or wannabe gangsta rap – it’s just a group of friends, making dope music representing their city. “One day Allan texted me after a show and was like yeah it’s So Cold… I was like umm ok [laughs]… Down then line, he asked me properly to be part of it, and I was like of course – he’s like my best friend. We’re just gonna be a wave of artists who come, we’re the young artists. You have the older heads bashing a lot of new stuff saying it’s not good and there’s no content… I just know our musical content is better than other stuff out right now – but we sound like the main sound out now, but our content is what separates us I think. Officially it [So Cold] is me, Allan and Drelli… Drelli is dope, he’s a 19 and he’s just on his wave, he’s the next gen after our shit”. While the space Finding Novyon represents isn’t hip-hops typical home, it’s formed an experimental, and hands on approach, very much like: we got to take control of our sound.
While the racial divides and tensions across America continue to rise, the effects are again trickling down into music and the creative spheres. While at its core, hip-hop as an art form and culture was founded by black Jamaicans in Harlem, now like often the case, the people behind the scenes are white. As we touch on the subject of racial divides and police brutality, Novyon adds: “There was a police killing – Philando Castile – that was in Minnesota, people in the hip-hop scene knew him. It’s bad it’s crazy… Our hip-hop scene for the longest was run by white people. But now there’s people like me and Allan – we’re youngers, who can take control. But there’s a big racial divide in the venues in the city, because there’s violence going on with bouncers and people working at the venues – it’s been weird. I try not to get involved. I’m not saying All Lives Matter – but I’m here for everyone, for humanity, it’s fucked up for everyone. I don’t even have the answers – but shit is really fucked up now. The venues just hinder the people I see; the older artists have anger about the racial divides. Me being kind of new, like the bigger venues see me new to them. They love to have me, but my peers don’t get treated the same way – it’s fucked up. They want me there but not my peers”.
With venues complaining, the overall shittiness of society and old school hip-hop heads dictating what hip-hop is and isn’t, it’s sort of a testing time to be a hip-hop artist. The output is high; every week there’s a new viral rapper online and with a new fad being the in-thing every week, artists now need to be so left off centre to gain notoriety and an identity. For Finding Novyon, his name almost shows that he’s active in the self-reflection process, understanding and redefining who and what he wants to be: “I really want to find my niche, something that works well for me, because it’s what you need to become a household name, a driving force, to become something that’s innovative to a generation. To be honest now, I don’t think I have anything that makes me different from all the other up and comers – but I’m working on it and I’ll find what works for me… My style is different, but every rapper thinks they’re into fashion. It’s hard but a fun challenge. You get to create your own universe and that’s what’s dope”.
As Novyon continues his journey of taking on the world, one state, city and town at a time, one thing remains clear, Novyon is enjoying the journey and his fans accompanying him on it too. “I feel like I know exactly who I am and who I want to become. But life is going to be a long journey of finding out things about myself. Some good and some bad things that are hard to accept. But I think that’s what life is all about. Following the journey and becoming who you want to be”. With a studio album in the pipeline for 2017 and maybe even a follow up to ‘Super Saiyan’ for the end of the year, it looks like Finding Novyon’s got a lot on his plate – but it’s nothing he can’t manage that’s for sure.
Check out Finding Novyon’s latest releases alongside ATL’s Sonny Digital, ‘I Can’t Lose’ and ‘Been On My Job’ – they go in.