“Please tell the Evening Standard what you saw me do,” Big Narstie asks me. “I smashed this breakfast!”
It’s 2pm in an east London caff and the plus-sized Brixton rapper is prioritising an all-day fry-up over a photoshoot for which he is already late. Five rashers of extra well done bacon, two sausages, double scrambled eggs, toast and apple juice all go down the hatch as he expounds between mouthfuls upon a year which is only getting busier.
Since his appearance on Craig David’s top 10 hit, When the Bassline Drops, in 2015, a music career that wasn’t getting much notice outside the grime scene has shifted up several gears. The musician born Tyrone Lindo’s debut album has just been announced for the summer with a lively guest list that includes David, Raleigh Ritchie and Ed Sheeran. The first single, the fiery horns and crushing bass of Woah, has just been released.
At the same time, he’s becoming an in-demand television personality, graduating from self-shot YouTube videos in which he solved young people’s personal problems as “Uncle Pain” (episode titles include “My Big Brother Had Sex With My Girlfriend” and “He Told Me To F**k Off But I Love Him”) to appearances on The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and Celebrity Gogglebox. On the latter, he could be seen sharing a sofa with Sheeran and Example, professing ignorance of the format of Strictly Come Dancing and the existence of Nigella Lawson. This summer he’s getting his own show on Channel 4.
He’s not permitted to give me any details but he does say, “I’ll tell you this much: it’s going to change TV, trust me. This is the realest thing that’s gone on TV in a while.” Hopefully it will include a nightly weather report. His guest spot doing the weather on Good Morning Britain earlier this year is a YouTube must-see. “Blitzkrieg! Double up double up double up! Bare mud in your yard!” and so on.
Everyone, even Piers Morgan, loves him right now. Those who hear I’m going to meet him ask for messages of admiration to be passed on. The café owner wants a photo. As he sometimes is on TV, Narstie is entertainingly bemused. He’s been like this since he was a kid, he says, so is unsure why more people are noticing now he’s 32. “Everything that’s happened is just me being myself. I don’t really know what I’m doing that’s making everybody happy. If I start to analyse it, I’ll be in Shit Street. I’m just real,” he tells me. “Fans when they see me, they’re like, ‘Rah, he’s a real funny person,’ but everyone who grew up with me is like, ‘Rah, that’s Fat Tyrone.’”
The familiar trope of the jolly fat man is less helpful when he has something of more weight to say, however. “It is irritating sometimes when man’s being serious and people say, ‘That was actually funny,’” he complains.
That’s why his album, which will follow two EPs and seven mixtapes over the past decade, is called BDL Bipolar. “BDL” for Base Defence League, his term for the fans and scene around him; “Bipolar” for the different sides of his character which he displays in the music. “It’s my first body of work with a beginning, a middle and an end, showing you every side of me: me as a fucked up kid, me as a dad, me as a son, me as a lost person, me as a person who’s found myself.”
It has a mighty 26 tracks, including eight brief “skits”, and includes his young daughter in the cast list. He’s funny when he talks about her. It was her third birthday the day before we meet, and he and his other half took her to London Zoo. “She lost her balloon and screamed so loud, all the tigers ran into their enclosure.” But on his new song Blood, which mixes skittering rave beats with emotional sung vocals, he details her traumatic birth. “My missus had pre-eclampsia. She was in a coma for three days. I thought I was gonna be a single dad,” he tells me.
Now, the joy has far outweighed the initial pain. “She’s such a blessing. As soon as she came into the world, my music career started to blossom. But obviously the flipside of it is being all over the place, so I miss a lot of time with her.” Doe she know what daddy does for a living? “Nah, all she’s into is balloons. If you’ve got a balloon, you’re in. It’s very simple.”
Elsewhere on his record, he talks about his difficult relationship with his father, who passed away not long ago. “I buried my dad the day I started Craig David’s tour. Buried him, got on this tour bus in Stratford and hit the road. Mixed emotions,” he says. It’s no wonder kids turn to him for advice, even if it is delivered in fun. He’s lived a lot, and faced health problems of his own too. In 2012, he was hospitalised for several months with a collapsed lung and a swollen heart. “While I was in hospital, my Uncle Pain videos started getting a following. When I came out I had a real big buzz. People were enjoying my music and my personality. So I started running with it.”
I ask if he could leave music behind and just be a TV celebrity – presumably it pays better? “Nah, My passion is music. That’s where my heart is, it’s how I express myself, it’s what I love. I wanna be a Rolling Stone, doing a tour with my gas chamber.” After a splutter of surprise I realise he means an oxygen tank.
He knows he won’t become as big as Ed Sheeran, but at least they’re good mates. Sheeran appears on his punchy song Hello Hi 2, not singing one of his soppy choruses but delivering a surprisingly quickfire rap. “I was songwriting at his house, doing some work with Fuse ODG for Major Lazer,” says Narstie. “I was like, ‘Bruv, I want something for my album, and I don’t want your normal shit. I want you out of your comfort zone. I want you spraying, you get me?’ I went away, went for a swim in his pool, used his spa, and then boom! In an hour and a half he had written his verse. He’s a good rapper, innit? He comes up there.”
Sheeran is one of his daughter’s godparents. I jokingly suggest that it was an excellent choice because she’ll definitely get awesome presents, but he switches to serious again: “Nah man. I’m genuine. I know that if anything happens to me, she’ll always be all right with him.”
Mixed emotions indeed. There’s more to Big Narstie than the considerable amount that meets the eye. When he makes his big musical statement this summer, those who might think he’s just a comedy weatherman should realise it too.
Big Narstie’s new single, Woah, is out now. The album BDL Bipolar is released on July 6 on Dice Recordings.