behind the lyrics: south london rapper nolay discusses abuse and addiction on netflix and pills
Nolay has been a key part of the grime scene since 2005's fiercely forceful Unorthodox Daughter, a track taken from 679 Records' seminal grime compilation, Run The Road. In a scene awash with testosterone, the intricate lyricist has more than held her...
In a musical landscape awash with (otherwise highly enjoyable) records about ballin' and bling, it's vital that voices like Nolay's are offering an alternative to the narrative, not just for entertainment, but, more crucially, education. Describing the track as "ugly", Netflix and Pills employs bleak imagery, numerous internal rhyme schemes and a mixture of metaphor and unflinching cold, hard truths that are at times difficult to listen to, as Nolay divulges her darkest demons, including rape, drug abuse, addiction and mental illness. "To be honest, I wasn't going to put it out at first," the South Londoner admits of taking the track from her inner mind to the infinite world of the internet. "I was spitting it back to myself afterwards and I thought 'This might be a bit too much'. But then I considered how much honest, raw, real music means to me. I get a lot of Facebook messages from people who reach out and tell me about their lives, from bullying to depression, maybe because they see me as a strong woman. So I thought, as much as they look at me as a strong figure, I want them to know that I've got problems too. Everyone has problems. It's hard out here. When I wrote Netflix and Pills I felt it was needed because people view me as such a strong figure and I need them to understand that I'm vulnerable too. Things happen to all of us."
Below, Nolay talks us through Netflix and Pills and explains the meaning behind the lyrics:
'I haven't smoked for five years, I just bought a box from the shop on the block, with a bottle of pop…'
I wrote this song sitting in my front room. This instrumental is from an intro to a mixtape by a rapper called Bones from LA. His music is very dark and melancholy. I had someone take it and stretch it for me. What I find hard at the moment with grime, in order to be deep I need to have the right production. If it's a skippy rave tune, it's hard to express yourself. I hear music like that and feel the need to go blind! So I need other beats like this to really get into and talk in the way that I talk on Netflix and Pills.
'It feels good just to bop with my empty socks, I used to fill them up with rocks that I stock for my pops/
Rushing home on my tod just to talk to God/
In all honesty I'm lonely so I do that a lot…'
I used to put rocks in my socks for my dad, basically, little crack rocks so that lines means that it feels good to walk with nothing inside my socks. My dad's passed now, he died in a mental hospital, but I think it was important for me to talk about his drug habit. Both because I know other people go through it with their parents, but also as a release for myself. Music's an outlet for me, it's pretty much therapy. And crack really devastated our community. When crack came over here, it was just everywhere. I can remember being in raves, at the back, by the speaker box and smelling it. All these young guys, they'd call it 'ting' back then, they'd roll it up in rizla and smoke it. But yeah I used to carry crack in my socks so it feels good to go the shops now, knowing that I'm not carrying anything. The opening lines are straightforward; I hadn't smoked for five years and then I felt really shitty so I bought a box of cigarettes. When I say 'pop' people think I mean a fizzy drink but I actually mean a bottle of wine, that's what I call it. I bought a bottle of wine and a packet of fags from the local shop.
'I talk to myself and the ghosts that appear, but I'm high off my melon and so they ain't even here/
22 beers, gin and Ciroc, forever airing these niggas that tryna give me the cock/
Cause I'm a lot of things my darling but I'm never a thot/
I pissed a lot of people off wearing coats that are fox/
And yeah I feel bad, I buy that shit when I'm sad, emotional spending on a couple of bags/
I'm like fuck it though and I smoke me a fag, every drag has got my lungs going black…'
Do you know what it is? I'd done some shows in Paris so I'd just been paid, and I went down to Covent Garden and there's this woman selling coats. It wasn't even the fact that it was real fur that made me want it; I just really liked how it looked. The woman stopped me and told me it was on sale and gave me all the chat. I bought a rabbit one and a fox one and I put it on my Insta. A lot of people were like 'Fuck it, it's a coat', but some people were angry about it. But then people walk around with Peruvian and Brazilian hair extensions and shop in places where they employ child labour; people tend to point fingers but don't look to themselves. I did feel bad though because I love animals. But I do shop when I'm sad, it's emotional spending. If you've got money in your hand, it makes you feel so good to shop, it cheers you up. It's a temporary fix, but it's still a fix nonetheless. A couple of bags is double entendre - bags in the obvious sense and then as in Cockney rhyming slang - bags of sand/ a grand. So I spent a couple of grand, basically.
'This hell grills my skin like a fucking kebab, my thoughts are noisy like the middle of Baghdad/
It's inevitable that crack will make man a bad dad, I kept my dad's crack pipe I know that it sounds mad/
It's half past die young live fast, big glass of whiskey put me straight on my arse/
Now I'm slightly suicidal but an idol to my rivals and I make your heart bleed like my uterus on its cycle, as my wave forms and rises like the tidal/
They did my brother greazy left him holy like a bible…'
When I said that line - This hell grills my skin like a fucking kebab - I actually pictured the donor kebab spinning on the pole in front of the grill. I literally meant that this, it's hell on earth. As for the second line, yeah I did keep my dad's pipe. A lot of my therapy is through my music. No matter what I've been through in life, when I've felt I've got nothing, I've always had my music. It's my outlet.
'My whole life is based on tactics of survival, marks on my body from beatings that look tribal/
I got a lot of demons but I'm still spraying at you pussy holes quicker than seaman/
Jump out of my sleep in the night time screaming, you don't wanna witness the evil, I stay dreaming/
I lost my virginity at 14 against my consent this nigga raped me, he was 20/
It wasn't gently, but life is a bitch, it's been for centuries…'
Women have been putting up with this shit probably since the beginning of time. I feel like a lot of women these days are scared to report molestation or rape or domestic violence. A lot of women don't want to come forward. For those people that listen to my music, they can find strength in me coming forward. Like I said, I did think about not releasing it, but then I thought, Who gives a fuck. Women are abused whether that's rape or mental of physical abuse. It happens all the time. The only way to combat that and to make women feel like it's alright to have a voice is through people like me who do have a voice. If you lay yourself bare, it can give people the courage to do the same. If I can tell thousands of people and not give a shit, then they can tell someone, just one person. Thousands of people know now and I don't care.
I don't care what people think of me, to be honest. I don't want to live a lie. My mum didn't know certain things, so I feel kinda bad… She messaged me the other day, we live kinda far away from each other, she asked me if what I'd said was true. I had told my mum certain things when I was younger, but she was at a point in her life where she was severely depressed because of certain situations with my father, so she can't remember a lot of things.
'I wish the devil would just leave me in peace/
I bleed tragedy and agony, it's like a disease and now these pills got me sinking like a shell in the sea/
And you some shallow motherfuckers, show me what's underneath/
The fake people will hear this song and judge me, but the real people will hear this song and love me/
You gotta capture the beauty in what is ugly, I swear the art in mistakes remains lovely…'
My favourite line in the whole song would have to be: You gotta capture the beauty in what is ugly. I swear the art in mistakes remains lovely. The fact that I put this song out and the content is very ugly, but the beauty that's come from me putting it out, in terms of the reception it's got, the new places that it's taken me, who I'm working with and what I'm doing right now, is very positive.Nasir Mazhar got in touch with me recently and he wants to work on me with all of my visuals, which is really exciting. I'm trying to stand alone, a bit like what Skepta is doing. He's in the scene but he's in his own lane. I'll still make Grime, but there's a lot of other stuff I want to make too. It can be quite shallow at times, our scene, I don't feel like there's a lot of reality driven music out there at the moment. I think the Grime scene needed Netflix and Pills.
'So let me lay the cards flat on the table/
It's all deep when your fella hangs himself with a cable/
And his mum throws herself off the roof of a tower block so the dad shoots himself in the head, it's a sour plot…'
I had a boyfriend from Manchester who was quite heavily doing drugs. I kind of knew but he kept it very well hidden, so I didn't realise how deep it was. His mum did a lot of prostitution and his father was quite heavily on the drugs too. When his mum took her life after he took his, I think that she felt like it was her fault that he hung himself, so she took her life. The father, I felt like that was coming anyway. He'd tried to commit suicide a few times, but when his wife and his son took their lives, that was it. He shot himself in the head. It was a very dark time.
'You rappers ain't worthy to underestimate my skills because I'm sicker than scurvy/
I spat poetry from early, hit them so hard that the impact turn their body topsy turvy/
Wordplay articulate witty I'm wordy/
Getting skinny in the middle like Birdy, top and lower curvy with a smile that's pearly/
And now I got your man in my DM's he's talking pervy/
I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot barge pole, he's an arsehole, a sell out minus the fucking barcode/
The whole scene know I bar cold and if they don't they soon will, pop me another pill…'
Seriously, I get a lot of disgusting DM's from guys. One guy asked me if I would snot in a tissue and send it to him. This other guy asked if I could send him my used knickers. I've had awful pictures sent to me. They can DM you on Instagram even if you don't follow them, so I'll just post the thing on Instagram and @ them so everyone sees, to teach them a lesson. They usually delete their accounts fast when I do that (laughs). I had one guy emailing my manager saying he'd pay £900 to eat me out. I think we're in a day and age where people just don't care. They're disgusting. I've tweeted about it and lots of girls said, 'Oh do it, take the money, send the snotty tissue', which just shows you the mentality. It's worrying.
'What don't kill you makes you stronger, but what makes me stronger kills me/
You ain't ready for the real me, if you're struggling to feel me/
Pretty brown eyes by the candle light, alcohol leave my body vandalised/
I lay there and I visualise my haters as these parasites/
Body moving with the rhythm of the wind at night, windows wide open and these moments make me feel alive (so alive)…'
When I wrote that, I was thinking about being a pretty mess. I'm sitting here high and pissed, the candles in the front room are lit. I'm sitting there, with my pretty brown eyes in the candlelight, but nevertheless I'm still feeling the way I feel, my body ruined by alcohol. Body moving with the rhythm of the wind at night: what I'm saying is my window is wide open, the breeze is blowing through and I'm dancing around the front room, very drunk.
'One step two step breathe and fall over as I look up at the ceiling and realise I ain't sober/
My brother finds me hugs me tighter than a Cobra, he don't view it as a weakness, he just sees me as a soldier…'
My brother has found me a couple of times. I'm very close with my brother, very, very tight. We've been through a stupid amount of stuff together, from being homeless, to our dad's addiction and mental illness. So we're close, and so when he sees my weaknesses, drinking quite a bit, or doing the odd drug here and there or starting smoking again, he doesn't look at me a way. That's what I love about my brother. I find some people are quite judgemental at times, and my brother's not like that, my brother knows and my brother's seen and he understands that I could be a lot worse. I might fall in a dark hole now and then, but I still do what I need to do. I still do my music and I still do my shows, I make the money I need to make. You've got to numb the pain sometimes. Music is an outlet.
'How I love some Netflix and pills/
Sex strip and thrill with C**** is ideal.'
The C****, yeah (laughs), it's not a swearword, it's a person's name. I'm not trying to put that out there though (laughs). They know who they are. I think with this track, it is what it is. I'm not gonna say that I'm not gonna get pissed again, or have another cry again, I'm quite an emotional person and that's where my art comes from, wearing my heart on my sleeve. What's to come after the track is going to be hopeful - working with Nasir Mazhar, my next grime EP which I'm dropping after Christmas - but this is a track to show that things can be really fucking bad. Hopefully after this, things get better and that can give people hope. Netflix and Pills is definitely a turning point for me, it's coming of age, it's also like 'Come at me then'. I hear a lot of spitters claiming to be real, but it's always about taking someone's head off. I like doing that too, everybody knows that, but sometimes you want to hear something that's real. One of my favourite artists is Casisdead because he's very real and open. I prefer artists like that because people don't always want to hear about how invincible you are. Sometimes they want to hear that you're flawed and that you have problems like everyone else. I find art in honesty.