Wordplay Magazine: ‘Nev’ First Interview
Nev founded and still runs Wordplay, a physical magazine and online platform that has been going since 2002, consistently covering various aspects of hip hop culture in the UK and beyond. But not too much is known about the man behind the brand so I thought we should get to know him better…
1. As far as I’m aware, and I googled you, you haven’t ever done an interview. How come?
Firstly, I’m not comfortable being centre of attention so I’ve always made my excuses to avoid them, I guess as I get older I’m more confident in my craft and knowledge after so long, plus – how can I turn down Sektion Red.
Mainly though, my roots are in graffiti so being the face of our product was always something to avoid. What I love about graffiti is new names will pop up all city, you know nothing about the person behind the name you know so well, their letter style, colour schemes, which crews they represent. I’ve always installed the same idea into the magazine, Wordplay is our tag.
U .K. Graffiti at the time had a few magazines dedicated to the scene. Graphotism was £15 an issue, although it was pretty much a book a nd the quality was next level it was expensive. Bomb Alert, dedicated to trains and damage was great but only came out once every few years. Hold No Hostage was a personal favourite but again sporadic releases.
I’d just finished Uni, graduating from a Graphic Design degree and wanted to get into something creative straight away. Finding anything in the creative industry is tough so whilst working shifts at Toy ‘R’ Us (ironic) I started collecting photos from the various writers I’d link with around the country. My house mates at the time were on similar courses so helped me compile everything into a magazine and set it up for print.
The plan was only to distribute locally in our city but as we travelled to paint almost every weekend the mags spread far.
3. Most magazines, labels, clothing brands and other businesses in hip hop don’t last this long, it’s tough. You’ve been going since 2002, what advice would you give about ensuring longevity in the game?
This is going to sound cliche but you have to have passion for what you’re doing. If any successful company saw our business model they would have sacked it in years ago haha.
I’ve always made sure Wordplay doesn’t lose money and that we cover our costs. A labour of love would still die if it was draining you financially but Wordplay honestly hasn’t made us anything over the years. It really is tough, I’ve nearly closed it down several times but there’s always something pulling me back. It’s my life now and it’s given me so much more than money ever could, I’m proud to say we’re a part of the music scene in the U.K. and that we have built a platform that is valued. We’ve helped lift artists careers, pushed music and art to thousands of people that would never have been reached.
We’re a family behind the mag, people come and go, some have mad success after Wordplay, others decide they never want to hear anyone spit bars again haha, but we work well together and have the same mission. We all still get hyped when we manage to reach certain artists for an interview and constant try to lift the bar each time with who we reach out to.
It’s that energy from the team that keeps us going.
4. Which interviews stick out from the many issues over the years, and have you ever been really surprised with an artists answers?
Ahhh there are so many!
It’s always the interviews with larger artists that cause us the biggest ball ache and therefore the ones that stand out, the main hurdle here tends to be the PR and managers in charge. Once you are through all the bullshit the artists are normally fine.
Action Bronson was a standout interview and shoot, we met him at his hotel room in Shoreditch, I remember him buzzing that his room number was 420. It was a chilled interview, we had a couple of hours with him, talking graffiti, old music videos and of course food. He just had so much time for us and wanted us to show him the good food spots in East London.
Not linking to Bronson at all but Ghostface was another great interview. We’re a small independent magazine, so we’re used to being at the back of the queue when it comes to high profile interviews. With Ghost we sat behind The Guardian, fucking Asos magazine and various other twatty journalists asking loaded buzzword questions. By the time our turn arrived, they had overrun so we had ten minutes for a full-on cover shoot and interview. After introductions and the cover shot was nailed (shouts to Nick Caro), Ghost recognised what Wordplay was about and invited the team back to his room after the show to complete the piece. Katrina our interviewer smashed it, they got on really well and we got a great cover piece discussing converting to Islam, spirituality and balancing his faith with music. He really went in-depth, this was seven years ago too so at the time it was a first for anyone to get so close on this subject.
It’s not always just the larger US names though, we do this to support the culture in the U.K so meeting up with those that are building something here is always special. Our time seems to be appreciated more in the U.K, we’re not queueing in line with dry newspapers looking for click-bait pieces so we actually have time to work with the artist and create something. There are too many to mention but meeting Chester P at his Mum’s house on the Highbury Estate was a special one, we did a cover piece on Taskforce and the launch of Real Talk Records so for the shoot and interview to be where he grew up made it all that more poignant.
So it’s nice to say we’ve worked with, rather than just interviewed most of the stalwarts in the U.K scene and will continue with future pioneers.
5. Yeah, that’s an important distinction to make, to be working together rather than just interviewing. I feel the same way regarding how Sektion Red collaborates with musicians. Are the artists you choose to work with based on who you like personally, public demand, or a combination?
Everything we do is run by the team as a whole and we discuss whether it’s a good fit for Wordplay. I’ve always tried to avoid personal taste when it comes to what we cover. I believe we should be covering Hip Hop and what is relevant at the time crossed with an artist that has something to say. For example, if we were offered time with Nicki Minaj I’m pretty sure most of the team would vote no, but she could make a great interview, she is part of the scene and I doubt she gets interviewed by someone with the culture in mind. I always vote yes, get the interview in and then decide whether we can publish it.
There are so many elements to deciphering what makes the printed copy each issue. As well as lining up time-sensitive pieces with advertising or seasonal releases we have to be as diverse as possible. A few years back due to the lack of press release coverage, it was difficult to find a female artist every issue, luckily these days there are so many strong females getting the props they deserve the difficulty is choosing who to include in limited space. Also, and it’s a difficult conversation but in light of recent events, I’m a white guy running a magazine covering a culture of black origin. I’ve always said we are a team and as much as I am the main driving force behind Wordplay all decisions go to the wider group, without the team Wordplay is nothing. We are from many backgrounds, live in different cities across the UK and I feel we’re well placed to represent a culture we love. I’m very aware that the culture in the UK is delicate, it is so easily diluted with poisonous intentions that aren’t true to Hip Hop.
6. So for all of us lockdown has been completely different, bringing some negative and positives with it, but how has the covid-19 pandemic affected Wordplay? What have you been working on to remain productive?
At the beginning of the year, we got together as a team and made a plan to ramp things up at Wordplay by producing a quarterly printed magazine. We’ve never managed to do this before so put together a solid plan and wrapped everything up by March ready for print. The week we finished everything went into lockdown, we could print but no stores were open so we had nowhere to distribute. It was wounding!
Obviously sitting on content for another 3 months means it would be out of date so we decided to release the mag as a PDF download for £3 with all proceeds going to The NHS Hero Support. The plan now is to refresh any outdated articles and add some exclusive content ready to print as soon as we can.
To keep busy we set up some live streams with performing artists pushing the new digital magazine. It was decent and was supported by Kofi Stone, Harleighblu, Jaz Karis, Res One, Fliptrix, Gardna and loads of others. We did a show every night for a month.
7. Ahh man what terrible timing! It messed up a lot of plans for all of us, so at least we’re all in this together! On a personal level though, how have you been getting on in this crazy time?
Yeah everyone will reset and have more energy when things open up. Gigs and festivals in 2021 are going to be next level!
On a personal note, I struggled at first, my anxiety was through the roof! There were so many negative things happening all at once, it was literally bad news daily from disease to political ignorance, then losing Black the Ripper, Metropolis and TY. The trouble is when you’re isolating, social media becomes your window to the outside world and this is all you hear, constantly. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was agoraphobia but it’s the first time I’ve felt like this as I’m sure many others have been feeling the same.
It took a few weeks to adapt but there have been many positives to come out of this whole situation. I tend to run in high gear all the time, sleep very little and can’t sit still for long. This has forced me to slow down and focus, I’ve got a routine and dare I say better time management, I even managed seven hours sleep the other day!
The BLM movement is incredible too, as much as it is airing some dark stories and exposing things most people don’t want to hear, this is the only way to eradicate the problem.
8. I’m sure a lot of people can relate, everything is uncertain right now and it’s even more difficult than usual to predict exactly what the future will look like. Looking forward do you expect Wordplay to still be here for another 18 years and what would you like to achieve with Wordplay looking ahead?
I can’t imagine Wordplay not being in my life so I fully expect us to be around in another 18 years. I strongly doubt it will be as a physical magazine, unfortunately. I might be wrong but it’s difficult raising enough advertising support every issue to cover print and distribution costs, as much as I love the whole process of print and producing something physical.
We will adapt and move with the times as we always have done. As long as we’re all still enjoying it then we’ll continue.
As far as what I would like Wordplay to achieve, I’d like to streamline our process to be regular and more efficient. I would also like to be more involved in music creation, actually produce our own content to push whilst supporting the scene we love.
Interview by Oliver Whitehouse
Check out the Wordplay Magazine website and follow them on insta @wordplaymag