Welcome to ‘One of a Kind’, a new series in partnership with Tia Maria celebrating the uniqueness and self-expression of some of the UK’s brightest creative talents. Here, we’re given first-hand accounts from three ‘One of a Kind’ creatives on the come-up, exploring how their unapologetic approach to their respective crafts elevated them to where they are today. Next up, it’s rising grime emcee M.I.C, an artist on a one-man-mission to flip the genre on its head and push it to new limits with lucid, free-flowing lyricism and embrace of experimental motifs.
Deftones, Kate Bush, Sepultura and P Money. All individually worlds apart in terms of “genre classification”, but all integral influences for M.I.C, the North London grime artist who simply doesn’t do the conventional.
Introduced to the sound by his mum “showing me ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ when I was in Year 7 or 8”, M.I.C has gone on to become one of the most experimental, forward-thinking MCs to be a part of the scene, which he is continuing to bend and stretch with every move he makes. M.I.C tackles themes in his lyrics that grime doesn't always go in on. Whether it’s highlighting racism, sexism or homophobia, M.I.C is up-front and unapologetic with everything he does.
He’s also completely boundless in both his own free-form sonics and irrepressible energy, which naturally makes him great to interview. In a conversation that covers everything from Brazilian metal band Sepultura’s genre-blending through to US pop-rap sensation Travis Scott’s recent track, “Franchise”, using grime templates in its sonics, we caught up with M.I.C to discuss individuality in 2020, why genres are “shackles” and what makes him a truly one-of-a-kind act to look out for as we head into 2021.
COMPLEX: You’re doing grime differently, whether it’s with the themes you cover in your lyrics or your sonic approach. What inspired you to serve up this take on the genre?
M.I.C: In terms of grime, Jme is probably my biggest inspiration. He’s Nigerian, he’s from North, he’s vegan—you can tell he’s a nerd as well, so I can proper relate to him. I used to idolise him growing up so it’s a nice, full circle sort of thing that he’s now shouting out my music these days.
When I listen to his music, he talks about stuff that is true to him. I don’t talk about shotting or anything like that in my music, as it’s not true to me. Playing on your PC and making pounded yam? Now that, I can relate to.
You’re a big fan of Sepultura, who are a Brazilian band that embraced tribal music and Brazilian rhythms and instrumentation alongside metal, in a scene where no one else really had done before. Did they inspire you a lot in terms of flipping a genre’s aesthetic and embracing motifs and themes like you are doing in grime?
I think, without even realising it, they’ve definitely been a part of it. It’s always been a conscious mix to blend different genres together in my music. All my favourite musicians or bands have people that have done that really well. Whether it’s someone like Korn, or whether it’s Solange, or whoever, there are so many amazing musicians across the spectrum who have done it amazingly.
As for Sepultura, I used to listen to Chaos AD and Roots; those two albums defy genres in many ways. I actually think ‘genre’, as a term, is a lie anyway—it’s just journalism and compartmentalisation. The best music isn’t as strict as just falling into one genre. Even Dizzee Rascal on Boy In Da Corner, he didn’t even think of that as a “grime” album, per se. He was influenced by Ludacris and Three Six Mafia, and he was into metal as well! Something totally different was borne by him out of those influences.
You’re someone who’s unapologetic in your lyricism in a genre which doesn’t traditionally cover the issues you touch on. What, or who, inspired you to be so upfront and uncompromising in your approach?
Genre isn’t just a lie, but it’s also shackles. It makes people think they have to abide by rules and listen to other people. There’s no rules. With art, there are no rules. With my music, in particular, I want to separate myself from the tenets of the genre.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations in British rap?
Another big influence for me is CASISDEAD. Now, I couldn’t speak about my life in the same way that CAS does in the things he’s rapping about; I don’t know about shotting Class As, so I can’t rap about it. He’s so vulgar, but he is the best rapper ever. The way in which he delvers his stories is just so sick to me.
Merky Ace is amazing, too. He is the GOAT! Everyone copies what he does. He can do everything. He’s an innovator, a virtuosic MC and producer that people have definitely emulated. His influence is heavily underrated. Then it’s people like Skepta, the Bloodline guys, Dot Rotten, Prez T, P Money… There’s a broad range of people there.
I have a particular affinity with artists from North London, though. Not just because I’m from there, but the most unique artists in the country are from North London.
Is there a rivalry there?
As wild as it sounds—especially as I just said Merky Ace is the GOAT, and he’s from South—I don’t think it’s a competition. That’s because North London is just so clear: we’ve got Jme, Skepta, CAS, Bloodline… There are people I’m forgetting too, but North London is the best.
South has the numbers right now, if you look at people like Dave and Stormzy, but North is way too clear in terms of influence.
(The weather in Hackney Wick immediately turns as M.I.C says this, pelting down with rain, prompting him to say, “Wow! East is actually angry. I’m sorry, Wiley!”)
What do you think about the resurgence of grime beats in the mainstream of late? With Travis Scott’s “Franchise” beat sounding like a Skepta instrumental, is this proving that grime isn’t dead as some people have said?
It is a proper grime instrumental, but what it reminded me of was Memphis rap—which is definitely what Skepta was inspired by in his production.
Yeah, it’s funny: Skepta is massively influenced by Project Pat and Three Six Mafia. It sort of reminds me of the way drill sonics have gone back and forth across the Atlantic.
It’s amazing to me how many production techniques are being cross-pollinated between both scenes. It’s like a tennis rally between the UK and the US in terms of influences now. Before, it was an open goal for the US and its influence on the UK. But the back and forth is proper now; the international ear is becoming accustomed to UK sound tricks and sonics.
If you’re into a genre, it makes sense to properly live and breathe it as a genre. But it’s been too insular. If there is a lull, which there is currently, it’s because people need to stop being so strict in terms of the influences they’re allowing into the scene.
How has this year been for you creatively? Despite how shit it’s been generally, have you found time to build or improve yourself in some areas?
This year has been hell! I would not live it again, in terms of the creative side of things. In terms of making art, it’s been tough. I just miss performing. That’s what gets my creativity going. That’s what I want to be known for: my live. I want to get to a level where I’m playing at that venue over there (M.I.C points towards Hackney Wick’s iconic Copperbox) in front of thousands of people. That’s my dream, one day: being a great performer.
Not having that in my day by day, week by week, has been sad. Lockdown is just long. Everyone’s bored of it, but M.I.C is really, really bored of it—more than anyone. I can promise you. I’m an extrovert. But yeah, COVID-666 just needs to go away! I’m hoping that we can get through it soon so I can get back out there and performing again, doing what I love.
What sort of projects have you worked on this year that have got you excited?
I have a lot of exciting stuff coming up, but I signed an NDA with myself so I can’t say too much at the moment. Next year, I wanna do a lot of things outside of music. I’m potentially going to be moving into the world of film. Nothing official; I don’t wanna wake up in Wood Green Crown Court for giving anything away I shouldn’t do [laughs]. But keep those eyes peeled!
Tia Maria’s spirit is ‘One of a Kind’—what makes you and your work one of a kind?
I think I’ve had a very unusual life. That’s what makes me one of a kind.
Which ‘One of a Kind’ people or artists influenced your work and the person you are today?
Deftones, Kate Bush and CAS. But the other guy breaking this rule would be Danny Brown. XXX is a truly incredible album. It’s an amazing album from an amazing person. There are moments that make me cry, that make me laugh, and make me smile on that album. It’s so, so good! I’m so happy he’s good now.
What is needed to stand out from the crowd in your chosen creative field?
If I was to really, really oversimplify it, I would say: you’ve got to have an interesting image, and there are really no rules. I think Young Thug is someone who has done that so well and blown up as a result.
Is that the reason you wanted to wear the dress in your shoot with i-D? Were you inspired by the ‘Jeffery’ artwork?
I hadn’t actually seen that at all. I only got into Young Thug recently through my girlfriend, and it’s only recently I’ve appreciated his artistry. I didn’t really know about it or connect with it; the dress thing, for me, was just something I wanted to do on my own accord. Maybe we’re kindred spirits... Is he a capricorn? [Laughs]
How important is it for you to be original in your line of work, with so many people following trends these days?
As important as breathing, because it’s me. It’s something that I wouldn’t even think about. It’s part of being alive, like breathing. So it’s just like that.
Do you have a daily routine, habit or mantra to keep yourself independent and true to yourself?
There’s four words, which you always have to say in order. Go. To. The. Gym. Doing that every day is the glue that keeps my existence going. Everything else gets ironed out by doing that. It keeps my mind together, it inspires me, helps me sleep… That’s why I’m so angry they’re closed. I also try and listen to a new piece of music every day. Loading up albums I’ve never heard before, or sets I’ve never heard of, is great—but hard to do.
If you could be a cocktail, what would you be and what sort of moment/scenario would you drink Tia Maria in?
I’d be an absinthe peanut punch. It’s an incredible beverage. In terms of scenario: 6:45 in the evening, late summer. I would be in a jazz bar in the States, or somewhere else in the UK—just not London. There would be a few famous people that I know there, too. The lead singer of Deftones would be there. Sade would be there, too, just cooling. Everyone would be there in my midst, swishing my glass of peanut punch Tia Maria. No corona. Everything is right, and everything is nice. You know that Leonardo DiCaprio meme face where he’s pulling that face, drinking that drink.