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Udoma Janssen

M1llionz: forever changing the game

Birmingham rapper M1llionz is a rare example of someone cutting through a London- dominated scene, after getting people’s attention with his breakthrough ‘North West’ track and creating an instantly iconic music video with ‘Lagga’. Here, he talks to Amy Davidson about his distinctive flow, changing the system, and challenging himself in his new music

"I don’t know why it goes that high. I don’t really like it,” laughs M1llionz. We’re talking about his signature pitch that meanders between rasped whispers, sing-shouting, and tumbling more words over a beat than should be possible. He’s being humble, and it’s this kind of paradox of hyper self-reflection and nonchalance that encapsulates M1llionz.

There’s also the new (untitled) song he previewed on Instagram the week of our interview, but he’s not sure he’s too keen on it. “I don’t know if it sounds a bit too positive and smiley-smiley,” he muses. The song in question is definitely new territory for M1llionz. Where tracks like ‘North West’ and ‘Right Dere’ have led to him being proclaimed as a leader of the UK drill scene, this one is slowed right down. POV lines about life on roads and the stress of line managing drug dealers have been swapped for sage words about not chasing clout, while adding to Dave’s sermon not to die for nyash with a footnote not to die for cash.

It’s an intentional move. And while much has been made of M1llionz’s proclamation that he’s stepping away from drill, it’s only a half truth, and not the full-stop it’s been made out to be. “I’ve tried to add more clarity to my music so everybody can hear what I’m saying. If you only relate to one crowd, you’re pointless,” he says matter of factly. But while he tells DJ Mag it feels “sweet” not making a straight up drill track, it’s more symptomatic of M1llionz’s boredom with blindly adding to a scene with more of the same beats and themes, when he can challenge himself to experiment, than any kind of permanent abandonment of the genre.

M1llionz grew up in Handsworth, Birmingham, but took his first steps in Jamaica and learnt to speak in patois. His Jamaican heritage is a touchpoint for his music, which is knitted together with his bespoke yardie-brummie dialect, and it’s the reason he’s written a song about his family’s experiences with Windrush and seeing people uprooted from a country that’s their home. “It’s something I needed to speak about,” he reflects. “People have been told that they have to go ‘back’ even though they’ve lived here their whole life, or because they can’t find a specific document they’re invalid. It doesn’t make any sense.”

He first got into the studio thanks to his mum, also a rapper and spoken word artist, and learnt how to make beats and edit his own music videos from the age of 11: “Rapping about being lyrically better than everyone else. That’s what it all came down to every time.” By the age of 12, he was carrying a knife: “It was for safety more than anything. When you grow up in dangerous places, that’s how you feel you need to protect yourself.” There’s a pause, before M1llionz deadpans, “Really I should’ve just done karate and done a kung-fu kick. I would’ve been alright.”

Truth is, despite not regarding himself as a political artist, M1llionz’s debut album ‘Provisional License’, released in 2021, is a taut 12-track indictment of a system that’s wilfully unhelpful, a system which funnels a disproportionate number of young Black men through prison instead of addressing the root causes. In the record’s opening track, M1llionz lays it bare: “I come from poverty, I needed money. Instead of helping me, they sent me to prison.”

“Obviously if you commit a crime, you commit a crime. But the length or harshness of certain sentences doesn’t make sense compared to other crimes,” he says. “Also, there’s no rehabilitation inside anyway. You’re just gonna have to sit down for two years and then they just want to hope that you’ve changed your attitude to life, when really they haven’t taught anything. The reality is, you can’t rehabilitate yourself.”

M1llionz on a red chair, wearing a balaclava, in front of a table
Udoma Janssen

“I want to be remembered forever as being that person that changed the game and is different. The person who has a different, unorthodox flow and a funny accent.”

On album track ‘Jail Brain’, M1llionz touches on the toll of isolation and the non-linear way in which time seems to pass inside. “For some reason, every time you go to jail is when things happen on the outside,” he tells me. “Everybody starts dying or this will happen or that will happen, and it’s impossible to help or do anything. I lost quite a few friends and family. Some of my friends got stabbed, some got shot, my cousin got shot.” M1llionz presents this kind of information matter of factly: “Normal stuff”. He explains that he used to find it hard to be vulnerable, but maturity and writing about his experiences in his music has helped him to be more comfortable being emotionally bare.

He’s frank too, when conversation turns towards drill being used by the media to stoke fear and racism: “It doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to tarnish drill music, tarnish action movies where people have got big machine guns shooting each other; stop punk rock music that people take a lot of drugs to; stop R&B music where people are getting upset over break up songs and want to commit suicide. You have to stop everything if that’s the case.” As for why drill is targeted more than any other genre, M1llionz puts it down to its rawness of the lyrics and upfront nature of the violence it explores, as well as more insidious reasons. “It’s a predominantly Black genre. It’s selective,” he says. “Don’t look at me and think that I’m glamourising things. I’m just talking about stuff that I’ve seen or gone through. I’m not rapping about it to make it seem cool.”

That sense of purpose and distilling his experiences into crisp snapshots of his life is exactly what’s propelled M1llionz to amass millions of streams. After 2019’s ‘North West’ picked up a buzz in Birmingham, a music video to appease his new core following and a follow- up track ‘HDC’ followed. From there, a viral freestyle on Kenny Allstar’s Radio 1Xtra show sealed it, and all that was left was the full realisation of his brilliantly weird flow in ‘Y Pree’ to sweep up the remaining ears and go national. Side- step Covid, tap into the innate grafter spirit, keep pushing, and M1llionz is ready to claim the revered space in the UK rap scene he’s been building towards with fresh music later this year.

There’s another side to M1llionz. As well as that emotional software update reminding him to improve, self-reflect, and try doing something even greater, there’s the dry wit that runs through his tracks like ‘Lagga’ (“My kitchen ain’t fit for consuming food. Man, it wouldn’t pass the hygiene standard”). It’s there in person too, manifesting as a likeable combination of humble and confidently self-deprecating. When he posted a video of himself on TikTok showing him in the studio working through a track and trying things on the mic, the response wasn’t unanimously positive.

“I’m quite a humorous person,” M1llionz laughs. “I don’t really read the comments, but I find most things funny. I like the negative comments sometimes. Even yesterday someone snapped me saying that I fell off and I laughed, it was funny the way they said it.” He’s genuinely bemused by the idea that there’s anything brave about posting unfinished beats and lifting the curtain on his process. “Do you think so? Everyone makes mistakes, it’s natural. It’s good to show people what actually happens in the studio.”

As for the fruits of that labour, M1llionz hints at surprise collaborations and a music video shot in South Africa with a Lamborghini that he’s hoping will sustain the high expectations he created in the visuals for the award-winning aforementioned ‘Lagga’, shot with the locals in Kenya. That Drake collaboration after he outed himself as a M1llionz fan? “We’ll see.” There’s also another track he’s teased on his socials that taps into his growing influence in the fashion world, having been invited to Paris Fashion Week, and his own style, which he describes with a grin as “indescribable”.

“I like being able to walk in and people go, ‘You look good’ or ‘Where did you get that from?’ I like my own kind of style. I don’t like dressing like anybody else.” The same thirst for innovation and aversion to being one of many applies to his craft as well. “I want to be remembered forever as being that person that changed the game and is different. The person who has a different, unorthodox flow and a funny accent.” In true M1llionz style, he waits for a beat, as he reflects on my notion that he’s on the way there. “7% there. I’ve got 93% left...”

Amy Davidson is a freelance writer

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