MILLI MAJOR: The Grime MC getting major paper from his directorial debut
When Milli Major made his first mark as an MC in the UK's Grime scene more than a decade ago, little did he know that the music career he was beginning to build would evolve into something so much bigger than just music.
Known back then as 9 Milli Major, the North London MC was and continues to be an integral part of the collective known as Bloodline, with Grime stars including Meridian Dan, Big H, President T, Bossman Birdie and Paper Pabs all representing the group at various times. But after years of passionately repping the crew, as well as releasing solo music, 2020 found Milli Major embracing a whole new passion project in the shape of his first short film titled Major Paper.
Determined to bring this gritty tale of London's streets to life, Milli took on the roles of Director, Producer, Writer and even created the soundtrack for the project. "Last year I didn't even see myself making a film," he explains, still surprised at where his journey as an artist has taken him. "You can speak to every single one of my friends, cousins, mum, dad, whoever, but I've never spoken about making a film before. It was never on my agenda but I feel blessed by God to have had the idea, carried it out and have had the resources to be able to do it."
It was a complete shift for the music star and anyone who has followed the Grime scene over the years will have certainly raised an eyebrow when the news of Milli Major’s directorial debut was first announced. Since the release in July 2020, however, the support from not only Milli's close circle but also the wider community as a whole has been evident and more than 175,000 views on Major Paper says it all.
"I was nervous anticipating how people would recieve it but it was received well. People said it was too short but I didn't know they would have such an invested interest like that to feel it was too short. I was just hoping people would like it. There's actually comments where people are angry at it being only 13 minutes long and they're the best ones because it means you're emotionally invested into something that I've created."
The change of creative outlet for an MC renowned for making Grime music was celebrated by his closest family too: "Everyone was proud. I hadn't heard from my dad in time and he called me. My mum, bless her, I've had some proper talks with her and found out she wanted to be a writer and had written some scripts and I didn't know that."
The ‘Major Paper EP’, which acts as the film’s soundtrack, features tracks from the likes of Tion Wayne, Nines, Big Narstie and plenty more headline-grabbing stars and Milli explains that the short film was initially supposed to help people digest the music that went along with it, but the idea morphed into something far greater and grew a life of its own completely. Now, Milli finds himself being approached to direct music videos and he recently directed a video for one of his own upcoming tracks with Bossman Birdie and Paper Pabs.
"I've been approached by Channel 4 to do some script writing for the Big Narstie show as well," he exclaims, "so there's different opportunities coming from it. Just trying to make sure everything I execute is to the best of my ability and to the best possible quality that I can achieve with the budgets that I'm given."
Two notable names in the UK music scene, Nines and Jme, have both released visual projects alongside their musical offerings in recent times. Jme's Grime MC project saw him create visuals for each track on the accompanying album and showcase them via cinema screenings across the country, whilst Nines' short film visualising his chart-topping Crabs In A Bucket album now has more than one million views and Milli Major cites both projects as inspirations.
"Between Jme and Nines they both inspired this project. What Jme did with Grime MC was make everyone feel like they're part of something, part of the culture, with the nostalgia of his music and the nostalgic promo he did with the pirate radio pop up shops. So I said 'How can I recreate something like that so that it's a movement and part of the culture?' and I thought if I did a film I could have people that might not necessarily do music be on my project and we can all push the same thing."
"Everyone in there is my bredrin or my cousin barring a couple of actors," Milli explains as he details his reasons behind casting the roles in his film. "I've written it how I know them. When I'm writing Pabs' dialogue I'm writing it like I'm with him. I've seen Pabs happy, sad, angry, I've seen him in the wrong, I've seen him in the right, I've argued with him and seen him argue with every tom, dick and harry. With Lippy [Lickshot] I sit down and watch so many of his podcasts that it feels like I know his speech. Tempz and So Large it's the same sort of thing."
It turns out that the transition from music to film was one Milli found relatively easy too. "For me, it's so similar it's scary. Only thing with the filming is that you're paying such attention to detail. You have to constantly go over things rigorously and it's so repetitive on set. I like to think I'm quite an organised person but that's nothing compared to what you actually have to be with this.”
Despite the likes of GRM Daily, Link Up and other platforms boasting huge subscriber numbers on YouTube, Milli opted to release Major Paper on Nines' channel and explaining why, as he states in his own words, "I got gassed - that's the honest answer. I checked my gas levels and I phoned the mandem to see. I phoned Lippy and Pabs and they were gassed as well so I knew this is the angle we were going with."
“I noticed that for a young black filmmaker like myself there aren't really as many opportunities as there are with music and that's one of the downsides of it. A lot of the attitudes that people have had when I've reached out haven't been like Nines. I feel like they're looking at me as competition and that's shit because this ting's big enough for all of us, but over here we're looking to change that way of thinking."
Having invested a lot of his own money into the project, Milli is rightfully proud of the impact it's had so far and the excitement is clear to see when he begins talking about creating and filming the forthcoming second instalment. As the rapper-turned-director explains though, not everyone has been happy to see him succeed in his new venture.
"The older generation of Grime MCs are so bitter it's unreal. No one's perfect, I'm definitely not perfect, but they're really bad. You see me, I give everyone a shot. People are in my DMs now cos they see me filming and they're pissed cos they think I'm filming Major Paper 2, but I'm filming something else. When it comes to Major Paper 2 I'm going through all the DMs that I remember and everyone is getting a shot call. So long as someone's serious I'll help them."
As he discusses some of the negativity he's encountered whilst creating the project, Milli brings up his disconnected friendship with 'German Whip' hitmaker Meridian Dan and claims he's learnt lessons from his experiences with the former Bloodline member when it comes to supporting your friends and those closest to you. "One thing I respect about Dan is that he never spoke on the situation. We were tight - Dan know's man's Aunties, man's mums and all that, that's why it hurt so much. I ain't gonna be going on the internet dissing a man like that but what I will do is times like now, when I'm telling my story. If you've been a fucked up bredda in my story that's on you. When I speak on Pabs I speak of him highly like he's the golden goose because in my story that I'm explaining Pabs has done nothing but support my ting. There's highs and lows in my story and I'm gonna talk about it all."
"Meridian Dan didn't like sharing his platform because he felt threatened by a lot of artists, so it turned into him moving a bit funny with things," he claims. "I didn't understand certain things he was doing so I've learnt from his mistakes when it comes to how you should treat people. I always thought I knew what I was doing anyway but he showed me that you definitely need to make sure you're a man of morals."
"This music thing is an art. If I can't be myself when I'm with you then what is going on bro? Dan started to do the fake thing in the same realm of not being true to yourself and giving your people a platform."
Shortly before Major Paper was released another Bloodline member, President T, announced that he was no longer making music as part of the collective, stating that he 'had to step away from greed and fame desperate talentless individuals that simply weren’t on my level'. Addressing that situation, Milli Major suggests that the release of his film is what sparked Prez T's decision to leave the group.
"That was because I put out the film," he claims, "President T ya know and that's what he's doing. Prez is my cousin but just because he's lowering his standards to talk about us on the internet doesn't mean I'm gonna go back and forth with him. He's been blessed with ability on the mic and he's not the same sort of character that I am but I did a lot to build up the Bloodline brand behind the scenes. When people are sending for us he might not feel obliged to pick up the beef and that made a lot of people not like me because I stand up and represent. At one point this was always happening with Bloodline so people start to think I'm just the anti one, but part of my dream is having everyone there."
Fulfilling my duty as a Grime fan, I enquire on the whereabouts of another popular Bloodline member, Big H, with fans eager to hear new music from the Fire and Smoke star whose last official release was back in 2017. "H has had a big hiatus - that's what the H might have to stand for now,” Milli jokes. "He's recording and doing bits. He's trying to release something soon but no doubt when he makes his comeback it's gonna be a strong one."
One of Milli Major's friendships which has managed to stay strong over the last few years is with the previously mentioned Nines. The Ice City Boyz rapper and Milli Major have always had mutual respect for one another and after building a closer relationship in recent times it’s clear that Nines' support by sharing Major Paper on his channel meant a lot to him. "Nina [Nines] is the total opposite to Dan to the point where he gives people who are not his foundational people a platform, like myself. You see Nina, he's an exceptional guy, one in a million. I've known guys for time who have never tried to help man like he's tried to help me."
"I've had such a hard time coming up in this music ting. All my comments used to say 'Major's shit, Major's this, Major's that’, but I kept on going. I come from a street background and a big family where I'm not the youngest sibling so I've always had a mentality that the dream ain't complete until we're there, not just I'm there. If it's just me on stage and Paper Pabs and Bossman Birdie aren't next to me it's a mad ting."
Given the rollercoaster ride Milli Major has been on in the last few years with friendships becoming fragmented and a brand new career path emerging, I'm curious to close our chat by finding out what advice Milli would give his younger self with the hindsight he now has? "Taking off that 9 from the start of your name is gonna be a smart move," he laughs, "I'd also say think about the energy you're putting out on socials and love your cousin but don't follow Big H."
However, it's one piece of advice Milli gives himself that hits me - forever the optimist - hardest and offers a heartbreaking insight into what the results can be in the often painful and perplexing world that is creating art with those closest to you: "Be careful of the people around you because the closest ones are probably gonna end up snaking you the worst."