Niko B, a.k.a. Tom Austin, is your not-so-average, average teen. He’s a dreamer. An achiever. A multi-hyphenate that’s a man of many skills, and a master of them all. From writing the hit “Who’s That What’s That,” his second-ever song and the one that landed him in the Top 40 Charts, to developing his own clothing line Crowd, the 19-year-old from Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes, is having a great time.
The musician’s biggest selling point is his relatability. Driving around Milton Keynes in his Seat Ibiza, riding around town on his recent purchase “a good bike, very red,” hitting up house parties with his friends (pre-lockdown, of course), scouring London’s vintage shops for niche pick-ups, such as the signed Gary Lineker football jersey that he’s very proud to own — it’s all very humble, and normal.
But being “normal” has played into Niko B’s favor. His first song, “Mary Berry” — an ode to The Great British Bake Off’s lovable co-host — was a viral success because it spoke to something the typical British kid, and family, know so well.
Niko B is on a fast rise. “Who’s That What’s That” was, arguably, one of summer’s anthems and has since been streamed over 20,000,000 times on Spotify. To understand more about the musician and how he makes his tracks, HYPEBEAST sat down with Niko B one sunny Friday afternoon at a cafe in East London, before heading off to a field to shoot some of his favorite garms. How very normal.
HYPEBEAST: You came onto the scene as a creative quite young with your brand Crowd. How did you get into that?
Niko B: Hello HYPEBEAST. Well, it all started when I was about 11, I wanted to be a WWE wrestler. Jeff Hardy was my favorite and he used to wear mad clothes with embroidery and sh*t on it, and I got my mom to make me bits. I gave her pink felt and a black long sleeve and she just cut out some felt in a weird way and stitched it on. I was like, “Yeah this is sick I’ve got my own costume.” A few years later I went on a holiday to Portugal and I wanted all of these skate clothes, I told my mom but she said, “Nah I ain’t getting you that it’s too expensive,” so I went to Primark and bought loads of white T-shirts, then went on eBay and bought transfer paper, and printed out all the skate logo tees that I wanted myself.
A few years went and I did all these designs; I was always into cinematography and photography and all that stuff. I wanted a Supreme hoodie and T-shirt, and to buy that it would have come to like £300 so I was like, “Nah, don’t want to do that!” So I just printed off my own stuff. I got four hoodies and four T-shirts done for the same price and they were all my own thing. I started wearing them and people asked me where I got them from, so I just released it.
Crowd was an avenue. I could do short films for Crowd, or shoots for Crowd, plan everything for Crowd. It opened more doors for other creative outlets.
“I’ll be 50 one day and I don’t want to look back at all the sh*t I didn’t do.”
What did you learn from Crowd that you’ve used to help you in music?
It might have subconsciously taught me something, but I don’t know. I kinda just like to do it. Kids in school were like, “Why are you making clothes, why are you doing this?” But that didn’t really phase me. I’ll be 50 one day and I don’t want to look back at all the sh*t I didn’t do.
So you’re a multi-hyphenate?
Yeah, I’ve always been like that since I was young. When I was 10 I wanted to be a filmmaker so I used to make LEGO animations on my nan’s webcam and sh*t. And then photography, and then clothes, and then music.
Why did you transition from Crowd to becoming a musician?
I didn’t really transition. Like I said I do everything creative, I’ll try and do it. But the way it started was — all my friends did music and I was really heavily involved in music — we’d be freestyling and I’d always come in and say some stupid funny lyrics that would always be sick but stupid and funny. After they’d say, “You’d actually be sick if you did serious lyrics,” and then one day I was like, f*ck it. I think it’s sick and sounds funny. I wrote “Mary Berry” and messaged my friend — he has a studio set up — I said I’m coming to your house tomorrow and I’m going to record this song.
What is “Mary Berry” about?
Mary Berry. She’s beautiful. She’s fit. Can I say that?
Were you taking that first song seriously or did you just want to make something?
I take music 100-percent seriously but I don’t take myself too seriously. I like showing who I am. If I am a fan of it then that’s all that matters, if people are like-minded to me they’ll also like it. You’ve got to be your own biggest fan.
“Who’s That What’s That” was quite a contrast, it was still funny but it was definitely more serious. Was that based on you knowing you had something here?
“Mary Berry” was made on a whim, I wrote it one night and recorded it the next day. “Who’s That What’s That,” I wanted more of a feeling to be portrayed, I wanted people to hear it and start bopping.
Was entering the charts a goal for you, or a surprise?
It wasn’t really a goal because I never thought that would happen. But it happened and I thought it was sick. I heard it on the radio and thought, “This is f*cking sick.”
When was the first time you heard it on the radio?
I was in my room on a Thursday. I remember “Mary Berry” got played on Capital FM, I think, I remember listening to that in my living room and I was so gassed that I said the word “circumcision” on the radio. I was with my dad in the living room and said, “Dad, I literally just said circumcision on the radio.”
The first time I heard “Who’s That What’s That” on the radio was when they announced it in the charts. I recorded my reaction. It was mad. It went straight in the first week at 39, it was just people streaming it that got it into the charts. Then it peaked at 26, which is mad.
Did you expect it to blow up in this way?
I don’t try to deep anything too much, I just do it, and then whatever happens I guess. I know that I’m good at what I do — well, not good, but I know I’m very driven and I know exactly where I want to go and how to get there.
Do you think your sound is carving out a new area in rap?
I don’t even know if it’s rap, it’s just music.
But you’re talking about your life?
Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to get boxed in on a label or a genre, it is what it is. I like it because it can’t be compared to too much. To me personally, I just want it to be boppy and pretty, that’s the two words.
In “Who’s That What’s That,” you talk about McDonald’s, Milton Keynes, your Seat Ibiza. Why don’t you play with more serious lyrics?
I don’t think I have to if that makes sense? It’s just whatever I feel or what time of life I’m in. At the moment I’m just having bare fun, the things I talk about in my songs are the things I am living.
Yeah, my reality is exactly the same as — I’m just a really ordinary kid, the whole country and the world is filled with really ordinary kids, so they can relate to the lyrics. I talk about house parties. House parties when I was in secondary school were like the sickest thing ever. For the whole of the U.K, house parties are a big thing. Other lyrics I’ve written talk about getting drunk in a field or having a motive in a field and I know that’s the same for a lot.
Are you wanting your music to go further than the U.K.?
Anyone can enjoy it really, it’s just a feeling. [As a Porsche 911 and a bicycle go past] — that’s a sick car. That’s a sick bike as well!
It’s just a feeling that I want to give off. Upbeat and boppy and pretty.
“As soon as I hear the beat I can just visualize it. I can sit there and I can just watch the music video in my head.”
What do you want?
To get taller. Nah, I want to do a song with Lily Allen. As soon as I got the blue tick I DM’d bare people. I DM’d Drake. He didn’t reply. I got a few replies but I don’t want to name any names in case they read this. But I actually want to work with the people I DM’d.
What’s the dream collaboration?
Lily Allen at the moment. At the moment I’m just really focusing and I’m doing things by myself.
What are you focusing on?
Visuals. Music videos are a huge aspect and I think they’re really important. Before I did music I did cinematography so it’s just another sick outlet to create sh*t.
As soon as I hear the beat I can just visualize it. I can sit there and I can just watch the music video in my head, and I’ll just write it down, storyboard it. Visuals are really important and I think more artists need to do visuals. Most people find new music on YouTube, so visuals are definitely important.
You post on community pages on Facebook like the Basement, too, right?
I was in the Basement when I was like, 15, posting in there all the time saying I want to buy this, who can get me this. Look at my fit pic.
I just love the idea of community and groups. It’s like-minded people.
What are you working on next?
Everything. I don’t like talking, I like doing.
What are you doing right now?
A HYPEBEAST interview. At the moment, songs, music videos, clothes — whether that’s for Crowd or Niko B.
What’s something you’d say to people who don’t take you seriously?
If they think it’s that, that’s up to them. But it’s not. I don’t like telling people how they should interpret my music, it’s just whatever they feel. But I love the comments, “What is this? My five year old could have wrote this,” love it. I love it. Get your five year old to do it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Oh, oh. Your tongue is so powerful, yeah, that you can look at any surface and you will know what it’ll feel like to lick. Anything.
Is that how it works? Do they come to your head, and then they’re lyrics maybe?
I just love stupid facts. Where does the sky start? Does it start where the ground stops? I bought a bike the other day and the guy won it off The Gadget Show. It’s a good bike, very red.
And how’s lockdown?
I’ve been creative, I like being stuck in my room. It’s where I get loads of my ideas down. Just me and my room at two in the morning just writing bare stuff down.
And before we leave, can we comment on your style?
Just comfy. I like pieces that you’ve never seen before. Old T-shirts. What else? I have a signed Gary Lineker T-shirt with me today. And I’ve also got a pair of loafers that I’ve been wearing for like, two weeks straight now.
God bless you.