M1llionz Noisey cover
All photography by Michaela Quan

Chasing M1llionz

The Birmingham rapper has gone from total unknown to the most-in-demand artist in drill in less than two years. Here, he tells all.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
MQ
photos by Michaela Quan
June 21, 2021, 8:00am

M1llionz did the crazy deed the other day and posted one of his many phone numbers to Instagram stories. The demands were clear: if the UK rapper received 10,000 texts asking him to drop his latest single, “Bando Spot”, he’d toss two fingers toward his management team (“fuck what he thinks!!”) and shoot the video “ASAP”, shoving release dates forward for the fans.

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“It’s good to interact. You can give the supporters the idea of being personal and intimate with you,” he recalls. Then, grinning: “Obviously not intimate – but you know what I mean, personal.”

Texts made their way through first, followed by calls, freestyles, requests to link up and make tunes, and – yes – also nudes. In the end, M1llionz had to step back from the fray for breathing room.

“I ain’t got the SIM in it at the moment,” he says, after scrolling me through reams of messages from fans. He sticks his phone to his other phone using a back-to-back magnet, places them by his monochrome Louis Vuitton backpack, then explains with cool, collected calmness: “If I put the SIM in it, it’s not going to stop ringing...” 

M1llionz Noisey cover June 2021

Photo: Michaela Quan

Welcome to the rise of Birmingham label Ten Percent Music’s biggest figurehead, and the current hottest artist kicking flows around UK drill. From the end of 2019 onwards, the Brummie-cheekster has gone from total unknown without a song to his name, to hundreds of millions of streams worldwide. Whether it’s fans wanting his attention or call-outs from big-blockbuster musicians (he’s been in the studio with FKA twigs, he says), M1llionz is in-demand.

Case in point: we had several loose plans to meet before today. First came a shoot date for the “Bando Spot” video that kept moving back, and back, from location to location. Then: a link-up in east London in late May (cancelled that morning), before management redirected us with less than an hour to go, texting over new coordinates (Greenwich) and timings (2:30PM). You get the point: with his debut mixtape nearing completion, catching M1llionz feels like locking time with royalty.

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When we eventually sit another half hour later (at 3PM), on a persistently rainy Monday afternoon, it’s at a health club in a south east London satellite town, close to Zone 3 new builds. Strange choice for an interview, but – he says, with a yawn, over coffee and a croissant – he’s just “done a bit of gym”. Plus – as several phone moments throughout our interview hint toward, including him booking an Uber for someone – loads has been happening.

Warm and pleasant but characteristically shy, an hour into our chat he’ll tell me, “If I could have done this interview on the phone, I would have done it. It’s not even a personal thing. I’d rather just be in my own space, by myself.”

With all this in mind, here’s the M1llionz base info sheet. He’s 23 years old, he’s an Aquarius and he was born in Birmingham – a large city in England’s west midlands region. Zoom in further, and Handsworth, Brum’s densely populated, Caribbean-heavy neighbourhood pops up. 

M1llionz grew up here, telling me that “everyone in school would be Jamaican – or they’d lie and say they were Jamaican”. It’s this heritage and environment that has set M1llionz apart from his peers, as he naturally brings playful patois flavour and rhythmic flows onto his tonally refreshing UK drill tracks. The old idiom comes into play here: it’s not so much what you said, but the way that you said it.

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“The way we speak, the way the lyrics come out – it’s how we would normally speak. And that’s all coming from Jamaica and the Caribbean. We’ve got Barbadians [in Handsworth], Trinidadians, everywhere. I think that’s what it is, and that’s what comes out in my music,” he says.

Why Handsworth? “All the Yardies used to go to Handsworth – and they still do now, to this day,” he explains. “I was always around my great-grandma – and my nan, actually – and obviously they’re all from Jamaica. I was around a lot of old Jamaicans, it wasn’t really an English thing.”

Other UK drill acts pride themselves on being hyper-local, beefing with crews who live on the other side of the bus stop, shouting out their area on lyrics and in track titles (see Harlem Spartans’ OG classic “Kennington Where It Started” and beyond). But for M1llionz “that’s pointless. That doesn’t really make sense. Especially in England, because England is too small.” 

M1llionz released his own area-heralding tune in 2019, in bass-rumbling debut track “North West”. Sample lyric: “Go anywhere ‘round North West / ‘Cah North Brum’s my side of town.” Since then, however, he’s trained his sights on locations around the globe. It’s all part of the global takeover plan. “You need the Africas, the Americas, the Asias, the Caribbeans,” he says.

M1llionz Noisey cover

Photo: Michaela Quan

Glancing at his YouTube showcases these ambitions in action, with freestyles highlighting capital cities and areas across several continents. Take “Accrastyle”. Shot in Accra, Ghana, its leading bar connects M1llionz to the city’s so-called “Hackney Wick” district and a neighbouring drill hotspot (“From Jamestown to Kumasi / When I touch down I get love in the ghetto”). 

Other clips include “Yaadstyle” (filmed in Clarendon, Jamaica) and “UAEstyle” (filmed in Dubai’s umber-coloured desert). And that’s just the freestyles. “Lagga” – perhaps his fiercest tune yet – arrived with sought-after rap clip architect Teeeezy C’s music video, shot in Nairobi, Kenya. Jamaica, meanwhile, is home to several flicks, from super-smooth summer anthem “How Many Times” to “Badnis”. Then there’s “Y PREE”, the supremely breezy breakthrough track M1llionz released last April that blew up so hard (yes, Drake shared it), he decided to do music seriously.

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Much like “Bando Spot”, the song had bubbled up on socials for months, with fans begging M1llionz for its release. It had a twinkling, infectious hook (“Y pree? Y pree? / Yardie shubeen, I don't need ID”) – and given that “Y pree” is a “Jamaican term”, when the time came to film the track’s music video, picking the location was obvious, he says. “It’s like having a song called ‘Crikey’. You’d have to be in England. You’re not going to do that anywhere else.”  

M1llionz and his director, Chaffeur, flew out to Jamaica and filmed over several days, taking in seaside views, Montego Bay’s natural greens and M1llionz and “my people” in the club, on the road, bunning around. Shit blew up. “I’m not saying that no one hadn’t done it before – but for a drill video, the scenery was different,” he says. “Then, coming from Jamaica, people in Jamaica were checking into it as well.”

Pretty quickly, the views racked up: “On ‘North West’, I got 10,000 views on the first day. A couple of months later [with ‘Y PREE’] I was getting 200,000. It was crazy.”

M1llionz taking a break

M1llionz taking a break during the photo shoot. Photo: Michaela Quan

At our photoshoot a few months ago, the songs booming from the studio's speakers were pure M1llionz. Highlights included: M1llionz gliding across 50 Cent and The Game’s “Hate It Or Love It” instrumental on Tiffany Calver’s 1Xtra radio show, followed up by “Jagged Edge” – a M1llionz feature on producer TSB’s track with east London’s Unknown T. Between posing for shots against a marbled blue and black background, M1llionz would move forward and grasp his phone from the aux to wheel up these new YouTube videos, before sitting back down, his grills shining.

Posted up at our south east London health club a few weeks later, I’m wondering what music M1llionz has around that isn’t his own. In the earlier years in Handsworth, it was “mostly Jamaican and Caribbean music”, “dancehall rather than hip-hop”. Then came bassline – the West Midlands rave scene based on 4x4 bangers primarily sent using bluetooth on Sony Walkman phones (crown jewel: T2’s “Heartbroken”). Some grime, too – “I was into that a lot, still.”

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When it comes to drill, M1llionz doesn’t really listen to the genre “like that”. I pose a question: it’s interesting, because you make drill – it sits in the drill pocket, but then you’re not listening to it? “But I don’t think I make drill personally,” he says. How would you describe it then? “I don’t know, you know. I need to think of a name. But I don’t think I make drill. It’s more hardcore. If I’m in one of those moods, I’ll listen to it. Whereas, even though I’m saying the same things, it's calmer.” 

“Bando Spot”, then, aims to extend M1llionz’s reach further away from the UK drill tag and onto something that leans toward rap’s commercial side. Like the “Hate It Or Love It” sample from the Tiffany Calver freestyle, we return to Curtis Jackson’s mid-2000s radio reign. Storytelling atop a rework of the saucy keys that took “Candy Shop” to Toronto, Paris, Brooklyn, M1llionz tells trap-life tales about Bitcoin, Bajan rock and spending “all the prof” in the “bando shop”. Also, there are lyrical homages to the 2003 hit’s hook: “So don’t smoke till we hit the spot / woah”

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The track is the first lead single from M1llionz upcoming debut mixtape, Provisional Licence. “It’s the first step into what I’m trying to do,” he says. “People would have thought I’d called it M1llionz to B1llionz or One In A M1llion.” You’ve already ran through those names in your head? “Yeah, but it gets a bit too cliche. It doesn’t make sense. Provisional Licence sounds like it will stick.”

M1llionz Noisey cover

Photo: Michaela Quan

So far, M1llionz has collaborated with – well, pretty much every UK drill act currently lighting up Snapchat. There’s Digga D on “No Chorus”, Dutchavelli on “Cool With Me”. “Year of the Real” featured Pa Salieu, Meekz and Teeway, while SL drafted him on “Versus” and Cashh did the same on “Pounds and Dollars”. Remove those names, think of the rest of the UK drill and rap scene’s notable heaters, and you might just land on the Provisional Licence guest spots.

It all goes back – he says, yawning again (must be the gym) – to building those in-roads to territories that stretch beyond the UK. Home is back to Birmingham, and formative memories extend toward Jamaica. “I started walking there. Couple of my first words. I went there before I was one,” he says. Extending beyond are more places, more takeovers – more continents to reach.

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At this point, expanding horizons beyond the UK is a more than well-trodden path for British rappers. Fellow Birmingham MC MIST went to Dubai to shoot “Ain’t The Same” in 2016, then Iceland for “Hot Property” in 2017 (at one point he even talked about filming a music video in space). Young drill artist SL became known for shooting heavily geographic clips, after releasing “Tropical” (snow-topped mountains) and “Summertime Santa” (a lush Balinese forest) in 2017/18. 

In fact, the ratio between rap videos shot abroad versus at home probably isn’t massively high at this point, as everyone with a drone and a passport seems to film overseas. For M1llionz, the visuals matter. But what matters more than a HD clip is legitimately connecting with individuals in places around the world. 

“I want to break into America for one, but that’s not my sole thing. I want to be known globally – every continent. Not just one country. Like: Ghana knows me, but Mali doesn’t know me. Eritrea doesn’t know me,” he says, dusting down the last of the croissant. “I don’t want to be in Australia and New Zealand doesn’t know me. I want to be known everywhere – be big and be versatile.”

A decade into UK drill’s lifespan as a genre, the infrastructure is close to there for artists to build fan bases in all the spots M1llionz mentions. Stormzy and Headie One both laid down verses on Ghanian drill tracks this year (on this, and this, respectively). NY drill continues to do its thing. France, Brazil, Italy, Holland, Ireland, UAE – all have drill scenes. Wherever there are teenagers looking to hear rap that’s of the moment, there’s drill music. The sound isn’t going away: the current Number One single in the UK – Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ “Body” – is drill. 

Back in the cafe, M1llionz glances down at his phone. Business is handled, apologies are made. Then one more question: How close do you think you are to reaching your goal? “I’m like one percent out of 100 there right now,” he says, with self-aware confidence and determination. But, he explains, carefully: “I know what I’m going to do and what I want to do.”

Photographed by Michaela Quan in London, May 2021.

Interview: @ryanbassil
Creative assistant: @heynilo