Mikill Pane: No Pane, No Gain
“My name is Mikill Pane. Not a lot of people know that.” OK, I am doing a really bad impression of movie star Michael Caine here. But for London boy Mikill, aka Justin Smith Uzomba , his profile is gonna shoot through the roof when he drops his debut album on Mercury late summer - and a hell of a lot more people ARE going to know who he is.
I have had a sneak preview of a few tracks, and I can tell you without fear of contradiction, he is destined for big things. As a lyricist, this guy is the dogs. I came across him last year at a festival and his pin sharp and often humorous lyrics, part rap, part singer stylee, huge stage presence and humongous potential, screamed out.
When we chatted backstage, his big personality shone through and while he may well look like a big scary, bearded, gangsta rapper with a gold tooth in a hoodie, he is actually a well spoken, educated guy with a very fine brain and a likeable chap.
From Nigerian parents who came here to give their five kids a better way of life and a decent education, young Justin had a good start - his father working several jobs to find the fees to send his son to the posh London Oratory School in Fulham.
His pal there was one Euan Blair, son of then Labour leader Tony. But when TB became PM, Hackney-born Justin says Euan changed into “an arsehole” and the lads often fell out. One day on the Rugby field the two clashed with fists flying, and Justin came out on top. But hearing that Euan had been telling everyone he had beaten Justin, he went looking for him and put the record straight!
He got dumped from the top set for that, and eventually got expelled at 13. His writing may well be his future, but it did get him into deep shit once. At school a teacher found an X-rated letter in his bag that he had written to a girl, which he denied was his.
There was a big investigation and even a hand writing analyst brought in. He says it was the excuse the school was looking for to get him out. “I was a bit of a prick back then I suppose.” He also recalls sitting outside the principal’s office for two whole weeks all day, every day for breaking school rules about short hair cuts!
But at his next school, he found his saviour in Miss Barclay. The formidable no nonsense English teacher recognised Justin’s razor sharp brain and absolute love of the English language, and encouraged him to focus on the written word. He has never forgotten that lady, and is on an urgent mission to track her down to tell her she is immortalised in the title of his forthcoming debut album, “Blame Miss Barclay.” Also to persuade her to pose for a photo for the front cover.
As a youngster and the only boy of five children, he discovered hip-hop and the hard rhymes of Mobb Deep and Notorious B.I.G. via his older sister. Focus on poetry that had won him plaudits at school, was turned to fine-tuning the lyrical wit that would inform his subsequent musical creations
Mikill had various labels snapping at his heels to sign him after massive success with his independent releases, and association with some big current names. The big turning point proved to be his “You Guest It” EP. Released in April 2012 and comprising of collaborations with the likes of Example, Paloma Faith, Yasmin, P Money, Fem Kel, Jakwob and a certain Katie Price. It quickly made radio playlists and put Mikill Pane on the radar.
He is perhaps best known for "Little Lady" with Ed Sheeran, which features on Ed's No. 5 Collaborations Project. The song is the biggest-selling track on the release, out-selling Ed’s other collaborations with artists such as Wiley, Devlin, and Wretch 32.
His debut four-track EP “The Guinness & Blackcurrant EP," was released in 2011 and a second EP, “The Morris Dancer,” in February 2012. Mikill's debut single “Dirty Rider,” was released in November last year, and celebrates his passion for riding bicycles around London. He recently collaborated with his great mates Rizzle Kicks on their track “Work,” and has toured the UK with them, as he has with Ed Sheeran and Mac Miller.
He signed to Mercury late 2012, after he had already recorded and completed his debut album. The label really “got” him he says, and did not want to change a thing. Slated for August release. “Good Feeling” is the current single, and the single for June release is “Chairman of the Bored,” an autobiographical tale of taking too long in the shower, your mates leaving you behind, and then finding out you have nothing to do.
But the killer, and for my money the one song that has HIT written all over it, with the potential to be for Michael what “Mercy” was for Duffy - a breakthrough crossover pop smash hit - is “Summer In The City.” I heard this song at the festival last year and the hook stuck in my brain. If the label's pluggers get it in front of the playlisting Gods on Radio 1 and Radio 2, I predict a number one for Mr Pane. It is sick.
Talking of sick, I’ll let him explain where his stage name comes from. Justin began writing rap lyrics with a hip-hop crew called The T.R.U.E.N.Tz. They parted company, and Mikill Pane became his moniker. The reason?
"In hip-hop terms, if you're a good MC, you're sick," he says. "If you're sick, you're ill - I was sick on the microphone, or mike, so I was Mike-ill; the Pane came from my glasses. I've worn them since I was 11 and I've always felt as if I've been looking through windows. It's a big part of my look".
So the debut album is a conceptual thing, with characters and chapters not tracks. “I'm not a singles guy, so I want people to think of this as the magnum opus. I don't give a shit about singles. On ‘Blame Miss Barclay’ I'm hoping to hark back to the good old days when albums were all quality, rather than three sick tracks and a lot of filler. I want the album to be considered as a body of work - hopefully that will be the case. This album is a story, and I want people to follow it from beginning to end". Mikill tells me if he had his way, he’d make the purchase of individual tracks from an album instead of the whole thing, illegal!”
Follow on Twitter @MikillPane
Images 2 and 3 ©Simon Redley
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Words SIMON REDLEY