Ms Dynamite has been away. She needed time out of the spotlight, and time at home. The singer/songwriter/MC/rapper/producer, onetime schoolgirl garage scene sensation, winner of the 2002 Mercury Prize, wanted to try on a different hat: mum.
“When I say I came out of music to raise my son,” says the Londoner born Niomi Daley, “I always knew that one day I would get back into music. But I really closed the door and focused all my energy on being a mum.”
With typical candour, she admits that during her time at home she didn’t listen to music “literally for years”. So, no, the 30-year-old can’t say hand-on-heart that she missed making tunes in the years since the release of 2005’s Judgement Days, the follow-up to her groundbreaking debut A Little Deeper. Not least because, as she notes in catch-up notes she’s been assiduously writing of late, “I was listening to music b4 I had even entered the earth”, courtesy of her musical family. Music was always in her, and will always be in her, whether she’s the one behind the mic or not. “Different years were dipped heavily in the smooth, silky tones of rare groove and seductive soul,” she continues in her self-penned bio, “while some years were splashed and soaked in the rebellious rhymes and rhythms of hip hop. Other years were coated by music that I could not yet understand the words or concepts to. However, my heart ALWAYS understood the feelings; and the emotion and life of music has ALWAYS resonated deep in my soul.”
But now Dynamite’s son is seven, almost eight, “and going on 68,” she says with a laugh. She’s ready to return. She might not have missed music. But on the evidence of the songs she’s been crafting for
her long-awaited third album, music certainly has missed her.
First things first. First album things first. What is Ms Dynamite’s view now on her Mercury success? “I have the same feeling that I had then. I feel everything happens for a reason. And so when the Mercury Music Prize happened it totally turned my life upside down overnight, in a good way – and a bad way. But I appreciate it all. I can definitely say with the experience that I have now, that it really helped me to grow, as an artist and as an individual.
Secondly: that second album… Ms Dynamite, as blazingly honest in life as she is in her lyrics, will be the first to admit to her part in its failure.
“When the first single didn’t do that great, I called my label. And I had a great, great, wonderful relationship with them. And I said, ‘the reviews haven’t been that great, I don’t feel that there’s a single
can save this album – I think it’s much better to just leave it…’ “And they were majorly disappointed. I think they half wanted to kill me ‘cause I was so taking it in my stride! Like, ‘what the fuck do you mean? The amount of money we’ve spent on this, and the effort and the energy…’ Plus they had genuine care for me. But I’ve never, ever felt disappointment or regret that it didn’t do what album number one did. I think I was kinda relieved. ‘OK, great, this means I don’t have to get back on the train that was moving at a million miles an hour.’
“I just realised straight away the reason it happened is ‘cause I wasn’t happy – I wasn’t ready to go back. I wasn’t ready for that level of success again. I wanted just be with my son, and devote my every waking moment to him.”
In 2009, one of the most distinctive female voices in British music – the most successful female rapper the UK has ever produced – began to re-emerge from her self-imposed exile. Ms Dynamite appeared on Zinc’s Wile Out and Nextmen and Andy Cato’s Lions Den. She also worked with Magnetic Man, Redlight, Major Lazer, Shy FX and Labrinth – a run of collaborations with cutting-edge producers that she acknowledges were fundamental to her regaining her confidence. They also helped re-engage this hungriest of artists with the most exciting new sounds emerging from the UK underground. Last year she guested on Katy B’s huge club tune Lights On.
In particular she views Labrinth – who subsequently had crossover success with Tinie Tempah – as “a genius, and a breath of fresh air”. He’s in the producer’s seat for her new single, Never [NEVA?] Soft, which was unveiled exclusively (and quietly) on BBC Radio’s 1Extra in early May. What made that the best candidate for a comeback single?
“It’s a mixture of a few of the elements that I think make me up musically. It’s got a real reggae influence. It almost sounds like a sample – which is actually me – which is a bit like lovers’ rock. Then
it goes into a ridiculously heavy bassline, which is also me, from my jungle days. I think it really reflects some of the strongest elements of me.”
There are, it seems, loads more where that came from. Ms Dynamite has been writing (and writing… and writing…) for the past couple of years. She thinks she’s about two-thirds of the way through the
recording of her third album, which has been happening at her own pace and entirely under her own direction.
The current plan is to release the record under the aegis of her own company, Dynamic Ventures, this summer. Already three tracks are causing a huge buzz. Infectious electronic-cum-acoustic ballad Miss
features a rap from Dynamite, production from Naughty Boy, and vocal hook from Emeli Sandé, the young Scottish singer and songwriter signed to EMI and who has also written with Professor Green, Wiley and Chipmunk.
“At the stage I wrote Miss,” Dynamite says of a song with shout-outs to babymamas, sisters, Miss Bad Girl, Miss Intellectual and multiple other iterations of modern womanhood, “I was becoming a little bit
more grown-up. And a little bit more aware that we all have hundreds of different sides to us as individuals. And for me part of being strong, or being alright in life, is about accepting all of the elements of yourself.”
No More, meanwhile, is a strong, cool blast of old school reggae, while Dynamite demonstrates her range of interests and genre skills with Runnin’, a sublime, glitchy-in-the-sunshine pop hit-in-waiting.
“To be honest, I don’t think I can write pop songs in the sense that if someone gave me a beat and the criteria was you have to write a pop song – I’m not a writer in that sense. I write from what I feel. So, if
it’s ended up a pop song, that’s great,” she says, smiling. “I’m not afraid of it.” And if Runnin’, or any of her other new songs, push this hugely talented British artist into the mainstream spotlight again? Ms Dynamite – older, wiser, proud mum of a son who’s growing up fast – isn’t afraid of that either.