Nemzzz, UK rap’s hardest-working new star

All eyes are on Nemzzz right now. At NME’s Cover photoshoot, the Manchester rapper levels a razor-edged stare at the camera. He’s wearing a brightly-coloured coat, blue and white BAPE sneakers and denim jeans, looking like a human-sized, wrapped-up Christmas present. It is gift-giving season, in a way: we meet during the release week for Nemzzz’s debut project, ‘Do Not Disturb’. He remains chill and casual, posing as photographers, producers and publicists move around the set. To all of us here, Nemzzz is the nucleus of the photoshoot.

Nemzzz on The Cover of NME (2024), photo by Jamie Salmons
Nemzzz on The Cover of NME. Credit: Jamie Salmons for NME

Similarly, the 19-year-old is at the centre of a new chill-rap wave brewing in the north of England and connecting on a global scale. His debut EP ‘Nemzzz Type Beat’ was delivered within 12 days and warmly received in May 2023. He’s since developed a sonic signature, a Nemzzz type beat, if you will: an altered vocal sample (or a brooding voicemail), reverberating 808 spins, glowing synths and hi-hats which jump out of the mix like firecrackers. Case in point: on the EP’s self-titled intro, Nemzzz’s ice-cold flow glides across the production, the rapper rueing the moments his card declined on garms, Uber rides and 3.5s before revealing these days he won’t sign “for a million pound.”

In the following months, Nemzzz (born Nemiah Simms) released the viral tunes ‘Elevate’ and ‘2Ms’, collaborating with the likes of Rimzee, M1onTheBeat, and Knucks. He made his Glastonbury debut last June, while his ‘8AM In Manny’ freestyle has collected over three million views on his YouTube, receiving co-signs from Drake and Central Cee in the process. The internet can make rappers and also break them: it’s a cautionary tale of flying too close to the sun. However, Nemzzz seems to have separated himself from the filler, ensuring his fingerprints are left all over UK rap’s trends.

“I really started to deep my value as an artist: if you really want me, you should add more zeroes”

He’s had a run of singles that’s like the personification of the Bridgit Mendler meme – quickly hitting dozens of career milestones with effortless flair. Nemzzz’s consistent presence in the scene has also dispelled any ‘one trick pony’ allegations that can dampen a rising artist’s career. He’s secured millions of streams from a large, vocal fanbase, endless TikTok comments of support, and has hosted sold-out mixtape signings across the country: young fans are eager, clearly, for their chance to connect with their favourite new rapper IRL.

Born and raised in Gorton, a stone’s throw away from Manchester city centre, Nemzzz grew up in a working-class, close-knit community. “Everyone knows everyone in Gorton and it may not be that welcoming to others who don’t live there sometimes but when you grow up there, it’s home.” He’s speaking to NME after the shoot has ended, having changed into a black-and-red hoodie – which slyly covers a bit of his face – and a pair of peppermint sweet-like Balenciaga trainers.

Nemzzz (2024), photo by Jamie Salmons
Credit: Jamie Salmons for NME

Nemzzz has been in London “making motion” for the past two days and needs to catch one of the last trains to Manchester to return home: “It’s not easier to blow in London, it’s just more advantageous. That’s why in Manchester, you have to really want it because you have a lot more to prove.”

Though he originally aspired to be a footballer, Nemzzz grew up in a big musical family: as a child, he watched his mother and uncle produce beats “ranging from reggae to soul” while his aunties sang. One day, after listening to his cousins rap together, he decided to try it out when he wasn’t practising keepie-uppies. For him, writing became a therapeutic escape from repetitive, everyday life as a young teen. All of this would lay the groundwork for a meteoric rise.

“There’s bare pressure on the youth to ‘have made it’, especially with social media, but it’s not real life”

With the potential to become Manchester rap royalty, Nemzzz knows his lineage: Bugzy Malone’s harrowing street stories, the suave pop-rap cheekiness of Aitch and the ferocious road rap adventures of Tunde. “It was more motivation than anything, seeing them make their wave when I was starting out,” he says. “Manchester builds you differently. I listen to youngsters too like Slimz and Zeddy, they’re all cold with something to say.”

You’re likely to hear Nemzzz’s songs blasting from the speakers of a car cruising down the motorway or during a primetime BBC Radio 1Xtra slot – a sharp contrast from the council flats of Gorton. But he knows the music game is just a game, after all. “I try not to feel the pressure. I see a lot of things but I don’t let it get to me,” he says. “I used to [feel overwhelmed] back in the day but I got my own path. You can blow up from one song and you could take 10 years – either way, we’re getting there eventually.”

Nemzzz (2024), photo by Jamie Salmons
Credit: Jamie Salmons for NME

When Nemzzz released his ‘Do Not Disturb’ project last month, the collection hit Number 17 on the UK Official Albums chart. It was largely produced by Zel [Fivio Foreign, Headie One], whom Nemzzz met in a writing camp and bonded with due to the pair “being the same age and having similar personalities”. He describes an easygoing collaboration: “Zel will send a beat, I’ll give notes and we just bounce off each other’s ideas like that in the studio. Also, there’s no ego. We can feel free to not like something, it’s refreshing.”

On ‘Do Not Disturb’, Zel provides subtle yet cohesive backdrops, allowing Nemzzz’s calm flow to be the centrepiece of the project. Days after dropping the 11-track tape, Nemzzz unleashed the deluxe version in a quick one-two combo; the release further demonstrates his star power, with guest features from UK rap mainstays K-Trap and Headie One, plus Atlanta’s very own Lil Yachty. “It’s all relationship-based at the end of the day, supporting each other,” Nemzzz says of his collaborators. “Like me and Headie One linked after following each other, he asked me to slide through one of his music videos and then we started working on music.”

Nemzzz (2024), photo by Jamie Salmons
Credit: Jamie Salmons for NME

He continues: “I like to work with rappers I really know on an organic level rather than paying for a feature from ‘XYZ.’ We ain’t even close like that, they won’t even post the track on their socials.”

Nemzzz exists in an industry where rappers are encouraged to seek industry deals to generate revenue before they’re no longer the man of the hour. But he’s defying that expectation, signing a deal under ADA UK, Warner Music Group’s independent distribution arm, meaning he’s self-releasing his music and owning his masters in exchange for industry-backed label services. “I’m clued up on signing a deal – the pros and cons,” he says.

An independent artist since the start of his career, Nemzzz has long known his worth. “I remember talking to a label about a price and without hesitation, they offered it. And I really started to deep my value as an artist: if you really want me, you should add more zeroes.”

“In Manchester, you have to really want it because you have a lot more to prove”

Money, social status, fleeting relationships, the ouroboros of social media’s dopamine cycle: these can feel like life-and-death matters when you’re on the cusp of early adulthood. Nemzzz is frank about the intensity of being an in-demand artist: “There’s bare pressure on the youth to ‘have made it’, especially with social media, but it’s not real life. You gotta have good people around you, go to the gym, eat good food. [Fitness influencer] Eddie Abbew got me eating four eggs a day, no seasoning,” he says. “Even being present, looking someone in the eye while you’re talking can boost what you’re saying.”

Understanding these anxieties because he’s experienced them himself, Nemzzz is learning to cope with having to grow up quickly. When NME asks how he unwinds from his work commitments – having to be a musician by day and social media figure by night – he responds sincerely: “I read books. It can open your mind, motivate you and [help you] understand things.” He hits a vape in between sentences: “I was reading this book about the Motivation Manifesto on how to be free, break from the matrix.”

A headstrong, ambitious artist with the aura of the CEO of the friendship group, Nemzzz is spearheading a new era in UK rap while retaining that decades-old Mancunian grit. Before the interview draws to a close and we exchange goodbyes, Nemzzz talks about his future plans, including the ‘Do Not Disturb’ UK tour in May and a potential trip to Japan in the summer. “I’ve always wanted to go. I used to watch the Japanese-dubbed Dragon Ball Z as a kid,” he says. “After this tour, I wanna relax a lil’ bit, see some new experiences and then log off. DND – it’s a lifestyle, bro.” Even when the camera is off, Nemzzz remains the same.

Nemzzz’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ (deluxe) is out now

Listen to Nemzzz’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music

Writer: Ethan Herlock
Photography: Jamie Salmons
Styling: Daryon Impey
Styling Assistant: Art Ónéill
Grooming: Freya Paxton

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