Uber’s troubles over the past week have been more fortuitous for one Hackney rapper. Addison Lee is both a rival taxi firm and the title of an increasingly popular single by Not3s (pronounced “Notes”). It’s a relaxed, melodic, slightly silly tune about a girl called Maddison, who our hero is so desperate to see that he’s willing to order a car to pick her up. “I just called a driver, I slapped on a promo code to you get to my yard for a fiver,” he raps in his deep, sing-song tones. Who says romance is dead?
If the girl had been called Luba, or perhaps had a tumour, maybe the lyrics would have been different. Uber does get a namecheck, in fact, and a positive one at that: “It might’ve been there sooner/It might’ve been way cheaper,” he suggests, though also according to the song, Not3s’s behaviour has led to him being blocked from the service. So he doesn’t have much choice, just like the rest of London if Uber fails to appeal the stripping of its licence by Tfl.
We meet in a South Bermondsey studio where he’s rehearsing for his first headline tour, which crosses the UK over the next couple of weeks. He claims he doesn’t know why he was blocked by Uber, and says he is allowed to use it again now but doesn’t. When Tfl announced last Friday that it would not be renewing the firm’s private hire operator licence, he gloated on Twitter: “I would hate to say that I told you so but I told you so,” accompanied by the hashtag #Uberisuseless.
“I was in Zanzibar at the time, making a video for my next single,” he tells me. “I didn’t have much wifi, but when I did turn on my phone I got so many notifications. It’s definitely the song of this week after what’s happened.”
And it’s definitely secured him one set of taxi driving fans. The song first appeared online last November, at which point Addison Lee the company tweeted him a great number of fire emojis, gave him a discount code and invited him to perform at their Christmas party in Camden’s Koko. “It was absolutely lit. I was so shocked at how great it was. There was no one else playing live, it was a DJ and me doing that one song. They had two women dancers on hoops in the air. I wish I had a video of it.”
It’s not a deep song, so I ask my most incisive question early on: is this girl the same Maddison who got taken to the Radisson by his fellow rapper Yungen in his current hit, Bestie? “Ha ha! Yungen’s got jokes! Nah, it was a different Maddison,” he says. That’s that cleared up then.
He didn’t necessarily think the song was a winner when he made it fairly spontaneously last summer. “At the time I was going to the studio in Stratford every single day, and my way of transport was Addison Lee. When I heard the instrumental in the studio, within about 20 seconds that was what I was singing.”
But it took off as soon as he put it on his Soundcloud page. Within days, the popular urban music website GRM Daily was in touch offering to make a video for him. “Automatically, people started paying attention. I couldn’t believe the streams it was getting daily,” says Not3s.
Over seven million YouTube views and almost 15 million Spotify plays later, he’s trying to move on, if current affairs will let him. His latest single is called Aladdin – another relaxed, summery song in the Auto-Tuned sing-rap style. It’s on the A-list at Radio 1Xtra and C-list at Radio 1. Then there’s a nine-song EP coming next month called Take Not3s. He’s excited about it.
“This will be sick: my first project,” he says. “Project” is his word for that number of songs. “Personally I would never make a mixtape. That’s for people who want to get a whole load of work out. They’re not really structured or anything. Then an album’s something you make when you know you’re ready. Right now I wouldn’t do it. But I want to let people hear my story, what I feel on the day to day.”
There are three guests on the collection: west London singer Shakka, rapper MoStack and the biggest name, Tinie Tempah, on a pretty song called No Drama. Not3s’s discovery was helped along by the fact that his manager is a friend of Tinie’s cousin, who played the star his earliest material. Not3s, of Nigerian heritage like the more famous rapper, is now a part of Tinie’s creative agency, Imhotep. “He is such a legend, what he’s done,” says Not3s. “Go to a Tinie show and you’ll be able to sing every song. They stick in your brain.”
But he also wanted three guests just because the number is important to him. He spells his stage name like he does for the three meanings of the word: musical notes, money notes and “take note”. Today he’s wearing a black Adidas tracksuit with the familiar three stripes, and wearing three necklaces, from which dangle an angel, Jesus, and an amulet featuring the names of three archangels and the words “Before me, behind me, to my right and to my left, I am surrounded by protection.”
He says he went to church a fair bit as a child growing up in the Manor House area in the Borough of Hackney. When talking about the possibility of further success, awards and so on, he says “by God’s grace” a lot. We establish that he was raised solely by his mother, the oldest child alongside twin brothers and a sister, but otherwise he won’t give much away, including his real name and his age – though after a few clues, I’m guessing he’s about 20. “I’m just very anonymous,” he insists. He confirms that he was kicked out of sixth form college before he could finish A-Levels but clams up beyond that.
When asked about inspirations, he doesn’t reel off famous rappers but instead talks about watching his father doing some amateur music production when he was younger. “It was kind of like I wanted that attachment with him, so my mind was focused on music. I never saw him enough,” he says. “It is what it is. Life comes with rocky paths.”
Now, in another way, he’s getting the attention he wanted, whether from a growing fanbase or a corporation glad of the good publicity. He’s just found out he’s received four nominations at the Rated Awards next month, GRM Daily’s relatively new rival to the Mobos. He’s up for Best Breakthrough and Artist of the Year, while Addison Lee and Aladdin are both on the Best Track shortlist.
“It’s extremely flattering considering I’ve only been in this for about a year and a half,” he says. “It feels so good. All them sleepless nights in the studio, eating trash food because it was too late to eat something proper. It’s gonna pay off, by God’s grace.” Not long now and he’ll be going around in limos.
Oct 4, O2 Academy Islington, N1 (0844 477 2000, o2academyislington.co.uk)