The Covid-19 crisis has birthed a new wave of virtual sound clashes. One of those battles, on the 5th of April, involved afroswing group NSG and solo act Afro B. As the clash escalated, the focus shifted towards fans debating who holds the title of the UK's best group.
NSG, comprised of members Kruddz, Mojo, OGD, Dope, Abz and Mxjib, have no doubt who takes the top spot. "I'm gonna confidently say that we're the best group in the UK," says Abz over the phone, with Dope adding: "We're the best, full stop. There's no one better than us." The claim is far from baseless. Since releasing debut track "Whine & Cotch" in December of 2013, the self-described "world music" crew's popularity has skyrocketed – upgrading from university raves to jumping on stage mid-way through Drake's 2019 O2 Arena show. They regularly chart, too: the group's two biggest hits, "Options" and "OT Bop", have a combined total of 33 weeks in the charts, while their YouTube views clock up 100 million.
Labels have shown an interest in NSG, but the group has remained independent, aware of the value of doing things their own way. Dope says: "We're not into all the label stuff. We're not trying to sign a single deal, we're trying to remain as independent as possible."
NSG's ascent began when they dropped "Yo Darlin" in June of 2017, which became UK music video channel GRM Daily's fifth most-viewed video ever. The track also represents the moment NSG grew into their sound. "We are the club, we are the dance, and 'Yo Darlin' was definitely the starting point for that," says Abz.
Two members, OGD and Kruddz, are the brothers of production wizard JAE5. The lauded UK producer is best known for his work with J Hus, but he’s also responsible for most of NSG’s club and dance-ready production so far. His process has instilled the idea of quality control in the group.
"JAE5 is the type of guy who knows what's good," says Dope. "When it comes to music, he's been doing it for years. It’s a thing where, whenever we make a bad tune, he doesn't feel any way to tell us it’s bad." NSG are also growing their own in-house team of producers; OGD is part of a production collective called 4Play, who produced 2019 smash single "OT Bop", while Mojo is also readying himself as a beat-maker.
But producing great music is only half the battle. Successfully marketing the tune is often what makes the difference between a "slept-on" artist and a bonafide star – something NSG know very well. They've cooked up their own process for garnering song plays, using social media comment sections to their advantage.
When "OT Bop" was released in 2019, NSG began posting on well known meme pages like ImJustBait, youngkingstv and urbantv. The hand-to-keyboard marketing technique wasn't planned – "We were just at home, bored, just chatting a lot on social media," says Dope – but it caught on. Bolstered by a bright, vibey music video, which picked up 14 million views, "OT Bop" became a UK Top 20 single.
NSG used a similar marketing technique for UK top ten single "Options". With the added – and now classic formula – of getting fans to post a video of themselves dancing to the song on social media, it blew up. "One of the biggest 'Options' videos was of five grandparents dancing to the song at Christmas," says Abz, with Mojo adding, "It's a big thing for us to interact with everyone, it makes everyone feel more connected and more comfortable supporting us."
After those two UK Top 20 singles, follow up tunes "Ourself" and "Trust Issues" also both broke the UK Top 50. In a world where many artists have one big hit, sign a single deal and then fade into irrelevancy, rolling out four consecutive Top 50s independently shows a promise of longevity to NSG's music.
With a mixtape on the horizon – and the release of their new single "Porsche" tomorrow – NSG have set a high bar for themselves, but they're confident they're going to continue to hit it. As Mojo says: "We're about to make the life of a DJ so easy. All you gotta do is get there, slap on NSG and you don't even need to mix, just keep it going on rotation."