Million Dan is an absolute legend. Known world wide as Mike J from the Demon Boyz, he has returned as Million Dan and has his Spektrum LP out right now. Check out what he had to say to Aidan Severs about where he has been for all these years and what we can expect from his new LP and his own Million Dappa Records.
There's not much need in recounting your musical past, everyone reading this will know for sure! We can start instead with you filling us in on the years between the Demon Boyz and 'Dogz 'n' Sledgez'.
Million Dan: The years between the Demon Boyz and Dogz N Sledgez were very big years for me. This period saw me develop into the artist I am today. Back in the day, myself and Demon D annihilated many shows and mashed up many stages, but that time finally came when we said, "It's time to crush this industry as solo artists!".
Let me give you a quick summary / history trip:
After we agreed to work as solo's, Demon D then flew to the U.S. to pursue his career (as his flavour was Hip Hop / RnB). I flew to Jamaica to check out that scene first hand – as my flavour was more Hip Hop / Reggae.
At that time, my parents were in the process of building a house in Jamaica, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to go and see them, as well as check out 'Waa Gwarn' out there in J.A. I eventually ended up staying with them – period! This was the beginning of something big with me. Many Artists in the U.K. hold the Jamaican and American music scene with very high regard (me included), so when I actually started 'sparring' with some heavyweight Jamaican MC's and singers, Mike J / Million Dan began the next level of growth as an artist. This new journey was completely undeliberate, but fate had one serious course mapped out for me.
What followed was years of me working on the Jamaican underground scene then eventually Canada and the U.S. I was regularly performing alongside some of the biggest names the industry had to offer. Many of the big names knew who I was because they had repeatedly seen me blaze up many shows, but I didn't record any material with them simply because I wasn't signed to any record labels.
During this time, I had to basically start my whole career from the beginning. Start from scratch. Even though I had my big name and reputation in the U.K. as part of The Demon Boyz, that big reputation didn't mean anything outside of Europe.
Fast forward to 2003. Whilst in Canada, I had written this new song, but didn't know what to call it. I was thinking "Get Up & Move" or maybe just "Raagh", or even "Dogz N Sledgez" etc. Anyway, I had started flying into the U.K. more frequently and was working / producing on some new Million Dan track here. After I laid the vocals down for this particular tune, I called my bredrin – DJ Ras Kwame. I told him that I had an exclusive for him…
The rest is history…
Many people might consider this a come back, is that how you see it?
Million Dan: Yeh this is a comeback, but only as far as the U.K. is concerned. I became quiet in the U.K. when I moved to Jamaica, but in J.A. I was making nuff noise. As far as the world goes, I've been rampant throughout – terrorising the underground scenes of Jamaica, Canada and the U.S. The Mike J / Million Dan onslaught never stopped!
All of your (very different sounding) singles from 'Spektrum' have been received excellently and rightly so. What mind set do you have when beginning to write something that you want to really catch on?
Million Dan: I think first and foremost, the winning formula is always a BIG production and a MASSIVE hook. You gotta reel the people in like a fisherman does when catching fish! Yo, when I dropped Dog N Sledgez, the industry went 'Blaaow!'. Exactly the same thing happened when I dropped 'Mic Chek' and 'Scream Out' and most definitely when we dropped 'Glimity Glamity' back in the Demon Boy days.
As far as mind set goes, you can't really dissect the process when you're making a hit tune. The most important thing is that the vibes and energy must be right. You know when you've just recorded a banger, you can feel it. The ultimate test is when you wake up the next morning and listen to the song again: If it sounds just as big, or bigger than the night before, then yeah, you might have yourself something special right there. Then you have to pass that all important test of playing the song to your peers (close friends and famz), they are the peoples who will really let you know if it's BIG. When I play my family something big, they would just laugh and start swearing words of abuse, "Bombo Clart Milly… this is massive!"
What process do you go through when writing a song and what's the most important part of it?
Million Dan: Different things can happen at the creation stage of a song. There's times when I get an idea for a beat / production first, then after building the track, I would then write a vocal for that track. Or there's the flip side, where I will come up with a hook first, then I would build the whole track around the hook. Or lastly, I would work the lyrical side and metaphors and build the verse first, then I would proceed in building the hook and the production around that. This tends to be the way I always approach lyrics for a serious subject matter.
My forthcoming single from my Spektrum album is exactly that, a very serious track. Titled: 'Inner City Got Plenty Cases', this song talks about the 'Inner City and Ghetto's of London where I grew up. Constructing this song was much more about the lyrical, than the beat. Saying that though, let me shout out my brother [Producer] Jay Large for the production on this one. Absolutely sick fam!
How important has the formation of 'Million Dappa Records' been to your success as a solo artist?
Million Dan: The formation of the Lion – Million Dappa Records has been completely paramount and at the center of my assault plan. When it comes to the Music Industry, I've been there, seen it, done it. As an artist, I've been signed to major and independent labels, toured the world and worked with many artists etc., so the time had come for me to finally step up and utilise all my knowledge.
Million Dappa Records saw its genesis at the beginning of 2006. The most important factor was assembling a small team that had good or great experience in the industry. A team that would be committed and one I could trust. My MDR team are straight family to me. That's one of our strengths and the reason we do so well.
There are a lot of genres of music represented on 'Spektrum', are these all genres that you actually listen to?
Million Dan: I'm a fan of music. All music. I grew up on Reggae, then was adopted by Hip Hop. As much as Reggae and Hip Hop is me fundamentally, I like anything that sounds good. It could be Jazz, Rock, Pop, Latin, Grime, Classical, Dub, Dubstep – anything, as long as it sounds good.
I grew up in a typical Jamaican household so of course we had the Bob Marley albums and King Yellow Man albums, but we also had the James Brown albums and the Al Green albums. Then when you add in the fact that I spent a lot of my time around sound systems as a kid, you can see the diversity.
To appreciate real music, you must be able to tell when a song is heavy, regardless of the genre. Whatever style or sound that particular artist is trying to achieve – I personally can always tell whether it was a good, natural sounding attempt, or whether it was some half hearted money making attempt – with no soul. I would prefer to listen to a good jazz tune, rather than listen to a wak hip hop song any time – trust me!
What are your favourite genres after Hip Hop and Reggae and what is the strangest type of music you listen to?
Million Dan: Apart from Hip Hop and Reggae, I'm a fan of RnB / Soul music. When I'm working, all I hear is loud music: big basslines, big snears and big kick drums, so when I'm not working, I like to listen to a calmer, more passive selection. This is what I listen to in my spare time. I like slow jams, but only the good ones. Nowadays I think the quality of good RnB has deteriorated. Too many artists are worried about being commercial rather than just pushing out good quality RnB. The same thing can be said about Hip hop.
The strangest kind of music I've ever heard was when I performed at the Electric Festival in Canada. After my performance, I went to another stage to check out the other groups. There was a Japanese group playing some weird head banging noise. I can't even say it was music! To enjoy that kinda shizzle, you gotta be taking some seriously heavy shit!
Who has influenced you musically during the making of 'Spektrum'?
Million Dan: To be honest with you – nobody did. Whilst I was in the studio getting the album ready, I was completely tuned into ME. That's it. I wasn't interested in what was 'in' or 'out' or the latest trend etc. I think it's important that artists sound like themselves and not a stupid imitation of somebody else regularly getting played on the radio! Influence is a powerful thing – truss me! Many rappers undeliberately start to sound the same because they're all influencing each other. Million Dan has always been tuned into Million Dan.
What was it like working with people like Sizzla and MCD, people who are big and legendary in their respective games?
Million Dan: It's always an honour working with a lion or lioness at the top of his / her respective game/s. All of the artists featured on my album are people I have a huge amount of respect for. There are names on there that people know and names that people don't know, but one thing they all have in common is their incredible talent. Artists like Niambi and Namouzoke alongside of course the great Bounty Killer, MCD and Sizzla are just a few names. Let me plug this and tell all the readers tuned in to go get my Spektrum album. You won't be disappointed – truss me!
The artwork for 'Spektrum' harks back to 'Recognition' and you included 'Glimity Glamity' as the final track on 'Spektrum'. Is it important to you that your Demon Boyz days aren't forgotten?
Million Dan: Most definitely. I'm proud of my Demon Boy history and if you don't know, GET to know! DB were flexing during the original days. For me, I call it the great era of Hip Hop. We were rampant during the the days when groups like Public Enemy and the Leaders Of The New School to B$rand Nubian and Tribe Called Quest were doing their thing. Yeh that was proper hip hop. Real hip hop. To be a part of that era was big.
The Demon Boyz laid down our mark within the concrete foundations of this thing. Even though we were very young and still at school during most of the course of our Demon Boy career, we changed the game forever. Alongside London Posse and Hijack, we three groups set the trends. In a recent poll held by Hip Hop Connection magazine – the same three groups came in as producing the best three Hip Hop albums ever recorded from the U.K. – nuff said!
For the Spektrum album cover, I deliberately wanted to copy our original 'Recognition' artwork as a mark of respect. 'Recognition' was my album debut and Spektrum is my solo album debut.
The Demon Boyz have been one of the most influential rap groups, particularly in the UK. Why do you think that was?
Million Dan: I think it was many factors:
a) Our age. Being young is always a novelty in this industry – especially when you've got skillz!
b) Our Rap styles: At that time, everybody was rapping in a deep American accent! We simply MC'd in a more natural London style, blended with our Jamaican heritage.
c) Our backgrounds connected with the fans. We were straight from the ghetto, spitting ghetto lyrics about our surroundings. It was real and people liked it. Other rappers were spitting lyrics about New York and most of them hadn't even been there!
d) Lastly, the speed of my tongue. The fact that I could (and still) spit lyrics at a very fast rate! People loved it on the songs and at the shows. Me and Skinnyman recently gave everybody a demonstration of that speed – at my Spektrum Album launch party at the Jazz Cafe [Sat. April 19th 2008]. Those who were there know the dilly – Big Tingz! I think footage can be still be seen on You Tube.
What is your best memory of those Demon Boyz days?
Million Dan: There were some heavy memories. Touring with the legendary NWA was one of them. We were on the same tour bus and lived closely with the whole crew for days! DB alongside Dr Dre, alongside Easy E (R.I.P), alongside Ice Cube and MC Ren etc. Demon Boyz and London Posse supported their British tour and every single show we did was absolutely heavy. The London leg was Brixton Academy… that show was killer, nuff said.
Another memory was when we toured Europe with Salt N Pepa. They loved our rap styles and we all got along like famz. Pepa was a big fan of the whole Jamaican reggae scene. Whilst on the tour, she had Jamaican sound clash tapes of King Jammie and Killermanjaro. The coincidence was – I went on the tour with exactly the same tapes too! We would all be backstage listening to the legendary Papa San and then spit lyrics over the bashment riddims on the tapes. If the Demon Boyz were American based, I know a solid, long term working relationship with the two camps would have developed.
Lastly, I have to big up Chuck D and Public Enemy. They were extremely supportive of the DB too. On trips to the U.K., they would always 'Big Up' me and Demon D on the radio. They went on to giving us a shout out on their heavyweight Album 'It Takes A Nation Of Million To Hold Us Back'. For me, that was one of the highlights of my Demon Boy career. To get a salute from a group like that was – and still is amazing…
Is there anything that people don't really know about back then?
Million Dan: Yeh, this is a good question! Let me quickly speak about DJ Devastate. A lot of people thought he was a part of the Demon Boyz, but he actually wasn't! He was only involved in our first DB album, but then we parted company with him very soon after that. Our proper and official DJ, who ran with us for most of the duration of the Demon Boyz was the heavyweight DJ Def K. A seasoned name on the world DMC battle circuit. Well known for terrorising all the other DJs who tried to step up! I still work closely with Def K to this very day – he's head of AnR at Million Dappa Records and still one of the best scratch DJs on the road right now!
All of your tracks have such different sounds – part of the 'Spektrum' approach – is this something you plan to continue in your work or should we expect something different in the future?
Million Dan: Spektrum was a concept I had for a while. It means many things. A spektrum of songs. A spektrum of time. A spektrum of artists, featured from a spektrum of different countries. Also, remember my recent mixtape is called 'Infrared' which is also a real part of the scientific spectrum. My next mixtape will be called 'Ultraviolet' which will complete the series and complete that concept. I have another heavy concept for my next album, but I won't give that away right now! Keep checking out my websites for updates on that one…
To finish, any shouts or plugs? Any advice for the kids or knowledge for the grown?
Million Dan: Yo, I wanna big up all my peoples who have supported me – past and present. One love to you all. Have you ever heard the Orange slogan: "The Future's Bright, The Future's Orange?" Well let me tell you the latest one…"The Future's Bright, The Future's Million Dan and The Juggernaut Million Dapa Records – Crushing major labels to dust!". Go tell you fren – fe tell dem fren, fe tell dem fren…" Come and check us out on the websites below.
Your support is blessed and always appreciated, so make sure you pass through…
Here is some advise for the young artists coming through:
Before anything, you must have faith in you. In 2008 the music industry is a hard place to succeed and the competition is fierce. Once upon a time in the U.K., there was an era when records used to sell. During this period there was a lot more money floating around which was good for aspiring artists. Now the doors are much harder to kick open, so when you kick, you must kick hard.
1) Build a Myspace page. Put your best songs on there. Try & put some thought into building your page and create it so it grabs the attention of the viewer.
2) Buy 100 blank CDs from any store i.e.; Curry's / Argos / Woolworth's etc., then burn your hottest songs onto every single CD. Once complete, make sure you write your contact details on the CD and don't forget to include your myspace page address.
3) Go along to any open mic sessions where you think artists and industry people may be hanging out. Grab the mic when you get your chance and make sure you spit (or sing) fire lyrics on that sh#t! Following that, go and network your CDs to who-ever may be present. Only go to the famous people or to anybody who has given you some big talk!! You will find that a lot of people in the industry will give you broken promises, but think of it like this: Out of 20 broken promises, at least one must come through.
4) Keep doing this process for as long as you need to.
5) Let me say that again…. DO THIS PROCESS FOR AS LONG AS YOU NEED TO.
6) Nuff Said… Holla at me through Myspace in six months time if any of my advice has worked for you!
O.K, Let me just say a massive Laaarrge up to Aiden and the rest of the guys for this interview! – Nuff Rizpekk! Keep supporting ya boooy. 1up! Million Dan.