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Feb 4 / Prinza

Interview with Ms Dynamite by Emma Garwood

It’s hard to cast your mind back to 2002, to try and get into the heads of the Mercury Music Prize judges and imagine you were hearing Ms Dynamite’s first release, ‘A Little Deeper’ afresh.

The musical landscape, at the time, was looking for an antidote to the entrance of the Pop Idol formula – Will Young and Gareth Gates were carrying out the softest, wettest battle for the pop crown; Westlife were riding high on a continued Irish wave and the chart success for urban music was only being satisfied by the heavyweights of the scene, Eminem and various incarnations of the Destiny’s Child line-up.

Did the youth in the UK identify with any of that? Only as much as anyone can; on a purely superficial level. Meanwhile groups of people had been involved in evolving garage and UK hip hop into a sound that was establishing itself as UK grime. Enter Ms Dynamite…

Niomi MacLean-Daley cut a fine figure as a fresh faced 20-year old when she first started igniting her path towards notoriety in 2001. She had been fed regular meals of hip hop and reggae throughout her childhood and her contemporaries were making some noise as So Solid Crew, who Ni enjoyed a stint with before concentrating on her own endeavours. Being blessed with equal skills of MCing and having a beautiful singing voice, she could traverse the delicate line between UK garage and chart music, which welcomed her big melody lines.

Before long, Ms Dynamite had amassed a body of work, the aforementioned album that she gave the title, ‘A Little Deeper’. The long player made its way into the charts and onto the desks of the Mercury judging committee, so what was it back then, that they heard a Mercury winner in?

The win bucked the Mercury trend; Niomi was the first solo black woman to receive the accolade and the panel praised ‘A Little Deeper’ “for transforming the face of urban music, and providing a British voice to counter too many “copycat American sounds”.” The win was unexpected, not least from Niomi herself; her accolades at the MOBO awards and even the BRITs were could have been predicted, but this was a validation afforded only to a lucky few, just one a year.

Even if Ms Dynamite’s mantelpiece had laid barren of trophies that year, the momentum of the album in the charts was providing hit after hit, with ‘Ms Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ being the sound that became ubiquitous with saying her name. ‘Put Him Out’ was a sassy number that managed to be an edict for female strength against her wayward, violent man, with enough R&B bounce that made it daily fodder for the TV music channels. ‘It Takes More’ again showed girl power as she cut down bragging men at their knees, serving as a response to a lot of gangster rap that promoted money, women and watches as the biggest indicators of happiness. It takes a smart 20-year old to proffer the statement, “Tell me how many Africans died for the baguettes on your rolex…” Blood diamonds and domestic violence aren’t the usual topics for a carefree young woman.

Happy, and successful yes, but you couldn’t call Niomi carefree for sure. As a young girl, she’d witnessed more than her fair of share of tragedy, with the loss of five of her brothers and sisters at an early age; “My mum lost five children, three of them while I was growing up,” she says. She lost one child to cot death. One was born with a hole in the heart. Another was stillborn. She had two miscarriages. That affected me terribly. Seeing her go off to the hospital to give birth, and coming home alone, with no baby.”

The essence of ‘family’ bursts through every vein of Niomi’s body, her one priority that eclipses all the trappings and expectations of the industry. It was that one motivation that made her withdraw from the industry at the height of her success, to concentrate on giving birth to her baby boy, Shavaar, and spending the quality time with him that he deserved.

If we were to park our story there and pick up at the start of this decade, the tale of a headstrong, successful female artist would be an idyllic fable, but not a true one. Like with all good tales, there was a period of struggle that tested Ms Dynamite’s mettle. With Shavaar being a bouncing toddler, Niomi put her mind towards a follow-up to her first explosive album. The product was ‘Judgement Days’, that although spawned a no. 25 hit in the charts, made no more waves than that. The formula was similar; her social commentary was backed by well-woven melodies and beats, but what was lacking was hard to put your finger on. The sentiments were there, but did they lack the venom of her youth in delivery? Had the first album blazed a trail that the tire marks of the second found it hard to leave an impression on?

Rather than push money into its promotion, or court the press for their hand in selling it, Ms Dynamite showed bravery in recognising defeat. The album was good, but she was possibly her own worst critic; she told the label to shelve any more work associated with the release, and she retreated to the warmth of her family again.

Rumours of another release from 2005 ‘til now were little more than that; work was spoken of and even given a name – ‘Democracy’ was supposed to be her 3rd release, but apart from a few TV appearances, fans weren’t going to get their fix of Dynamite ‘til 2010. Enter Katy B…

There was a new young female face on the scene; having been vocalist herself for Magnetic Man, earning her a legion of insta-fans, Katy B was sitting on her own material to be released. With an education in grime music, Katy B had grown up listening to and admiring her older counterpart, and was a first choice when it came to adding the powerful grime MCing to her release, ‘Lights Out’. Ms Dynamite annihilated the vocal and gave the song the edge that we know she can unleash when she’s on form.

More examples of the same followed suit, and Ms Dynamite’s choices on who to work with have been inspired; she’s managed to cherry-pick her projects with enough credibility and dancefloor impact that her own return has been hugely anticipated. Blazing her vocal through ‘Fire’ by Magnetic Man, adding experience to The Collective’s Children in Need charity single ‘Teardrop’, and providing bangers in the form of DJ Zinc’s ‘Wile Out’ and Laidback Luke and Diplo’s ‘Sweat Through Your Radio’ has all added childish excitement for the release of new Dynamite material. With her name stamped all over it, Ni has treated us to one single so far, the Labrinth produced track, ‘Neva Soft’, which has reggae smoothness, dubby dirtiness and Dynamite’s vocals punching their way through it. It’s a good sign of things to come; hopeful for more of the same, Ms Dynamite gives you confidence when she says, “Today’s about fun and dirty bass lines…”

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