Ben Wheeler is a hard to miss if you’re a social networker, be it Facebook or Twitter, he’s always promoting something he’s done or is working on. So after a few online conversations I sat down with the artist known as Nem and had a chat before his recent gig at the Forum, Sheffield.
Born in Sheffield in 1987, Nem, like most of us, was influenced by music at an early age. He learnt the piano as a kid and now admits he ‘wishes I’d stuck at it now like my mum said to do when I was a kid but no I wanted to watch T.V. and go out with my friends’.
From the ages of 13-20 he moved to Italy and returned back to the UK for university. It was around this time he got into the music scene. Influenced initially by hip-hop and rap. Nem was listening to Eminem like “any white guy who raps will tell you, it started off listening to him’. Even though I was listening to Coolio and 2pac before him but we’ll go with Eminem’.
“I’m telling a story. I’ve always been known for that, a lot of rappers will use punch lines and brag. I don’t tend to brag a lot, sometimes you do but it’s not what I want to do.”
Nem admits he ‘started writing lyrics, started trying to record in 2004 over famous hip hop beats it was a bit crap really. I didn’t do anything decent until 2006 but by then I’d been, influenced by grime too. I’d started listening to a lot of artists like Kano started to come up, artists like Tinchy Stryder were coming through and nobody knew who they were’.
In 2006, Ben met a few local artists Yezza and Vex One and they ‘just clicked and started making music together ‘. Produced by Vex One, they did a few gigs together. Yezza was already doing a few things and so they made a mixtape with Vex One and Joe Davis, known collectively as the Beat Thieves got a bit of local exposure in the hip hop community. Things didn’t take off for the group until the end of the year, with a song called Fresh Kicks, which Nem tells us ‘everyone he speaks to knows the bloody song!’
When the group dissolved, it was then Nem started concentrated on writing and performing his own music. He tells me his music is ‘commercial, upbeat, tends to be positive. Rather than talk about any old rubbish if you listen to the lyrics I’m either talking about a specific subject or I’m telling a story. I’ve always been known for that, whereas a lot of rappers will use punch lines and mainly brag. I don’t tend to brag a lot, sometimes you do but it’s not really what I want to do. I want to do something more creative instead of saying I’m the best, cos anyone can do that. It’s not true either! I do both positive, fun upbeat stuff. Sometimes I like to do more introspective songs, but generally I like enjoyable music’.
So being mainly commercial hip hop, a change came last year when Nem started a group called 4th base, song called Lights Out. The group ended up with ‘loads of gigs on the back of it’. Amongst others, they supported Tinchy Stryder and played O2 Academy, Sheffield. The song was I’m told, commercial with a bit of an electric feel to it. A proud Nem proudly tells me ‘that video has had over 6000 views on You Tube so I’m quite happy with that!’
It wasn’t until the group split that Nem decided to play with a song he’d written call I See Her. ‘I probably owe Matt Bruce, from Playground Mafia, quite a lot from that one song. He sent it to me and I wrote a chorus to it and it was awesome. Then I didn’t do anything with it, so November 09 I went back in the studio and recorded it, cos the group had split up. Put that up everywhere. Sent it to Iain Hodgson, he loved it, and rinsed it on raw talent. The only song I’d every written was played on the show loads. It was probably working with Matt Bruce that helped, killing 2 birds with one stone here ‘ Nem laughs. He does admit ‘that’s the song that got me a lot of attention. I played lots of gigs in different cities’.
It turns out Nem has had lots of exposure from different sources. He bigs up promoters, Joolz Vernon, Adele and Scott from The Plug, and tells me about a Wiley moment he had in 2008 when he appeared on a gig poster without knowing he was playing, ‘my first plug gig, like Wiley, who has a habit of never turning up to gigs!’ ‘There are loads of promoters I’d like to thank Sheffield Parties, Embrace, Crystal etc’.
‘I do PA’s and as well as gigs. The PA’s are easier, I’ll admit that cos it’s literally you go up there then you’re down. People, in clubs, just want to hear something bouncy and they’ve got short attention spans anyway so a PA is perfect. They give me chance to practice material. I’ve just about got 10 tracks finished off that I’m happy with, so I’m going to put a CD out with those songs on, it’ll probably happen towards end of November’.
The album titled ‘New Era Music’ does in fact contain 10 tracks that either feature or are produced by a heap of South Yorkshire talent including Playground Mafia, Vex One, Fauxstar and DJ Risco.
So being a rapper in a world full of boys in bands, how does Nem find it? ‘It plays to the advantage really, because I’m lucky in a fact, I’ve been doing hip hop and rap and I’m a bit more in the middle some people are a bit more indie or a bit more dancy so I have done and can perform at an indie band night or a house/dancy night or I can do a grime/hip-hop night. I can touch on each of those different styles I can get away with it. It can make you stand out a bit’.
Nem believes he was ‘born to stand out from blending in.’ He follows by declaring ‘it’s true you need to be able to stand out from everyone cos it’s not going to get you anywhere if you blend in’. When I ask him if people see him as arrogant with a comment like that, he simply laughs and continues, ‘no one has ever said that, I don’t think I’m being arrogant with it more realistic y’know. I feel anyone who wants to be in music and get out there especially the type of music I do, you have to be slightly cocky maybe and very confident. Confidence is essential, you wont make it, well maybe in bands you will, but in like rapping you wont’.
Currently studying languages and marketing at Salford University, it’s easy to understand his relentless self-promotion, ‘oh yeah’, he starts ‘I’m a person who knows what they want so I’m not going to stop until I get it really. If I wasn’t like that I would have quit by now, this in my eyes is the 4th year I’ve done it. That’s just something I like to live by, you need to believe in yourself, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. I feel I was born to do it and therefore I’m not blending in like one of the others, otherwise I may as well stick at my day job.
So as we wrap up the interview I ask Nem for one piece of advice he would give to others, he replies ‘I’ve not got anywhere yet but persistence is the key you have to be aware – decent level, determined, persistence, dedicated’.
It’s true to say Ben ‘Nem’ Wheeler is all of these and given the right break will be on his way. Good luck fella!