“I’m all for social commentary. We need to talk about the realities of what’s happening on the roads. But there’s a fine line between that and glamorising,” explains London-based rhymer Namesbliss. “I can’t rate and respect the glamorisation of such things, because people are dying.”
Officially active since 2018, the 28-year-old artist provides an important counterweight to the darker, more violent themes which entice many listeners towards UK rap and drill. Alongside a music career which is steadily gathering pace, he works in a leadership role at an East London creative college, mentoring vulnerable young people. His powerful November EP ‘Light Of Mine’ speaks to the mountains those young people are expected to overcome just to survive, and the overworked, undervalued professionals who support them on their ascent. Musically it draws on everything from drill, grime and UK garage to jazz, wrapping its key messages into some seriously banging sonics.
“I wanted it to give a voice to the people working in the trenches with some of our harder-to-reach young people. A lot of them are young adults themselves,” he tells DJ Mag. “And then for the youngers, I just wanted them to enjoy it sonically, to appreciate it on a pure music and vibe level.”
Namesbliss grew up around jazz and “clean” ‘90s hip-hop, with his dad keen to shield him and his brothers from “songs he thought would influence us in a negative way”. But by nine years old, he could recite Nas’ ‘Illmatic’, and bloomed into a certified rap head. While studying English Language and Linguistics at university, he even took up spoken word poetry to impress girls, by his own admission.
Then the Skepta-led grime renaissance of 2015 changed everything. “I said to myself, ‘I’m cold. I can bar!’ And I started doing a lot of grime. I never came from the grime generation, but when I started doing it, I embodied it completely,” he explains. “I was going to Radar Radio to do sets, all these other stations. That was my real entry into music.”
On ‘Light Of Mine’ he raps at a quick pace that nods to those beginnings in grime — more smooth and controlled 400-metre glide than frenetic, 100-metre sprint — but his verses are laced with the fine observational detail of a skilled storyteller. So does he see himself as a ‘stage show don’, or a profound songwriter?
“When I think of an MC, I think of someone who can turn up the crowd, like D Double E. I can MC like that very well, just because I’m good with words. But I see myself more as an artist who likes to paint a picture with deeper tracks and bodies of work, who focuses on the musicality. I’d definitely say that’s where my strength is.”
The EP’s haunting final track ‘Story Of John’ captures his storytelling at its most visceral and vivid. Like the rest of the project, it’s based on very real events and he found tearing down the wall between art and reality to be therapeutic. Authenticity is valuable currency in UK rap, and Namesbliss is as authentic and real as they come, albeit in a way that perhaps doesn’t tally with the skewed stereotype of a ‘real rapper’.
“Realness is often boiled down to how well you can glamorise your pain and the resulting actions,” he says. “But for me, authenticity means writing from a place that genuinely reflects your reality, your thought processes and your way of viewing the world. I think that’s what makes someone real.”