Any keen Nigerian music fan – hip-hop head in particular – can exhaustively list extremely gifted acts whose careers have stayed strapped to the ground or never hit the…
●15th October 2021
Any keen Nigerian music fan – hip-hop head in particular – can exhaustively list extremely gifted acts whose careers have stayed strapped to the ground or never hit the heights their impeccable skills and talents could have taken them. This is usually due to several reasons: the country’s painfully skin-deep and one-dimensional soundscape (one that mostly favours the widely percussive Afrobeats genre), gross mismanagement from labels, just to mention a few. When reciting the litany of hip-hop acts whose careers were either truncated or never really took flight, one name is almost always recurrent: former Chocolate City signee Milli.
When Milli made his first couple of appearances on M.I Abaga’s 2014 album The Chairman, he came with an unusual aura that quickly earmarked him as something special. He featured on the heartfelt “Brother” and “Yours”, two records where he firmly displays his unique musical credentials. “My time has come, my fans be waiting,” he raps self-assuredly on the latter track, speaking to his niche fans but also universal in his approach. His cadence is fun and outré, making his flows and lines quirky and sturdy in equal measure. On The Indestructible Choc Boy Nation album, which came the following year, he stole the spotlight again, conjuring colorful and sleek melodies – that would make a tendon-straining R&B act jealous – over peppy production.
The Surulere-born singer and rapper came as the ultimate package: not only was he good-looking and charismatic, he also possessed a finely groomed sense of melody, a knack for coming up with compelling and witty bars, and an appealing eccentricity. More importantly, he was signed to Choc City, a label with a track record of producing some of the biggest hip-hop acts the country has ever seen. He was destined to be the next big thing.
His career, however, didn’t turn out the way most people expected it would. His time in Choc City was plagued with a series of frustrating setbacks and uncontrollable outbursts, which eventually snowballed into a nasty split between both parties. This split prompted a detailed five-part letter from him and later, his first body of work, Don’t Ask Me What Happened, a compelling 7-tracker that doubles as proof of his immense musical competence and an exposé of some sort, into some of the snafu that occurred. It’s tightly packed with stirring melodies, trap-inspired bangers and soulful cuts suffused with an air of indignation and defiance that you could literarily cut through with a knife. He wraps his frustrations, anger and heartfelt laments into woozy auto-tuned records, creating art out of pain as most great artists do.
On “Unlooking”, the lead single from DAMWH, Milli confidently raps, “You say you got love boy you ain’t even help, but my art’s gon’ definitely speak for itself.” There was still a sense that his immense talent was somehow going to help him power through and fulfill his potential even without the backing of a major label. Sadly, nothing concrete materialized. After the release of DAMWH, tragedy struck Milli, and he was forced to recline from the limelight, taking time out to heal and deal with other important business. Thankfully, he’s back in full throttle, and we recently caught up with him to discuss his lengthy period of absence, new music and much more.
This interview has been slightly edited for context and clarity.
B.Side: So, I would like to start from the period after your first project, Don’t Ask Me What Happened. I feel like you’re probably tired of getting asked about what happened before that time. So can you just quickly walk me through what happened after that project?
Milli: I think pretty much after Don’t Ask Me What Happened, I was in the process of getting out of Chocolate City. So I think it was just me and my manager at the time.
Okay. But after Don’t Ask Me What Happened, you didn’t put out music for a while. Why was that?
I think I put out Don’t Ask Me What happened in 2016. Yeah, I think it was towards the end of 2016. Before that period, that’s when I think I lost my mother; I also lost my father in the same year. So you know, I kind of took a hit from that because it was so close to each other. I lost my mom, let’s say, this month, and then the next two months, I lost my father. So after planning a funeral for one family member, and then the next thing you know, you have to plan for another family member, it’s kind of hard. It was too much for me to handle. I did want to release music and be active, but I just felt like a part of me needed to deal with a lot of personal battles.
Childish, your second EP came the following year. Can you just tell me about how that EP came together?
I had been planning to release Childish EP since maybe 2014. I always had the title; I always had the concept. Back then, every time I would go on stage, I always had my water gun; I used to just mess around. Because, to me, I was a child; it only made sense for me to create a project that was about me, you know? [I was] not trying to be somebody else, or something else. I just wanted to be myself. I was finally happy in 2017 when I had the opportunity to create a project by myself. No other ideas; there wasn’t somebody telling me to go in this direction or go in that direction. It was just me. It was everything I said I wanted. That’s what I was able to put on that project, and I think I dropped it at the best time because I wasn’t under any label, and I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. I was able to give my best and it’s one of my projects that I appreciate the most so far.
As a fan, I have to ask, why is Childish currently not on streaming platforms?
To be honest with you, I’m not really going to talk about stuff like that, but it’s going to be on [streaming platforms soon]. It was a time when there were a lot of misunderstandings and disputes. But I’m trying to get it to be on the platforms from November, hopefully. I’m definitely going to put it out there. I also plan on putting up Don’t Ask Me What Happened.
So after Childish, there was another period of silence from you.
So what happened during that period?
So after my father passed away, I felt like a lot of things needed to be done. There were a lot of family misunderstandings; there were also a lot of things that needed to be set in place. There were a lot of things that needed to be corrected and things that needed to be done. It was tough for me to do that while I was still trying to make music and trying to be active. So I had to make a sacrifice to just chill for a little bit, make sure I’m responsible for the things I’m supposed to be accountable for so that when I’m back on the road, I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve given myself to something else for a particular amount of time, and now it’s time for me to do my own thing. So that’s pretty much why it took me so long to keep coming back.
So you had to take time away from something that you loved so that you could focus on something else. Was that hard for you?
To be honest, it was. Sometimes I feel like I was in a beautiful place with music. I had a team that loved me; I had a good structure. Then I just felt like a lot of things happened that led to the point where I lost my family; there were a lot of things, especially in the media, like misconceptions of me and the type of person I am. So I just felt like I needed to take a break from all that because it was getting too much. Many things were being said; there were a lot of misunderstandings, and it was just like a perfect opportunity to just say, ‘You know what? I’m going to just step back and give myself some time to figure out what I want to do.’
That must have been hard, having all these things said about you on the internet. How do you think you were able to deal with it? What are some things you did to just get your mind off it and generally just get better?
I guess I was just busy. You know when you’re busy working on something, whether it’s music or something that just keeps you occupied? I feel like I was depressed, but then it also kind of gave me an opportunity to learn new things. I started learning how to shoot music videos; I also started learning how to edit music videos. Then, I started learning how to produce, mix and master music as well. You know, there’s a lot of things that I actually learned how to do that I wouldn’t have had the time for; perhaps I was not so free. So being free [allowed me] to become my own personal powerhouse. So it’s like, I can do everything that I need to do or have an idea of how to do everything I need to do. I feel like those things really helped me to be at peace and get myself together.
So with how your career has progressed so far – having to take time off and all of that other stuff that happened – I’m sure you’re aware that there’s this “underrated” tag that always comes up when your name is mentioned in a lot of circles. How does this make you feel?
The truth about it is, in life, we all are going to have some type of regret, or we’re going to feel some kind of way about decisions or actions that we made, and I have to take full responsibility for all my actions. Every single thing I’ve done so far in my life, I have to take responsibility. And I have to say: if people say I’m underrated, it’s because of me. It’s not because of the world. It’s because of me. I didn’t take the right steps at the time I was supposed to take them. But it also thoroughly allows me to make people wait for me and see what I’m going to do. There’s a benefit to it because people then want to watch and see. “Is he gonna make it? Is he gonna explode? What’s gonna happen to this kid?” And for me, I would rather be underrated and have people still believe in me and hope that I get better than be underrated and nobody cares what happens to me. I’ll take being underrated and still being appreciated and still being loved. I know that when I put out this new project, everything’s gonna change.
Okay, so let’s talk about your new music. Childish II, how did that come about?
I have about four projects that I plan to release this year. So there’s a lineup for me. By the way, I recorded that whole project [Childish II] in like a week or so. Childish II was not like a major idea. It was just like, I wanted to make Childish II, and I wanted to end the Childish series. I just wanted to drop it and conclude that chapter, move forward with something else. Around the time that I started recording it, I had also started learning how to produce. So I said to myself ‘I don’t want anyone in my space, I’m just gonna sit down, produce this all by myself, mix and master as well and then I’m gonna put it out there and say this is the end of Childish’.
Because I’m growing up, I’m no longer a child. Now that it’s over, we’re about to see the Dark Horse; we’re about to see the guy who didn’t cut it, we’re about to see that guy change everything, we’re about to see him bloom. You know, I’ve been knocked down a lot of times, but at the same time, when you get knocked down so much, the only thing that can happen now is either I skyrocket, or I keep getting knocked down. But really, I just want to move up. You can’t knock me down for the 50th time you feel me? Now it’s like, the next step is up. I’m at the bottom; I’m at the basement, I’m in hell. There’s no other hell besides this hell. So the next place I’m going is up. I’m either going to make it to heaven, but I’m not dying here. That’s all I’m saying.
One of the things that I loved most about Childish II is how you stuck to your guns. There’s always been chatter about “Oh could Milli make a song or project that would be more appealing to the Nigerian audience?” But with all of your projects, you’ve always stuck to your guns; you never really compromise. Even though there are times where you’ve tried to infuse other elements into your music, the core of your music still always remains. Is that a deliberate decision that you always make?
I just feel like people should let people be themselves. Just let an artist be himself. There’s always this pressure to make money, and then once you try to make money, that whole idea of being creative, that whole child-like feeling of liking something without thinking, “Oh what are these people going to say? Is it going to be number one on the radio? Is this going to be a hit?” The moment you take out all those factors, you become a kid again, you just become like a child. So for me, I just feel like we should let people be. We can’t only have one genre of music in an entire country. Because nowadays, nobody’s rapping anymore. Everybody’s scared to rap; everybody’s afraid, especially if you’re on a major label. Once you’re on a major label, they want to make money; they want a hit. They’re not thinking about what you’re doing; they just want the hits. If you’re not bringing the hits, they don’t really care about the other stuff that’s going on or whatever you have in your head. Sometimes I just want to be myself on a project; I just want to be free on a project.
We just need to give the new kids the opportunity to flourish in their own genre. We can still have the Wizkids; we can still have the Davidos; we can have all those guys. And we can also have all these guys that are rapping, and we don’t need to say, “Oh this one is the one. Don’t do this one.” Because then that kills creative liberty and we don’t know how many artists have suppressed what might have been the greatest thing that the world has ever seen just because they were afraid to create something that might have changed the world. So I just like to do me because really nobody is paying for my project. Nobody is giving me a loan to create the projects. So I’m just going to do it how i feel like you feel me?
So you recently announced that you have the extended version of Childish II coming out soon and then you have Dark Horse coming right after. Can you tell me a bit about both projects?
Yeah, I do. I think as an artist; I’m kind of grateful that I have a story. Many people don’t know their story, we don’t know where they came from, we don’t know what inspires them. But I have a story; I have things that I have gone through, I have things that I’ve overcome. If they ever get to make a movie about me, it’ll be a great one. I feel like Dark Horse just kind of says everything that I went through and everything I’ve been through. The dark horse is pretty much the horse that you don’t really think is gonna win the race. You don’t think he’s going to make it. So when the dark horse wins, it’s like, okay, that was unexpected. I feel like that’s my story. Because of my experiences, I feel like I’m a dark horse. Nobody’s checking to see if one day I make it or I don’t. So I feel like that title kinda fits me as a person and who I am. So I think that’s me; I’m a dark horse.
Childish II (Blue Afro) is almost like another project, but it’s still under the Childish series. I grew up in Surulere; I’m a Lagos guy. So this one is for Nigeria; it’s for Lagos. This is for all my homies. This project is way different from the original Childish series. From the name, you can tell it leans towards Afrobeats. I kind of grew into a new sound while I was away, and I just wanted to get rid of Childish and then show the world this is what I’m about. From track one to track six, It’s all hits. So, I just want everybody to look out for that because this one will change many things.