Niko Bellic. A name familiar to GTA fans and Tik Toking teens alike. Niko B, the stage name that he’s now known by, probably due to fears of litigation from his Eastern European namesake, is a nineteen-year-old rapper from Milton Keynes. Real name Tom Austin, he released his first single, Mary Berry in August of last year and returned with his follow up, Who’s That What’s That in May and it’s even bigger than his debut.
What stands out about Niko B is his just do it attitude, unapologetic sense of self and comedy. He raps about the everyday, saying “copped a Big Mac / Milkshake and some large fries / It cost £4.50 / Take the gherkin out of the inside”, in a decidedly blunt fashion. This, coupled with his videos, gives him a distinctive British quality, which is emphasised by his previous reference to The Great British Bake Off star, Mary Berry.
Who’s That What’s That currently sits at #26 in the Official Charts, thanks to the luck that Austin has created, his connections in the fashion industry and the backing of social media heavyweights, Imjustbait and Abdi TV on their record label, We Are BLK. The movement seems to be working!
However, it’s not the first time that I’ve seen this type of expression appeal to Brits. Who’s that? Two of his predecessors, Jimothy and The Streets, were able to pave this lane for the Tom Austin’s of this world. What’s that? The lane that I like to call DIY rap; the English way. A brief history:
I first came across Jimothy with the release of his single Getting Busy in 2018. The positive lyrics about making one’s schedule busy, the stunts in his video, like hopping onto the back of a train and the hypnotic beat, ensured that I had the song on repeat.
Like all of these artists, Jimothy took the everyday and made it into something wavey. The mundanities in his lyrics are what makes them so funny. However, there is genius and wisdom in his writing.
He insists that he’s just doing his own thing and his music is not a joke, as you can see from the consistency and effort that he puts into his art. So, although it seems funny, it takes great confidence and a degree of self-acceptance.
In an interview with the Guardian last year, he said that his “music came out of shyness, having a bad time at school”. As a dyslexic, he went to a special needs school, inadvertently providing him with the courage to do his own thing, away from the mainstream and influenced by graffiti culture and private school kids. This upbringing explains his creativity and he seems determined to show himself what he’s capable of.
This is why it’s weirdly inspiring to see a young man, in cords, a tucked in shirt and a jumper, dancing in the street.
The street? I meant The Streets. The legendary project led by Mike Skinner. The project that led to the popularisation of this form of expression.
Started by Mike Skinner, an average bloke raised in Brimingham but residing in Brixton, they rose to prominence after the release of the classic debut album, Original Pirate Material in 2002.
It represented the London party culture at the time, as well as life for a typical young person. However, what made the album stand out, was how British it was. Skinner rapped about things that the listener could relate to, often in a cockney accent with the latest slang and in an unconventional, natural, spoken word style.
Like Niko B and Jimothy, he saw what everyone else was doing but decided to do it his own way regardless, making his own beats and writing the lyrics to his first album in the lingerie department at Marks & Spencer.
The Streets have made some of the most poignant music of the century, commentating on British society and their place in British music history has been solidified with the release of another classic album, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, in 2004.
So, the question remains. Can Niko B or Jimothy reach the heights of The Streets and their chart success? Or will there be others who take this genre further?
I decided to give it a go myself. I used the tools at my disposal and I present to you, my very own DIY rap song: