It was a long time in the incubator, but trap god RL Grime‘s NOVA LP is finally out in the world. It represents a shift in the producer’s sound. He’s still dark, moody and fond of the 808, but he also brings a certain pop sensibility, a kind of bedroom-y R&B groove. He got in the studio with some big names, from Miguel and Jeremih to Chief Keef and Tory Lanez. It’s a big moment for the L.A. producer, and it introduces him to a whole new world. It’s already given him his biggest hit. “I Wanna Know,” featuring Daya, which landed at No. 19 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart.
Of course, when someone puts as much time and energy into an album as Grime did NOVA, there’s a story to be told. Billboard Dance got the full scoop from RL Grime direct. Learn the ins-and-outs of NOVA from start to finish with this track-by-track breakdown below.
This was one of the last songs I finished for the album, and it kind of fell into place as the perfect opener for NOVA. It represents the goals of this album, the full arch from gentle to colossal. Also, the vocal I referenced says “I won’t be afraid” which is definitely a motif for this record and sort of a mantra I’ve leaned on when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
“Shrine” Feat. Freya Ridings
This is one of the oldest songs on the album. I made the initial demo idea back in 2015. I had been playing the instrumental in my festivals sets, and it always felt special to me, but I knew it needed a voice to give it some character. Freya has this deep, powerful voice that ended up being a perfect foil to the production which is a bit brighter.
“Light Me Up” Feat. Miguel & Julia Michaels
This song originated from a demo Wes played me last year. It was an old Jack U session that they had shelved, but when I heard it I knew exactly how I wanted to approach it. Julia is an absolute titan, and I have always loved working with Miguel, so the recording process was very natural. I wanted this record to be one of the lighter moments on the album, something that feels like summer and being in outside in nature.
“Undo” Feat. Jeremih & Tory Lanez
Jeremih has been a close collaborator with WEDIDIT, and is one of the most impressive writers I know. He sent me this hook idea, and the rest of the song fell into place. I’ve known Tory for years. We worked together on the Cruel Intentions EP back in 2015, and he felt like the right melodic pairing. It was really important for me to continue relationships I had started in the past, because I wanted this album to not only help illustrate where I’m going, but where I’ve come from.
“Take It Away” Feat. Ty Dolla $ign & TK Kravitz
I wrote the demo for this song while I was in Rio, Brazil. I had a week off in between festivals, and there were these massive political protests going on at night outside of our hotel, and we were advised to stay inside for most of the stay. I was cooped up in a hotel room for days and was starting to go a bit crazy. The song started from that lead synth sound you hear at the beginning, and as the song was built, I wanted it to have this dark, brooding feeling to it. I have a lot of respect for Ty and TK for stepping out of their comfort zone and being open to working on a record like this.
“OMG” Feat. Joji & Chief Keef
I had been looking for the right record to work on with Sosa, and had a few ideas going into our first session. Sosa came in and picked a demo that I never expected him to, and laid it down in one session. He walked in with a backwood in his mouth, went straight into the booth and cut the record front to back. Truly one of the quickest and most versatile writers I’ve ever been in a room with. A few weeks later, I linked with Joji and we knocked out the rest. Since then, Joji and I been making a bunch more music together. He’s one of the most down to Earth and genuine people I know. He took a full left turn in his career and pursued what he’s passionate about. I relate to that and admire him for that.
This song was also written on tour, alone in a hotel room. It became an important part of the album for me, as it showcases a lot of the early inspirations I drew on when I started, such as 2-step, garage, etc. It feels dark but still has a warmth to it; something to close your eyes and just get lost in.
The first song officially released off NOVA and still one of my personal favorites. There is a beautiful cathedral in Reims, France, that I love, and it has these super complex and intricate stained glass windows. I was trying to imagine what it would sound like in there, seeing light flow through those windows; gothic, powerful and revelatory.
This was one of the last songs I finished for the album, and I think it came from a place of, for lack of a better word, pressure. The album process can be very unnerving and frustrating. Sitting on so many songs, people asking what’s going on, a million different opinions, etc. I like to think this song was me channeling that emotion. I wrote this demo and had Alex (Boys Noize) recorded some sounds on his analog gear for me to use. He is an absolute wizard, and I have always admired his approach to music.
The whole intro/build section for this song was made very shortly after I saw Mad Max . I had that visual in my head of these fire breathing cars barreling across a vast desert. Maybe it’s that I can’t separate the film from the song, but there is something dystopic and jarring about this record. (It’s) pure chaos.
“Run For Your Life”
It was important for me to find a way to bridge the dark gritty-ness of “Era” and the radiance of “I Wanna Know.” I wanted it to have a sense of urgency, but still feel like a deep breath in the middle of the album.
“I Wanna Know” Feat. Daya
This was (my) first real experience diving head first into a more collaborative songwriting process. It was brand new territory for me, as I had generally only been comfortable on the production side. Daya is a true talent, and I really feel like no one could have performed this song better than she did. It was important for me to have this be one of the singles, to firmly plant my feet and show people that I was venturing into new territory. I’m very proud of how this one turned out.
“UCLA” Feat. 24hrs
I wrote the demo for this one on guitar with my friend Dan Nigro. As I produced it out, I wanted to keep that organic guitar/rock/pop punk feel, but try and have it still fit the vibe of NOVA. I linked with 24 a couple years ago and have been passing ideas back and forth since. I had a vocal from him that was weirdly working perfectly over this guitar demo. I love that there are inspirations from rock, to rap, to dance music all tied up into one song. I also grew up down the street from UCLA, and loved the idea of having some kind of reference to my hometown on the album.
I wrote this on a rainy afternoon. Maybe it’s because of how rarely it rains in L.A., but something about the mix of the dark skies and the ambient sounds of rainfall always feels like this organic source of inspiration to me. I was thinking about one of the last scenes in Interstellar, and what it would feel like to fall through space, surrounded by total stillness until the moment you break into the atmosphere, and all the sounds emerge into chaos.
“Atoms” Feat. Jeremy Zucker
This is the indulgent emo ballad I’ve always wanted to write. The challenge for me was figuring out how to make it fit sonically with the album. Growing up, I was immensely inspired by bands like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and I’ve been interested in finding ways to implement post-rock ideas into my music. In this case, it meant recording ultra-washed out live guitars and adding layers of textures. Even structure-wise, having the whole song build into one huge crescendo. For me, this song is about the feeling of losing someone – not even necessarily in a romantic sense – and all the regrets and guilt that come along with that experience, but ultimately the acceptance of that loss.