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The New Locals: Nerve

The rapper talks about the history of Australian grime, the Brisbane scene, and how he balances university with his career.

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It’s a Saturday evening and I’m sitting with Brisbane rapper Nerve in the only cafe still open on Smith St. We’ve been across the road at the premiere of Fully Gassed: Australian Grime—a documentary he made alongside 50/50 and NO.ONE Network about Australia’s blossoming grime scene. He’s about to perform the second date of Triple One’s national tour and has soundcheck in a few hours, and there’s a bunch of study he’s supposed to be doing—it’s no wonder he needs a coffee.

Nerve played a central role in grime’s expansion down under, and his songs like ‘Where You Been’ with Chillinit have garnered hundreds of thousands of views. But he likes to mix it up. His debut album Sober came out over a year ago and combined old school boom-bap with gritty, Australian gutter rap and he mixed, produced, and wrote the whole thing. His recent singles ‘Big Switch’ and ‘Walk & Talk (Part 1)’, see him opting for a more bouncy, Atlanta/Houston trunk-knocking vibe, lacing soul samples and summery sounds with 808s and an Australian drawl.

Aside from his own output, he mixed ChillinIt’s breakout album Women, Weed & Wordplay, and somehow manages to slot studying an electrical engineering degree in too. He’s a busy dude. Over coffee, Nerve and I talked Australian grime, Brisbane’s hip-hop scene, and how he balances it all.

Hey Nerve! How’s the start of the tour been?
It’s been good, man. Brisbane was crazy. The crowd showed mad love and, yeah dude, I just get along with the Triple One dudes really well so like the shows are just like a real vibe, their shows are crazy. So I’ve been trying to have a lot of new content on the audience or just crossing over with that fan base.

How did you guys meet?
We actually first met at the first ever Get Bodied festival that ChillinIt organised in Sydney. So I think that was April, 2018 and everyone was there: Chill, Mitchos, Husky, Lil Sknow, Alex Jones, it was a huge line up. It was sold out and absolutely nuts. The first time I got showed Triple One was by Huskii. It was the first thing he showed me. And then yeah, we all met at that gig and I just kept talking to them. Got to chatting with Billy the producer and got along with him real well, and I just liked their general vibe. So, it’s kinda like that, man, you just make friends with people and that’s how you start building music with them.

It’s been one year since the release of your album Sober. How have you felt about the reception of it?
It’s cool, man. I dropped it early in the sort of come up, which was good and bad. So, good in the sense that it really solidified my backhand lot and all my different styles because that was when I was like halfway between sounds, so it’s got all sorts of stuff on it. A back catalogue is also just a good thing to have. I think the main thing I wanted to do with it was to showcase myself in my own life.

The whole title and everything, Sober, it’s not 100% literal; I’ll have a drink, I’ll have a smoke, but [it] was kind of a good description of me because most people think I’m off my head. But I’m usually just off my head on this music shit because that’s what gets me going. Recording, doing shows. So yeah, I’m real happy with the reception of it. It has been pumping slowly and it’s good because every new track I drop I get new listeners and then they go through the back catalogue and they check it out. So it’s kind of just like solidified my brand and my workflow.

Something that interests me about that project is the amount of different styles you explore. Was that a conscious decision going into making it or is that just how it happened?
I think it was somewhat conscious, but also that period was a really transitional phase in my music. So, when I started making hip-hop I was the ultimate, jaded hip-hop head that was like “Fuck this, fuck that.” [Laughs] And then I got into grime and that just blew everything to smithereens. And the first grime verse that I did was almost like a joke, but I thought I might as well try it out. And I was like, “Oh, this is funny.”” And then I sent it to my mate and he’s like “This is fire, you should keep doing it.”

Then I got into making grime and my production style just exploded into different places. And this was all around that time, the two years that that whole project was sort of built on. So a lot of the boom bap tracks were the older tracks, and I haven’t made a lot of that sort of stuff recently. So I think it’s a perfect description of what I was doing first and then what I’m doing now.

One of the songs that I really liked on that project is ‘Heavy’. It feels like you’re talking about being in a rut and doing the same shit. Now that things have kind of progressed for you, do you still feel that way?
I think, at the time I wrote that, I was living out of home, and I was having a break from uni, and I was just working and making music and yeah, it was like that. It was kind of like I was just going to work and making music and that’s when I think I needed something else. I think I function best when I’m just overloaded with tasks and things to do and keeping my brain in seven places at once. For some reason that just works for me. But at the time I wasn’t, and I think I was just in a bit of monotony.

Also there was a breakup and all the general things that get you in your feels. And, I just kind of like vented it out, like wrote the whole thing in just one session, just venting and then it just came together as a track. That was like, I think that was the first time I’ve really expressed my actual life and thoughts on the track rather than rapping about rapping. That was a big thing for me. So, yeah, I really liked it. And people do like that track and that’s kinda how it was made.

Let’s take it back quickly to the early days. Can you remember the first beat you made?
The first beat that I made was sampled from an old Gershwin record in my dad’s vinyl collection. Gershwin is like real old, baroque classical music. And I just made some weird shit out of that. I also wrote a little rap. I’m pretty sure it was called ‘Bars’ like as everyone’s first rap track would be called. [Laughs] And, yeah, it kind of just progressed from there and I didn’t put anything out for ages because I knew that it was going to be shit for a while. Beats are hard man, you really have to keep at it. The programs I was using at the time were frustrating because I didn’t understand them yet. So I had to go through this phase of just grinding and grinding. But, yeah, it all came together, I guess.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Brisbane scene? I feel like it isn’t talked about as much as places like Melbourne or Sydney.

So, when I started I obviously didn’t know anyone. I just linked up with a couple of mutual friend and made a crew. We just did our thing. We really didn’t, not consciously, fuck with anyone because we were kind of younger than everyone else in the scene. And I feel like the Brisbane scene is still weird like that. I don’t think anyone’s really fully been like, “I am the Brisbane guy, and I’m putting on for Brisbane.” And I’m trying to do that, I do it a lot already, but people still don’t know where I’m from. I like repping Brisbane, but I also don’t want to be tied to one place. But yeah, there’s not really one, big connected Brisbane scene yet.

Do you think there’s something about the city that fuels that kind of disjointment?
Yeah, I don’t know. I think for a long time, I think that there’s just not enough music coming out of Brisbane. And the more music comes out, the more communities are formed. Even the more competition, which makes better music, right? So I feel like there’s only a certain number of artists doing music to this level, a certain level. And because there’s not that many, it’s kind of not all congealed into a big scene. You’ve got a lot of artists that are from Brisbane but make music in Melbourne. I think it’s just that Brisbane is a big country town. Is a bit sleepy, but we’re going to try and make more happen.

Speaking of making things happen, you’ve played a major part in the rise of grime in Australia. How did this scene come together and why do you think people gravitate towards it?
With grime it’s just, the main thing is live shows. It’s all about the energy. It’s not necessarily about the recording tracks. It’s like, when I started making grime, I got put onto it by my British mate and then I tried it, and I liked it. Then [they] told us to come to this gig. So we came down and did 50/50, and that’s the spot. Thats the place to be, man. Everyone got their start at 50/50. 50/50 and grime is the reason I met Chill, it was the reason I met everyone. And from that, all this other stuff was born that even more genres of music were touched on. So I think, yeah, grime just played a huge role in it. Especially because we’ve got people of all ages. We’ve got the old heads, we’ve got the young dudes, we’ve got even younger than us. It’s like everyone’s forming a community.

Australian grime feels like gutter rap from back in the day. But I feel like people weren’t as accepting of gutter rap, as great as it was, as they are of Australian grime right now. Why do you think that is? What’s the difference?
I think one of the reasons is because obviously grime is from the UK, and when people hear something from overseas being done in Australia it’ll definitely capture their ear and probably create conversation because it can be quite divisive. You have a lot of people being like, “Aw man, they’re doing that here.” And then there’d be people being like, “That’s wack, they can’t do that here.”

So you get a lot of conversation and from that sparks more hype and then it just grows and grows and grows. I also think another reason why it’s been received so well is for the general hype around grime and also just the way that Fracture and all the Smash Brothers brought it into the country. It’s very, like humble and respectful [in a] way and they just kill it and they just do their own thing.

As a grime fan, what do you think is different about the Australian scene versus the traditional UK stuff?
I think the Australian scene is obviously a lot smaller, so it’s a lot more tight knit. And also, to be realistic, Australia is a lot more chilled out. There’s a lot of bad shit happening in London. And you can hear that in the music. In Australia a lot of it’s a lot more fun. You know, you’ve got a lot of heavy shit coming out now with drill and all that stuff. But grime is still a lot of fun and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight at an event. And I’ve seen plenty of fights at other gigs. Especially hip-hop. But I think when it’s Grime, everyone’s there to rave and let beats put them in a trance so there’s no aggression. It’s all just for the music. That’s probably the best part about it.

For me, grime was [a] massive building block in what I do, but it’s not the only thing I feel. So, I’m always conscious of trying to create my own sound. Whatever happens with the grime scene in Australia, as long as it’s healthy, then I don’t care. And we are getting massive co-signs from overseas, with all this new drill stuff coming out. And that’s awesome because the only thing you can do is shine more light on everybody.

In terms of these other styles that you kind of explore, is there something that you’ve wanted to do that we haven’t heard you do yet?
I would love to do something with a punk band. Definitely. And also just playing around with jazz and even maybe singing in the future, you know, just anything that, anything that really grabs people I’m happy to try. And that’s why I’m trying to finish this fucking uni degree so I can get some more time on my hands and play around.

How’s it been balancing a music career and uni?
It’s hard, but it’s good because if something doesn’t go well, I can at least be happy about other things that are going well. And I think it also inspires me to keep on track. That’s one of the general reasons why I stay predominantly sober is because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to handle it all. So I think it’s just a really good motivator and it’s like at this point it’s at a stage where it’s like work breeds work. The more work I do, the more work I have to do, so as long as I’m in that zone, I’ll be mentally healthy. I feel like I have to be doing stuff all the time or otherwise I’ll just get depressed.

You also do a lot of mixing for other artists. Do you think that’s an art more people should learn in the rap game?
I think if you can, do it, because it gives you way more control over what you’re putting out. Because I’ve done that, I wouldn’t really be comfortable just kind of recording vocals and flinging them off to someone. Like I have to have more control. I think that means that [what] I put out is more representative of what I’ve put in. So, yeah, and also, man, adding value to yourself. Like if you can mix and master then you can get paid to do it. So just add value to yourself. That’s what my mum always thought.

I love your single ‘Big Switch’. I feel like it almost foreshadows a new chapter in your career. Can you tell us how that song came together?
That single kind of just came together really randomly. It’s the same with a lot of the recent stuff I’ve been doing because I’ve been so busy. I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll have a couple of hours free, have a triple shot coffee, and then just kind of, I’ll just start making a beat. And then halfway through making the beat, I’m like, “This is a good beat” and I’ll write the whole track, and then finish the beat and then go record it in like three hours. With ‘Big Switch’ specifically, I wanted to show that I can do whatever. It’s kind of like a southern trap song. It almost feels Atlanta-ish, sort of. It indicates a ‘Big Switch’ you could say, and I think it’s a good reference for my career moving forward.

Are there any new Australian artists we should check out right now?
There’s this one dude called JK47 that i’m really digging right now, he’s got a bright future.

That’s a sick name.
Right? I think I’m going to be working with him a lot in the future.

Lastly, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I won’t say too much, but there will be a project and there will be a tour. So I will be dropping a healthy amount of tracks. Hopefully a lot. I also want to do more festivals and all that sort of stuff, and really get around the country and show people what I got.

For more from Nerve, follow him here.

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