On the Rise: NOVA on her incredible year

In the wake of her SAY Award victory and ahead of a performance at this year's virtual SAMAs ceremony, we chat to Scottish hip-hop's fastest rising star, NOVA

Feature by Nadia Younes | 02 Nov 2020
  • NOVA

Shaheeda Sinckler could never be described as a one trick pony. On top of her already established presence within Scotland’s music scene as a DJ, producer and rapper, throughout lockdown she's also added video director, costume designer and part-time baker to her never-ending list of talents. Even as we sit down to catch up with her about her year over Zoom, she’s just been honing another new skill. “I just roasted a pumpkin – very October,” she says.

Since releasing her debut album as NOVA, RE-UP, at the start of the year – the follow-up to her 2019 mixtape Risin’ Up – Sinckler hasn’t let the global pandemic stop her from continuing to build momentum on her career. “As soon as lockdown hit that's when I started working on getting Status Quo ready for release, because I recorded, produced and mixed it myself,” she says. “I got that out and then I had to finish the college course that I was studying at the time… And then I was working on the Status Quo video, so I've always had something still going on.”

While RE-UP did have its melodic moments, Sinckler’s latest single, Status Quo, takes a much more definite turn towards a more pop-focused sound. Featuring a beat by her friend Yesha – who also assisted in the creative direction, styling, camera work and editing for the track’s accompanying video – Status Quo is the most radio-ready track Sinckler has released to date, but that’s not to say she scrimps lyrically. On it, she tackles the current political and societal chaos seen locally and globally, as a result of capitalism, racial tensions, the mishandling of Coronavirus measures and much more.

Sinckler’s non-stop attitude has undoubtedly had a huge impact on her rapid rise in the last year. Her rise has been so great, in fact, that it’s seen RE-UP shortlisted for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award, which she describes with a massive smile on her face as the “best news ever.” Nominated alongside the likes of Bossy Love, Cloth and SHHE, being a fan and champion of new Scottish music she is particularly excited to see so many debut albums on this year’s shortlist. “I think there's eight debut albums on the shortlist as well, so almost all of them are our first albums, which is really nice,” she says.

[In the time between this interview taking place and its publication, NOVA won the 2020 Scottish Album of the Year. We caught up with NOVA to get her reaction to her SAY Award victory – click here for the full story on this year's SAY Award.]

Her passion for championing young Scottish artists has even led to her being asked to be a nominator for the Best Hip-Hop category at this year’s Scottish Alternative Music Awards, having been nominated in the category herself just last year. “When I first got asked I was super excited… because it feels like you can make a difference,” she says, “in terms of representation and equality and stuff.” In order to select this year’s nominees, Sinckler worked alongside two other nominators – hip-hop promoter Alana Hepburn, who Sinckler describes as being “really instrumental in hip-hop and rap in Scotland,” and Mobolaji Agoro, head of Glasgow-based creative collective FORIJ.

As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, however, this year’s SAMAs ceremony will be going virtual and will be streamed for free worldwide. It will feature two pre-recorded live sets from Scottish acts, one being Sinckler, who was glad to be able to pre-record her set in Glasgow studio Up 2 Standard, following a series of technical difficulties with live-streamed shows throughout the year. “They were tough… I just had a whole bunch of issues for different live events,” she says. “The last time it happened I was actually pretty upset… But I'm glad the industry has started doing these pre-recorded ones.”

Another way in which Sinckler has been able to channel her passion for championing up-and-coming Scottish artists is through her radio show The Litness Test, which she debuted on Glasgow-based community station Clyde Built Radio in May this year. Sinckler’s ties with the station’s manager Andrew Thomson go back several years, with one of her productions as Nova Scotia, I Dreamt, featuring on the Clyde Built 4.0 Compilation, released on Thomson’s label Huntleys + Palmers in 2018.

“I came up with the name [for the show] a couple of years ago... then I used that for a college project, and I ended up really liking what I'd come up with, so I was like, ‘you know what, I'm gonna upload this to Mixcloud, I'm gonna share this’,” she says. “And then, that exact day, Andrew [Thomson] sent me an email saying, ‘Hey, do you want to do a show on the radio?’”

The original concept for the show was based around showcasing “underground, experimental and ambient electronic music,” she says, but when Sinckler was given the opportunity to take the show onto Edinburgh-based station EH-FM, as part of a Clyde Built showcase, she decided to do something a bit different. “I did a Local Litness special and had all local artists that were mostly doing R'n'B and rap, which is obviously more similar to the music that I make, so that was really fun,” she says.

“It was really fulfilling and I think the artists that are featured enjoyed the process as well, and enjoyed being on my show and hearing my thoughts on it, so I think I might find a way to pursue that Local Litness special,” she continues. “I'm starting to get really interested in the younger artists as well, like the 18/19-year-olds, because they've got so much potential and they're so cool.”

Given how much she has achieved in the space of a year, it’s easy to forget that Sinckler is just one official album into her career as NOVA – and that’s just one facet of her musical persona. With lockdown providing Sinckler the additional time to really experiment with her creative (and culinary) skills, it feels as though her rise is just beginning.

NOVA’s Local Litness Test: Five artists to watch

Jayda (@itsmissterjay)
"Jayda is a young artist based in Edinburgh with their own unique style, which always shows an artist with potential. I discovered them at an open mic at The Bongo Club, then I had them on a special International Women's Day radio show on EH-FM last year. Look out for The Lotus Mixtape, which is out now. Jayda is also reppin' the non-binary peoples, which is great for diversity within the culture."

Nikhita (@__nikhita)
"Nikhita is another young artist based in Edinburgh who is more on the contemporary R'n'B and soul side of music. I found her through Instagram and got my hands on her demo for my recent Local Litness Special on EH-FM. She has an amazing voice AND she self-produces! Although I've not met her in real life, I feel super proud of her talent and I'm really looking forward to seeing where she takes her career."

CLING (@c.l.i.n.g)
"CLING is a young artist in Edinburgh reppin' the mandem. He's a fresh-faced, unapologetic rapper with plenty of style and wit. I first got to know him through a stint of volunteering with local diversity charity Intercultural Youth Scotland, then I studied alongside him at Edinburgh College last year. CLING & Kiko – the class troublemakers – teamed up on Too Versatile, a joint album released in October. I'd recommend checking that out if you want to learn more."

$am Brodie (@sam.brodie)
"$am Brodie is a melodic trap artist whose music I have recently become obsessed with. In particular, his tracks No Sleep and Tainted Love have been fully on repeat. On his album, Leone, some of his tracks have a pop-y feel and he just has a really cool style. He's got a cute music video for his track Ask Anybody, which is a collab with LOVEMENOT – press play on that to get to grips with his aesthetic."

Aiitee (@aiiteeofficial)
"Some people say this title belongs to a different artist, but to me Scotland's Beyoncé is Aiitee with no doubt. Her voice and lyrics convey so much emotion and depth, and there's a real maturity and richness to her music. Her latest release, Love Don't Fall, includes some pretty cool conceptual interludes and juxtaposes the male and female voice in urban music. Go stream it now."

Honourable mentions: Louis Seivwright, Alliyah Enyo, Lyrix Winters, Chelsea Keir

The virtual ceremony for the Scottish Alternative Music Awards will take place on 18 Nov