Lyrically she’s dangerous, physically she’s fierce. Her ability to produce high-energy club music surpasses many, while her style and technique prove ever difficult to rival. One other refreshing characteristic is the fact that she has managed to maintain her career as a female MC, without compromise. Flavour gets the lowdown…
What you see is what you get, and Niomi Arleen McLean-Daley aka Ms Dynamite wouldn’t have it any other way. She first featured on the single ‘Booo!’ in 2001, her first single ‘It Takes More’ was released in 2002 and she is now considered somewhat of a veteran in the game. With two Brit Awards, three MOBOs and one very coveted Mercury Prize tucked under her belt, Ms Dynamite has managed to remain consistent in these ever-changing musical times.
After a brief hiatus, London’s number one ‘Mum Cee’ is back with new single ‘Neva Soft’, produced by Labrinth, and is currently causing serious damage to the airwaves. For Ms Dynamite, there was no other man for the job. ‘Basically, I went in and we talked for about two hours. We talked about family and growing up and what our musical influences were; I’ve worked with two of his cousins, his brother and his sister in the past. He comes from a majorly musical family. I’ve had a few of his family as band members before, so we talked about all that stuff beforehand.
‘I said I wanted to make a tune that represented me to the fullest. That would mean something intertwined with a lot of old reggae; that’s the kind of music that I grew up on. In my house, that’s the kind of music I listen to now. I have older ears, I love my revival and whatnot, but at the same time, I wanted something very current and very now. So he [Labrinth] started to put stuff together and within about maybe another two hours, that was the end result. I just started writing to it and that was it.’
Aside from the heavy basslines and the catchy lyrics, another buzz surrounding the track is the intro. So authentic of that revival and old reggae sound, a lot of people have been left absolutely racking their brains as to which song it was originally lifted from…
‘Do you know what? It’s not a sample. The beginning is me and the guitar is Labrinth. It’s totally original. Everybody has been saying the same thing, “Where’s the sample from?” “What song is that from again?” because they think it sounds like something familiar; but no, it’s all totally original. It’s really cool. I like that. It means it sounds authentic, which I love. You know some people try to redo a sound and it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of whatever genre they are coming from? But I’m very happy to know that it sounds authentic, rather than I’m trying a revival thing and it doesn’t work.’
Storming up the charts and tearing down live shows all over the country, she’s showcasing the new and, in her words, ‘reinvigorated’ Ms Dynamite. So what’s changed? What can we expect from the north London MC?
‘I think I’m just a lot more confident. I feel a lot more relaxed within myself. I feel a lot more accepting and loving of myself. When you are young, you are just dealing with that whole thing of who am I? What am I? Where am I? Just figuring out who you are…
‘Being in the spotlight made that really difficult for me. At the time, I was like, yep, I’m fine. I’m good to go. It felt like I was in control, but having grown up a little and having a bit more experience, I look back on certain things and realise they were quite tough issues to deal with. I was afraid to step one foot in any direction in case I was giving off the wrong impression or a negative impression.
‘I felt the responsibility – which I took on myself – such a sense of responsibility to my biological brothers and sisters, but I also felt it to the younger people who I would still class as my younger brothers and sisters. It made it hard for me to grow as a person. I was like, OK, this is a safe place; I’m going stay here. I’m not going to step out this box. I’ll stay here, because this is cool. This is what they need me to be. I never experimented within myself as a person in any way whatsoever.’
Motherhood = Changes
The feelings of being trapped and unable to express herself are not things that Ms Dynamite had even considered before. As she explains, it was the birth of her son Shavaar that made her realise exactly how limited she had subconsciously become and things had to change.
‘Instantly, I just wanted to be the best mum that I could possibly be. All these things that I had never really acknowledged before or that needed to change in my life, I just wasn’t able to ignore them anymore. I learned very quickly that when you really want the best for your child, you actually have to be that. You can’t just tell your child one thing and do the other. Kids are smart.
‘My son is so intelligent, and at a very young age he would basically let me know in little ways, like, “Mum, how can you tell me to… and you’re not doing that yourself.” It really made me look at myself, face myself and change the tings that need changing.
‘I’m still in that process, don’t get me wrong, but I feel in a very good space. It’s very, very positive. Motherhood has given me that freedom to have expression of a different kind. I just feel much more at peace, but in a very genuine way and a very confident and conscious way in regards to who I am and what I want to do.’
Clearly her son is a very stabilising force within her life, keeping his mum firmly in check and also very grounded. He’s doesn’t hold back in terms of his critique either, deeming his Uncle Akala’s music as much more credible than Mum’s, as Ms Dynamite explains.
‘You know what? He’s so rude [laughs]. He loves rapping and he loves my brother [Akala]. One day he was like, “Mum, do you mind if I don’t like your music? Your music is cool, but sometimes you just chat gibberish, I don’t even understand you. What are you even saying on the Katy B track, because I don’t understand you?” [Laughs] He’s very honest and I love that. He knows all the lyrics to my brother’s whole entire album. I wake up at 6am and he will have it on full blast in his room, rapping along to my brother’s music. When we go to my brother’s performances, my son loves it. When we go to mine he’s just like, ‘yeah, it’s cool’ he’s so like, “Whatever.” He is very good at giving feedback, but it’s always constructive and usually quite funny the way he comes out with stuff.’
One Ms Dynamite song that cannot be negatively critiqued is her very first single ‘Booo!’ Although a decade old now, this song should really come with a health warning, as we’ve seen first hand what it can do to people in a club, at a festival or even at home in your own front room. To have such a classic under your belt, in the form of your very first single, must give you an overwhelming sense of pride. However, Niomi takes a slightly different view.
‘I don’t want to sound stupid and I don’t want to sound not genuine and I don’t want to sound like I’m up myself, but I don’t ever feel proud. I feel like music is a gift. To me it’s a gift and when I write, it just comes. It’s not like I had to go out and train for years, or like I had to study. Music is a gift. It was given to me. I feel blessed and very thankful to be in the position I’m in, but I kind of feel like it’s not even me in a sense.So for me to be like, “Yeah, I’m so proud that I wrote that song,” I’ve just never really felt like that. I’ve never ever considered, “Yeah, I’m proud, I’ve got a classic.” I just don’t think it’s something I can take the credit for.’
Hailing from the UK garage era, Ms Dynamite manages to stay slightly head and shoulders above the rest of her female counterparts whose roots also lie in that genre. However, this leaves us wondering how she manages to stay relevant – especially coming from a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore.
‘I don’t know… that is a really good question. I can’t ever compare myself to someone else, I don’t know what would make me “more than” someone else. I think that I don’t ever really overly try to be relevant and I don’t try to be something that I’m not. At the same time, I don’t try to redo something I did 10 years ago. I listen to what is going on, but I will always add my spin on it. If I’m not feeling it, then I’m just not feeling it and that’s that… There is some music that is current that I won’t touch and I will never touch. Maybe if I was trying to be current, then I would, but I’m not. I’m doing what I’m feeling; maybe that is what helps me to connect with different people and different generations.’
From the very beginning of her career, Ms. Dynamite has always stayed true to herself in terms of her music. In the current musical climate, where it appears that many female artists have to sell sex in order to sell records, or turn themselves into a gimmick in order to maintain press attention, Ms. Dynamite makes it very clear that she absolutely, point blankly, refuses to compromise.
‘Nothing is more important to me on earth than being real to myself – nothing. If being relevant to the current generation and the current musical climate means that I have to sell out and not be who I am, then forget it. I’ll find something else to do. It’s not like this is the only thing I can do and it’s not like this is the only thing that makes me who I am.’
The role of a female MC has never been an easy one. Both here and in the US, it seems to be very difficult to find a credible female rapper who isn’t being puppeteered in some way by industry execs. The UK has a string of extremely talented female MC’s, who still remain both unsigned and unsung. It kind of begs the question, is there even a place for the female MC at all?
‘I’m not going to lie, I think it is very difficult for female MCs. There are a lot of amazing female MCs out there – Lioness, Shystie, No Lay, Baby Blue… I think they could be getting a lot more support and a lot more recognition. At the same time, I would never just say it is down to the music industry, because often the music industry will follow what there is a demand for, whatever is going to make some money for them. If we don’t create that market, it is unlikely there will be one any time soon.
‘It’s a very male-dominated world and most industries that you go into are dominated by men and they continue to be dominated by men because we continue to allow them to dominate us. Whether that is because we want something so bad that we fulfil their stereotype and we decide to strip off instead of actually singing to get us where we are going…
‘As women, if we are going to complain about the way things are and the current climate, we have to understand that no one can make us do or be anything that we don’t want to be. I’m not going to judge women who choose to rely on their bodies, or on being a gimmick in order to sell records. If that is their path and that is what they choose, that is up to them.
‘As much as other artists will inspire young women to follow them, I would like to offer a bit of a balance to that. If you don’t want to sell your body and if you don’t want to be a gimmick and if you don’t want to be anything you are not, you don’t need to, because I’m here, I’m being me, I’m doing me and you can do that too.’
Ms Dynamite is always recognised as being real. She is also always recognised for her ability to create club bangers, but there is another thing she is known for, which she jokingly calls ‘the gift and the curse’.
In mock anger she says, ‘Honestly, I have gone through phases where I’m like, if one more person says that to me…
The catchy hooks and choruses she pens have also become her staple. Be honest, how many of you broke into ‘Dy-na-mi-tee-hee’ when you saw this article? The singer and MC explains why, although slightly annoying at times, the fact that her catchy lyrics are so memorable is really a blessing.
‘I also go through phases where I really appreciate the fact that is one of my songs that is most well known. I am very hard to annoy these days. It takes a lot more than that. I think it’s more funny than anything else. What really makes me laugh is when people say it they are the first person that has ever said that to me before. If I had £1 for everybody that has ever said that, I would be absolutely rolling in it [laughs].
‘Now, not only do I have to deal with “Dyna-mi-tee-hee”, but also “What you talking about?” every minute. The other day I did an interview with someone else and they were saying things like, “do you keep moving with the lights on?” Just really dry jokes… It’s just really funny. It’s kind of like a gift and a curse, because those are the things that make the songs catchy, but then they are also the things that won’t ever let the song die. I appreciate it because it’s like a symbol of the fact that people like my music and it’s very flattering.
Follow Ms Dynamite on Twitter @Ms_Dynamite and join her on Facebook: Ms Dynamite Official
Words by Trina John-Charles