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M1llionz: “I’m Still Catering for the Streets”

The Birmingham rapper known for his unique flow and cadence tells us about his journey so far and unlocking his talent from behind four walls.

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The first time I heard M1llionz was on Mad About Bars and I understood what the hype was about immediately. M1llionz lucid delivery and vivid imagery raised the potential of Drill to a literary scale. He wasn’t rapping, this is storytelling from the sharpest observers in Drill. 

M1llionz places fans in the passenger seat of the world he has come from by presenting the situations he has endured. The intricate detail of his imagery is unquestionably real, only someone who has been breathing in this lifestyle can tell it the way it is.

On HDC, M1llionz spits, “Burstin’ all of these hand-to-hands, Cah my worker’s gone off the rails, Told bro ‘go shut the window’, Cah the breeze blowin’ the food off the scales, Normally I do it by eyelids, But the cats wan’ complain ’bout sizes, And my driver’s moanin’ too, Cah he got a black box and we’re over the mileage.”

In literary criticism, his narrative style would be described as stream of consciousness – a method that attempts “to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind” of the storyteller. Within this context, M1llionz should be regarded as one of the best lyricists in hip-hop right now. 

Last week, I had a chat with M1llionz about rapping; his style and his roots.

Let’sd start at the beginning, man. What was it like growing up in Birmingham for you?
I think growing up that fast, for me personally, it was more like Dancehall and Grime at a certain point. After primary school, it was more like Dancehall, Bashment and Reggae. When I went into secondary school, Drill wasn’t really about until much later on.

I used to listen to somebody called Ice Kid, I dunno if you remember him. He didn’t really make it like that at the time. But he was big. He was the person I used to listen to a lot. 

Did you complete secondary school?
I got kicked out in the last year. I did my exams but I got kicked out. So I completed it but I didn’t complete it if that makes sense.

Was that a common thing around your neighbourhood?
You could say that. I think I lasted long to be fair to get to the final year. There was no point doing the whole of the school, to get to the last year and they kicked me out. It was pointless. 

What did you want to do before you started moving around on the streets and that?
I wanted to do football. That’s what I really wanted to do. But it got to a certain point where you just…it just wasn’t my main focus, obviously because I was getting older. 

What was your main focus at that point?
It was just more work like trying to get money. When you get to like 16, 17, 18, you need to have money. You always need money but once you get to the main teenage years, you need to make money to go out and stuff. You have to have money in your pocket so I started working. Making money was probably the main goal for me. 

How hard was it to make money in your neighbourhood? In some of our neighbourhoods, the only way for young people to really make big money is to turn to the streets. Was that your experience?
The hood’s so congested. And there’s so many people. So it’s going to be hard, if everyone’s doing the same thing, it’s going to be hard for everyone to make money. So even if you are on the streets that doesn’t actually mean you’re going to make good money or a lot of money. A lot of people that are on the streets aren’t actually making that much money. They’d probably be better off to do a nine to five, realistically. Because the risks that you’re taking to do any of these things, might as well just get a normal job. It’s not worth it. 

Why was it easier for you to take those risks than work a normal job?
I don’t know, you know? I think it’s more the avenue you kind of got set. The avenue that was set. If you try to find money-making schemes from before you could work, at a certain age, then by the time you get to that age when you can work and you get a national insurance number it’s a bit like you’re not going to look for a job are you? It doesn’t make sense if you’ve been doing whatever you were doing before that. 

Do you remember your first run-in with the law?
I’ve had trouble with the police my whole life so I can’t really…I don’t know to be fair. 

I read that you started taking rap more seriously when you got out of jail and wrote ‘North West’? Or were you thinking about expressing yourself and doing something creative before that?
Yeah, that’s the truth really. I wasn’t really thinking about music at all. That wasn’t what I was thinking about. When I was in jail I wrote part of ‘North West’ not the whole song. When I got out of jail, I started finishing it off and recording it.

Where did the inspiration come from?
Wasn’t really inspiration. It was boredom. When I’m thinking of the bars or the song or whatever, it’s not like I’m thinking or aiming to say I’m going to write thing because I’m inspired and it might come out and do this. I’d be lying if I said that were the case. It was more like there was nothing else to do. Lines popped into my head and it sounds good so I’m going to write it down. I don’t really got no plans with it.

When you got out and people started responding to your music, did you think like I’m going to stick to this cadence and flow? Because you have a strong style in your delivery and approach, was that something you consciously wanted to refine and stick with?
Not necessarily because to me it’s just natural. This is just my flow, tone, content. It’s the way I paint pictures, that’s just me. To be fair, I’ve only just started noticing it recently like when people are saying I say a lot of words and I go off beat and come on beat. It’s only the last couple of songs that I’ve been listening to it like, “oh, ok.” I see what people are hearing. But that’s just the way I’m rapping. I’m not forcing it. It’s not like I put out ‘North West’ and people are saying, “I like this flow and tone.” So when I put out HTC, I gotta do the same kind of vibe but it’s just natural.

It’s interesting you describe it like painting pictures. The bars are vivid and seem really carefully written. Do you sit down and craft the imagery in your lyrics or is it just whatever comes out based on your experiences.
You have to sit down and nurture it. You have to be as descriptive as possible. If it just comes to your head and it sounds good, that’s good enough. But then more time you’ve got to think hard and think how you want to approach it. If you’re saying, “I’m walking to the shop and I seen police.” You can say that a million different ways. Anybody can say that. You can add anything to that or change everything in that. Realistically, every rapper is saying the same thing. We’re just putting a different spin on it. So you just got to make sure you’re putting as much of a spin on it as you can so it’s different from the rest. 

Your lyrics get really close to what goes on in the streets, how important is that to you? Representing whatever the truth is on the street.
At the moment, you could say I’m still catering for the streets. So if that’s what you’re catering for, if you have a friend or brother or you just been affected by the streets. Whatever the case may be. If that’s what you’re catering for you have to make sure you’re as accurate and detailed as possible. 

When you’re catering to this street audience what is the message you want to convey?
I don’t know if there is a message. There doesn’t have to be a message. Sometimes there is a message though. People in the streets know how hard it is. It’s depressing. It’s not glitz and glamour. There’s a downside to it. People die and go to jail. So you got to make people comfortable enough to express themselves. Because things may happen to you and you might think it’s just you that’s going through it, until you hear somebody else rapping about it. You can relate. If you can relate, you can probably feel better about yourself and get through things.

Was there ever a moment where a track had that affect on you?
There’s a song called ‘Dream’ by Popcaan. That’s a motivational song I can relate to because it’s about the struggle. Being young, nobody and broke. Making something of yourself.

You don’t feel like there was a moment inside you that made you want to redirect what you were doing?
I just think it was a certain point in my career when a certain song got released and I seen a reaction to it. I got a certain amount of views in a day. ‘Y Pree’.

It must be wild to experience, in places like here in Australia people really get your music man.
See that’s the crazy thing as well. More so than the UK. Places like Australia and Europe. Australia is the mad one to me to be honest. It’s so far away as well. 

When you look back on your life, would you do anything differently?
I think everything happens for a reason. I’m at a point now where I can steer the ship more now. Got a bit more control. Not to say that I didn’t have control before. I was just working, working, working, working. So now, I feel like I can just control where I’m going to. Take my time. Mastermind the craft. Kill it and take over.

How do you sharped up your craft?
Quality over quantity, innit? Making sure I’m making the most of my time and being productive. 

Lyrically, what’s the best track you’ve put together?
I like ‘HTC’, ‘Nairobi’ and probably Intro and Outro on the tape. 

It’s mad love man, appreciate what you do.
Get them to put me in Australia, man. I’m ready.

Follow M1llionz here for more and stream the new mixtape Provisional Licence now.

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