"I had the time of my life mate," Mikill reassures Virtual Festivals over the phone. A hazy, broken voice. Worn through last night's misadventures.
“I’ve got a disgusting hangover so I’m lying in bed.”
My initial trepidation before speaking with the rapper was with pronouncing his stage name, Mikill Pane. Now I’m worried he’s over, or underdone, the Alka-Seltzer.
Born Justin Smith Uzomba, Mikill goes to good lengths on his website to help people with the pronunciation. “I always get people coming up to me saying ‘I’m your biggest fan mike-hill’ and I’m like ‘if you’re my biggest fucking fan you would have heard probably my second biggest song [The Return of Master Pane] in which case you’d know how to pronounce my name.’”
Fortunately having passed the name test our conversation can move back to the tales of last night. A high profile support slot, playing warm up to another fast-rising scene name and group of good ‘pals’, True Tiger.
“The crowd last night, 98% percent good.” He says, mulling on the fears of support act syndrome, “There were these two fucking guys on the front right, I actually had a word with them at one point. If you want to stare at me go to the fucking back.” It’s not the first time Pane has had to deal with hecklers or audacious crowd members. “I’m a very confrontational person when I’m Mikill Pane. I’ll tell you about yourself basically.” A schizophrenic character soon emerges, “Justin Uzomba is a nice guy. Mikill Pane: he’s not a cunt, but he’s very outspoken.”
Nice enough, it seems, to call on True Tiger for a guest spot: “They’ve got a tune on my album called ‘Roll On’,” he points out and, without wishing to give any clues away, reassures us it’s not about deodorant application. “It’s a really good song. I didn’t take them out of their comfort zone as such but rather than dubstep it’s more dub-reggae.”
Collaborating on record is nothing new to Mikill Pane, who had arguably his biggest break to date through a duet with one of the fastest rising singer-songwriters of this generation. Meeting for the first time back in late 2009, “go on Youtube and type in ‘Ed Sheeran Diesel’ you can actually see the first day that myself and Ed met.” The pair quickly became good friends. Walking back from a gig one night last year, Pane took pity on the young Sheeran, new to the London streets: “I just thought, being the altruistic person that I am, I’ll trot with him for a bit, so we got some beers and I wrapped a couple of joints and we walked from Old Street to fucking Chalk Farm.”
The short marathon of a walk was enough to exercise the creative juices, as Pane mentioned a rap he’d written more than three years previous, which themed perfectly with the ‘A-Team’. “He asked me to rap the lyrics to him and he was like ‘mate, let’s get in a studio and let’s do a remix of A–Team,’” he says. The resulting session helped Sheeran “re-connect” with his song and although never intended for release it made its way onto ‘No. 5 Collaborations Project’.
“I get three different types of tweets regarding ‘Little Lady’. I get ‘I love ‘Little Lady’’, I get ‘’Little Lady’ is better than the A-Team and ‘The A-Team is better than ‘Little Lady’’,” Pane says. “It’s not a fucking competition man. It’s just a case of suitability.” Adding, “I think it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written to be fair.”
If we’re talking big breaks, Mikill’s John Vergo has most definitely been Radio One vanguard Huw Stephens. The flagship introducing DJ has, with just a couple degrees of Ed Sheeran separation, discovered and raised the flag for East London’s newest kid on the block. A chance meeting at Bestival whilst guesting with Sheeran was a big moment for the young and fresh-faced Pane, “it pretty much changed my life,” he says, “I have so much love for Huw Stephens. I never thought I’d be played on Radio One, a little confession. I never thought I’d be played on radio as such, apart from pirate.”
Some chance and some luck has all been part of the equation for Mikill Pane. Expelled from private school aged just 13, at his next school in Highgate he would find life council and the inspiration, for the title at least, to his forthcoming debut, entitled ‘Blame Miss Barclay’. The Miss Barclay in question, an English teacher hell-bent on helping him, despite his ‘menace’ of a best mate. “She tried to stop him from walking out of her class once and he just lashed out and pushed her, and she fell in a bin and shit,” Pane recalls, “Teachers should never have to go through that.”
It wasn’t death by association though and in penning the album title Pane wanted to reconnect with his old teacher, phoning the school three months ago. “I said ‘could I speak to a Lee Barclay if she works there still’ and she said ‘I’ve never heard of her’.” The receptionist then said she started working there in 2000 and Pane has his own theory on the absence: “I left school in 2000, it was like Miss Barclay waited for me to get my GCSEs.”
If the pressures of becoming a part-time detective weren’t great enough Mikill Pane is likely to be lauded and placed in a long line of rappers and poets with social commentary and critique at the centre of their art. Is it something that bothers him? “I kind of sit on the fence in my songs, I try not to represent a biased view,” he explains, referencing a song about the tuition fee protests [‘Fairytale’] in which “the Tory government are represented by evil wizards… It’s probably not a good example.”
When it comes to voicing the often-muted concerns of the generation: Pane says he’s “desperately compelled to.” Still he modestly excuses himself from the political clout of giants like Lowkey. “I don’t know as much as Lowkey. He’s one of the only ones we have who is good enough to do it.”
With the debut due in April 2012, featuring guest appearances from Yasmin, Ed Sheeran and Maiday, there will be little time to sit back and interject on the problems of the present when the future looks so golden for Mikill Pane. As he says himself: “Without sounding arrogant, I think it’s about time.”
Check out Mikill Pane‘s One To Watch page with festival dates, free downloads and more.