Goat World

Goat World

“I’ve always wanted the music to move along as I grow,” Nafe Smallz tells Apple Music. “I started out just straight rapping, no melodies, and then I lost a couple of my boys to some street shit and it switched to a lot of memorial music, if you wanna call it that.” The Luton rapper has walked a tumultuous path to Goat World, his debut album. Facing down the harsh realities of his hometown’s gang culture while negotiating the seductive pressures of UK rap fame meant a struggle to land upon a musical style Smallz felt was suitably impactful. “In dealing with the deaths, all the music became about that—how it was making me feel and the shit I had to go through,” he says. “So I then knew the best way for me to represent that world and get through to people was to sing and add all the melodies and everything else to it.” Good Love, 2019’s nine-track sampler, offered a hint of the woozy soundscapes that have hosted his escape, but here the MC sees out his blueprint in full. Smallz draws upon input from an exceptional caliber of collaborators (“they’re all G.O.A.T.s in their own right—or they will be”) while surveying the peaks and dips of his own tortured environment to create a vivid portrait of UK rap in 2020. Here, he runs us through his creative rebirth, track by track.
Part of the Plan (feat. M Huncho) “Huncholini: That’s my brother. I feel like we really complement each other’s sound. We link up in the UK and at the studio in Spain—I say we link up in space, as well. We just get high, get in our zone and hit another world. When the studio’s full and there’s people around, he’ll be in his mask, he likes to protect his privacy. Trust me, he doesn’t really step out without the mask, but it’s not really a mask thing when we meet up, it’s different. When I say, ‘All of my new shit I put the soul in it/’Cause you never know where you gon’ go with it’—I feel like that defines the project. I don’t really do the social media thing, but I think with the music, I’m starting to put more of me into it. It’s powerful; that’s why I wanted this track on first.”
Fine China “I made this [in Barcelona] at The Plug record studios. It’s just an expression of how I be feeling when this street shit plays a big role in day-to-day life. Even though it’ll always be a part of me, now, I try and just lead the youths away from any kind of street shit. It’s not something you wanna be part of. It’s nothing to be proud of, because no matter how hard you try, shit can come up from your past. I grew up in Luton and it’s wild for the young ’uns there. It’s just outside of London, but they hear about everything going on in London, and they wanna replicate it. But people rap about stuff that’s not exact and they’re trying to live these raps. I’ve got younger cousins and others that I consider my little brothers, they’re still knee-deep in this stuff. The message here is, I’m just trying to tell them: Choose something else. Growing up, I was really into drama and acting. I was influenced by Will Smith, but I also wanted to be respected in the streets, and with that you feel like you have to be a certain way. I feel like it dampened my talent and my potential. So for those growing up now, before you get into that circle, just try and avoid it. It can really change the direction of your life. That’s all I’m trying to show these kids.”
Phones Off (feat. Nines) “Nines is another guy that I link up with abroad. London’s a mad place, so we just get it in wherever we can. We go way back, from before music. His older people know my older people, so we were connected through the streets before anything else. I feel like being from outside of London, it is harder to get recognition, so when he cosigned me and put me on the end of his project [One Foot In], it really boosted my following. I think we met when I was 17 or 18 and I went Church Road to shoot a video with a few of my guys that moved to Luton from Church Road. I was just inspired by Nines, he’s a real G.O.A.T.—a real boss. When he hit me up and said, ‘You’re hard, keep doing your thing,’ it was a big blessing. It meant a lot to know he fucked with the music.”
Ocean Deep (feat. Wretch 32) “We kept bumping into each other at flippin’ restaurants in the West End. It was one time, then another time, and then a third time. I said, ‘We’ve gotta stop meeting like this, let’s get in the studio and get some stuff done!’ Obviously Wretch has been a G.O.A.T.—he’s always been a guy in the leading tier of the UK scene, so to have him here only made sense. He’s evolved a lot and his new stuff is more [led by] vibes than rap, so it was a perfect song for us to get it in.”
J LO (feat. Deno & Chip) “I grew up listening to Chip. Literally, before I was even on the mic, I was listening to Chip. He jumped on the remix for [2016 single] ‘Smokin’ and that really helped my situation and people started to pay attention. Now that his sound has developed over the years, more towards the melodies, he’ll call me like, ‘Yo, Smallz, you gotta come and record with me, I’ve gotta get in my zone bag, I’ve gotta get to the melodies.’ Whatever lane he decides to go down, he just smashes it up. He’s definitely a G.O.A.T. for me. With Deno, we were at the same studio in Kings Cross and he buss into the studio and said, ‘Yo, what’s up.’ I rate Deno, he’s one of the hardest in the UK at what he does. For how young he is—I don’t even think he understands how sick he is yet.”
Freak (feat. Young Adz) “Me and Young Adz have been locked into each other’s stuff for about nine or ten years. I’ll post his stuff, he’ll post mine. We’ve only got to working together in the last few years, and now D-Block Europe have taken off in a new light. It’s sick because I feel like they ain’t afraid to say anything over there. We flew out to Spain for it, too—that’s really where I be at these days, to be honest. When Adz was on just straight rap, he was killing it, and then the vibes changed and he was able to jump into that lane and start killing that. These are the people that are gonna survive the times. The people that are versatile will always last.”
Big Racks “This one was probably the most fun to record. I was on tour, doing hella shows abroad, and I was just in my bag. I’m just going in on this, really explaining how I’ve come a long way from where I started at. I’m saying I’m on money over everything right now, you know, I’m really trying to get to my financial freedom. I worked with [London engineer and producer] Young Kye on this—that’s my brudda. Most of the time he’s recording me and mixing all of my stuff, and we just caught a super vibe.”
Home Run “‘Home Run’ is like the death of the old me and the birth of the new me. The sound now has developed a lot from when it first started, and I wanted to present that in the video [for ‘Home Run’]. At the beginning, it says, ‘A part of you has to die/For you to truly come alive.’ And I think a lot of the times insecurity and self-doubt can really hold you back from where you should really be. I reached a point where I said to myself, ‘All that self-doubt and all that negativity has got to go.’ After [2019 single] ‘Good Love,’ it changed for me. Before then I was still a bit in my head, thinking: ‘Is this sound really gonna work?’ Since then, I’ll do me, do what makes me content and run with it. This was produced by a 16-year-old from Nottingham called Jim Paterson. He’s super talented. He was just sending me beats. He sent me over a beat pack and this was one of the first on there, and when I ended up tracking him down, that’s when I found out his age. And [UK producer] The Code helped me with extra parts on that as well at the end, because it’s actually two songs. It’s ‘Home Run’ and ‘Last Time,’ but I’ve merged them into one. This one slaps differently when you play it full blast.”
All Weekend “Nana Rogues produced this one. He’s produced so many hits. We met through Young Kye—I went to Nana’s spot, hella weed, some alcohol, and we just cooked this up. I think people might take this in different ways, so I won’t explain too much, but it’s one of my favorites on here.”
Bad for Me (feat. Miraa May) “I was in the studio with [London producer] Shin, and Miraa May is in that same studio complex, so my manager AP walked into one of her sessions by accident. He came back to us like, ‘Yo, there’s this singer in there that’s super dope. We should get her on something.’ We went over and told her to come through. As soon as she heard this track, she fell in love with it and she bodied her part. I hadn’t heard a lot of her stuff before that, but ever since that track, I’ve heard all of her stuff. I’m a proper fan now. Big up Miraa.”
Friend Zone (feat. Safe) “Safe is from Toronto—we linked through my bro [Toronto rapper] Puffy L’z, another good friend of mine. He’s a sick singer and a real brother. He came to the UK, and straight away I said, ‘Let’s get to the studio, let’s get it in.’ I think he’s gonna develop into a big artist.”
Lawless “‘Lawless’ is inspired by Meek [Mill], and the Dreamchasers, really. Just opening up—it’s like a freestyle track. It’s me just getting out how I was feeling at the time. You’ve gotta listen to it, because I think it’s quite a self-explanatory track.”
High Notes “This is like my way of just wrapping up on my year. Just reflecting on the lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to. When I say, ‘I want the money, fuck the fame,’ that’s...you know what that is? The fame is one of those things: It’s like a gift and a curse. I think about my family, at the same time, I’ve got a son, and I wanna be stepping out with him and doing normal shit, not when people are running up for a picture and whatnot. I was at a funeral last year and obviously I was grieving for somebody real close to me. But it was just kids, man. They were really young. I think they were on a youth program, and the way they came to me, I was trying to explain to them, ‘Let’s have some respect for the family.’ They didn’t really respect that—running up taking pictures. I just wanted to be me that day and take off the Nafe Smallz mask that day. But obviously it doesn’t really work like that. That’s why with Huncho, he’s blessed, how he is. He puts on his mask and he’s like a superhero, and when he takes off the mask he can return to his normal life. He can go out with his girl and go out with his peoples. He doesn’t have to slip and slide to cut through. But the music is a mask you can’t really take off when you’re an artist.”


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