“I’m very proud of the fact that I was born in 2000 because that will never happen for another Millennium, another thousand years, I even got it tattooed on me,” says 19-year-old Niko B (government name Thomas Austin). Since dropping his debut track—the viral hit whose title, “Mary Berry”, name-checks the octogenarian former Great British Bake-Off co-host and national treasure—in August 2019, things have been poppin’ off for the fresh faced Milton Keynes native.
Kitted out in tracksuit and loafers (not too round, not too pointy), clown pendant, signed Gary Lineker t-shirt and Fuct sweater, Niko B is surely the off-spring Lily Allen and Mike Skinner would spawn. His upbeat ”boppiest bops in history”, signature laid back, deadpan flow (he doesn’t label himself a rapper or want to be boxed into any genre), and tongue in cheek lyrical stylings, are the soundtrack to British suburban small town life. No fronting, pretence free, just pretty bops and purely relatable word wizardry—or as Niko puts it: “The world’s full of regular kids. I am what I am. I represent the regular kid.”
Before lifting his nom de plume from Grand Theft Auto IV character Niko Bellic and emerging as Niko B, friends who heard him freestyle would say he ‘could be really good’ if he just wrote ‘serious’ lyrics—but Niko’s brain isn’t wired that way. “Mary Berry” is the first track Niko ever wrote and recorded and comes packed with astute observations from his unique perspective—including a choice line about self-circumcision—which he keeps track of in the “Random sh*t to put in a song” notes doc on his phone; recent additions include ‘chin strap’ and ‘Rubicon lychee’.
The overnight success of his debut offering was an accidentally on purpose inevitability for Niko, who unabashedly aware of his freshness, was convinced from the get go that it would “do bits”. Three weeks after writing Mary Berry in 2019, with just two press pieces to his name from The Independent and a profile in The New York Times (currently framed on his bedroom wall), he signed a deal and landed a tour support slot with East London Afrobeats group NSG, who get an offhand shout out in the “Mary Berry” intro: “The drip lords/I pray to NSG every night before I go to sleep/That I wake up with unlimited drip”.
His formative days in Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes—the home of Aston Martin, one of the most haunted towns in the UK, with the oldest iron bridge still in use in the whole world—were the perfect balance of city and country living. Niko occupied his time with classic suburban pursuits, like playing Tony Hawk’s Project 8 sat in the space behind his nan’s sofa, chillin’ in fields, spending nights sat on park benches with friends, making skate videos sound tracked by Somalian jazz (he wasn’t a good skater because he was too scared of falling forward and knocking his front teeth out), part time jobs at Papa John’s and going to house parties because there was “nothing else to do there”.
When he was nine or ten and in awe of rock stars and wrestlers who did their own thing, Niko had dreams of being a pro wrestler or street dancer. Obsessed with YouTube and the fact that people could create from their bedrooms and put it online for the world to see, he’d film Lego animations using his nan’s webcam, taking them into school to show his class as a way to get his YouTube views up. “That really stuck with me,” Niko says, “how powerful the internet is and that if you really want to do something you can do it. I’ve known that since I was 10.” He’s been making stuff ever since.
Niko started to build a following when at 16 he launched his own clothing line: CROWD. It all started with a family holiday to Portugal. Wanting new clothes that his mum deemed too expensive, Niko had a eureka moment. He copped a stack of white t-shirts from Primark, bought transfers from Ebay, printed out all the designs he’d wanted, and went on holiday with his DIY designer drip. This eventually evolved from homemade knock offs into producing his own original CROWD designs.
Behind the scenes—whether he’s designing merch, directing his music videos, or styling a shoot—Niko does it all. “Anything to do with me, it comes from me,” he says, “I just love the idea of making something that didn’t exist five minutes ago.” That’s really the magic of Niko B, every lyric sounds so relatable that you’ll think you definitely could have written it yourself, but you didn’t, Niko B did.
“Who’s That? What’s That?”, the 2020 follow up to his barnstorming debut, landed more praise from MTV, Vogue, and GQ, as well as Radio 1 and Capital airtime, plus 20million streams and counting. It also quickly cemented Niko as a voice of his generation with lines that really resonate, like: “Copped a Big Mac /Milkshake and some large fries, it cost/Four pound fifty/Take the gherkin out of the inside (no gherkin)”. “That wasn’t even meant to be the main point of discussion!,” laughs Niko, “It’s therapeutic taking a gherkin out, it’s kind of ritual, I’ve always done it.”
Next up is “Quick Drive”, another sure fire anthem that’s so “pretty” you’ll probably start levitating when you hear it. It features references to trampolines, Quavers and Kriss Kross, as well as a chorus so catchy it will immediately set up permanent residence in your brain rent free. “Quick drive was made for people to bop to and to remind them of the end of summer,” saya Niko. “It’s a very end of summer kinda song gives people a feeling to look back on all the memories they made. I imagine all my songs to be sung at Karaoke when I’m 50 and I feel like this song does just that too.”
Niko might be the young Brit doing bits but everything and nothing’s changed for him on the daily. He still lives at home with his parents and sister just down from his gran’s house, he’s still riding his bike around Milton Keynes, or driving to MaccyD’s in his 2005 Plate Seat Ibiza to cop his regular order: three chicken select meal and a double cheeseburger, f*ck the gherkin obviously. In the future he wants his storyline to include adventures in presenting, acting, directing, and even have his own show. “I want to do everything,” says Niko. “When I’m 50 I want to be on one of those panel shows on Dave, like Would I Lie To You?, that’s the goal, That’s when I’ll know I made it.”