“I’m from a place where there’s only thugs/machines get bussed… every morning…”
-- Maxwell D, grime forefather, funky lyricist, real talker.
Read my Pitchfork feature on Maxwell D here. Full interview below...
Blackdown: So Maxwell D, thanks for agreeing to do this interview because I’ve been writing about the music that comes out of east London for over ten years and I can’t remember the last time I hear anyone speak that honestly in public!
Maxwell D: You know it was just one of them days, I think we all have them. I just decided to start a debate on Twitter about domestic violence because of my experience of it and you know how we are on Twitter, we just get tapping away and it just all started pouring out, my whole experiences. But it’s not like I was upset or anything. People were like ‘wow, guys don’t say this!’ but because its so far away and I’ve dealt with it inside I can talk about it. I see the effect it has on me now, instead of being ashamed about it… I’m not ashamed about it.
B: It did sound like that, the way you said it sounded like you’d dealt with it, so it’s just nothing…
MD: I was a normal Tweet. Me and Ms Dynamite know each other well and I know that everything I said, if you’ve been through that, you can relate, straight away. So you know I’m not making it up, it’s the reality. So a lot of people were like ‘wow.’ They see me as this kinda macho, MC, been to jail, done all this stuff so when you start talking about person stuff like your mum, people are like ‘rah.’ As a guy, an image kinda guy, you wouldn’t speak about that kinda stuff. But if there’s someone out there and they look up to me and think ‘well, if he’s gone through this and made it, then maybe I can get over it instead.’ And it kinda worked because a lot of people talked to me about it. It was just that day.
B: It was amazing because I can’t think of any time when an MC has spoken that openly… Dizzee did a little bit on his first album, admitting weakness, but it’s generally so rare.
MD: Yeah it’s not something we generally go around broadcasting but because I already wrote a song about it in 2007, and these were the times when I was expressing it, so I was already comfortable telling the world what happened. Because memories will haunt you, if you keep them inside, I realise that now. So the whole reason why I’ve become what I’ve become is because I had such a bad childhood and I was reflecting it in the notepad. It was a way of therapy, getting it out. That’s how my art developed as a talent, because I was expressing my negative childhood. And when I started getting love from my art, that love was replacing the love I wasn’t getting at home. So that’s what made me want to be and MC or an artist, it was compensating for the lack of love at home, so that’s why I pursued that career.
B: You hear people say the same thing about gangs, that for the members they find the comfort and safety in a gang that they often aren’t getting at home.
MD: Yeah, and I was part of a gang and I went to jail for armed robbery and I had a lot of issues. But I was more of a leader because you’re subconsciously angry and a lot of people don’t realise that. So you go out and be the centre of attention, because you’re not getting that attention at home. So you’re like ‘oh look what I can do?’ and you might throw a brick into a window: it starts from small things. Knock down ginger. And when you get older and meet older people, they’re onto more higher activities. Smoking, smoking drugs, robbing people… the more you want things in life and the more you don’t get attention at home then the more you get deeper into this circle.
B: It’s amazing that you can now talk about it and feel the love come back to you when people connect with your experiences…
MD: Yeah it is important. I just think when you’re really and truly honest… I think this is a lot what’s missing. I was watching Tulisa from N Dubs and I was really giving her a round of applause when she spoke out about her mum [who has a schizoaffective disorder]. That is exactly what is missing from the industry, people being honest. People are so ‘self’ image-wise, that they forget that these people are normal people and even the people themselves forget, they put on such a big front. When you watch Kerry Katona, you realise they’re normal when they’re breaking down and that’s what’s needed because society is so clichéd.
B: Especially on the male side, so many men are scared to admit their weaknesses. MCs these days: why are so few willing to admit their failings?
MD: Because I think with the MCing, a lot of it comes from the street and the street has a reputation. Sometimes it’s not seen as ‘cool’ to speak about stuff that is vulnerable, because it doesn’t give you a place in the MC world, so they think. It doesn’t give you that macho look.
B: Do people in that world feel that they’d get moved to if they’re seen as weak?
MD: Yeah but to be honest though, and this is what I worked out through my
ten years MCing, the real ones are the ones that are honest and open. And it’s the ones who are pretending and being fake are the ones who put up this macho image, because they are not really macho and never have been. They want to fit in so badly, they’re prolonging it. Some people are just raw. Let me give you an example: Crazy Titch [who currently is in jail for murder] . Nobody knows what’s gone on in his life and I’m sure if he gave you his story, you’d be like ‘whoa.’ So some people are just raw like that. And let me give you another example. You’ve got Crazy Titch on one hand who’s naturally born raw street talent who’s gone through ups and downs in his life and that’s the reason why he is.
And then you look at someone… who do I know well that I can give you an example of… maybe Kano. When Kano was coming through he did that, but now he gives more all-round, universal truths, just normal life stories. But when he was coming through, he was more rough. And I can’t really comment on it but a lot of people I’ve spoken to say he’s not really from the street, in aspects of bad childhood, bad upbringing. He’s come from a decent background, from what I know. So that’s the parallels we have, that Kano had to cut himself like that to come through.
B: I think it’s something that some fans feel is missing from grime now. Everything has to be totally hardcore now, there’s no other side to it. Dizzee did “I Luv U” but he also did “Brand New Day.” People don’t do the other side now.
MD: It’s because it’s so male orientated now. If there was more females in it, it would be a bit more balanced.
B: I think it’s particularly interesting talking to you about grime because you were part of Pay As U Go and East Connection, really foundational grime crews.
MD: Yup we gave birth to a lot of people. What people call grime now is mostly from 2005. The fact that me and Wiley, Pay As U Go gave birth to Roll Deep and Roll Deep gave birth to Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and East Connection gave birth to people like Bashy, well the list goes on.
B: Yes exactly but the interesting thing with you is you haven’t focused on grime so much anymore.
MD: Do you know what it was Martin? When the whole thing with Jamelia and the newspapers, that took a lot of my street credibility away, in the aspect of ‘oh, Maxwell’s not cool no more…’ But I’m human, I made a mistake, it so happened like it happened like that. ‘Maxwell’s not cool no more, he’s not hard no more, he’s made money, he’s in the music industry, he’s blown…’ You get haters but people were ‘that’s a low move’. But for me, after the shooting in Birmingham, when they shot up my car with me inside it, I was kinda like ‘hold on a minute, this actually is real’ [laughs]. There’s one thing talking about it, and coming from the street and seeing it go on, but when it’s actually you as the target, it made me think ‘these grime dances are not going to be safe for me no more.’ So when I was having the whole backlash on that, slandering on my name with the whole paper thing, I turned away from grime. I thought, I just can’t go to radio and MC with a kid that’s 14 or 15 and saying the most angry lyrics ever, and I want to just talk about girls, life experiences past and present of how I got here, and he just wants to say ‘I’m going to shank you in your back, ankle, leg, thigh, knee, chest…’ and everybody loves him.
B: But to me the stuff you’re doing now over funky, like “Blackberry Hype” and “Funky with Bars”, to me it connects much more with the early Pay As U Go style that was kind of dark garage but with MCs.
MD: Yeah that’s why I jumped back on funky because it reminded me of where I was more successful and where I enjoyed the music. I liked going out again, I liked dancing, I liked the girls that was coming to the raves, it was a lot more female vocals, less violent, less in your face. I felt grime was going more hip hop rather than reggae.
B: Yeah I wondered about that with you, whether dancehall and bashment is a big part of you…
MD: Yeah it’s my culture, from my dad etc. Even though I do both I’m a reggae orientated kinda guy so I’ve kept my roots where a lot of people who are from a Jamaican background are just straight UK. And there’s nothing wrong with that but I’ve always kept my roots, I ain’t being fake or anything. My parents are Jamaican and they speak patois so I’ve grown up listening to that, so I reflect that through my music. I think basically where we’re at right now is the kids don’t think that’s cool no more.
B: They see it as their parent’s thing?
MD: Yeah more in the thing that if you’re not actually from Jamaica then you’re not Jamaican, that’s their philosophy. Whereas my philosophy is it’s my roots so why won’t I put that roots into my music. But it’s just what they’re seeing, they’re seeing all the successful top artists are not that [reflecting their Jamaican roots]. If they were then me, Flowdan, Riko would be at the top, grinding it out, getting successful deals. But they’re following the people at the top, Wiley, Kano, Dizzee – and they’re not bringing that Jamaican influence at all. So I eased away from grime because I didn’t think there was any space for me.
B: It’s funny in grime, because that Jamaican flow is also what makes people like Flowdan so loved in dubstep.
MD: Yeah. When we say Jamaican flow, we’re talking about melodics. If you listen to a lot of Gyptian and Mavado there’s a lot of melody going on in it and with that you get more catchiness, instead of straight hip hop & rap bars. And dubstep and funky audiences might pick up on that because it’s more party material or club material. But with grime it’s more of a sit down and listen experience, it becomes an art. ‘OK, yeah I like the way you put that word together…’ More of an album thing.
Gone Away by Maxwell D
B: If we’re talking vocal melodies though, I’ll tell you the thing you killed it on: that track “Gone Away.”
MD: Do you know, we’re just working on that now, we’re about to do something real big with that now. Funny you mention that because I’ve got a lot of industry people asking about it.
B: I get sent about 6000-7000 tracks a year and that’s one of my top tunes for 2010. There’s this guy, Jamie XX who we toured with last year and he’s playing it too…
MD: That’s it! What’s his name?! I’ve been trying to remember his name all week!
B: Jamie XX!
MD: Funny you said that, because I had a meeting with a management company and they asked what I was doing with “Gone Away” and I was like ‘what are you talking about? That’s throwaway stuff’ And they were like ‘nah, this guy Jamie XX is playing it, you need to do something with it…’ So I had a meeting with my publishers and they said ‘everything you’re doing, scrap it!’ I was like ‘what???’ They said ‘next year we’re going to do a proper radio promo campaign for you.’ They said “Gone Away” reminds them of a Gyptian kind of tune and they can see it working commercially. So I’ve got the accapella and we’ve remixed it with a more commercial beat under it. Funny you should mention it!
B: Well I just try and trust my ears. “Funky With Bars” and “Blackberry Hype” were just raw but “Gone Away” is different because it’s emotional, back to you being honest and emotional.
MD: And do you know what, that’s what I want to do! All those years being that old Maxell D, the guy that came out of prison, the guy that used to sell drugs… I just wanted to let that go. After the shooting I just connected with life. While all that madness was going on, the mother of my child who I was with, was an air stewardess at the time, so I was going away with her. She took me on all her trips and that and I was just seeing the world, and I think it turned me into a man, it turned me into a man, it matured me. I wasn’t doing music so much. It made me want to have a new life, a new direction. OK that’s in the past, I don’t want to be that typical ignorant statistic no more. I just wanna get along with people and explore life in a better way. Then I had my son and you know, kids change you, life changes you.
B: From your lyrics, having a kid definitely seemed to have an effect on you!
MD: I won’t talk about rubbish no more. You really rarely hear me chat rubbish about guns and this and that. I’ll do a couple of bits but it’ll only be from my own experiences, I would never get Maxwell D Sidewinder no more, never, because I’d be lying. When I come out of the street that was who was around me at the time and who I was seeing so I could tell you “I’m a murderah…” and all those old school bars I used to drop, but I don’t do that no more, couldn’t stand against another grime MC and try and be the hardest and be the most gruesome because that is not my life: I’m a family man. So I’m trying to give that experience across, trying to dig into my past and show people ‘hey, this is my experience, my past what I’ve done, but you can be like this.’
Also what I haven’t told you is while all this stuff was going on I actually went off and joined a lot of organisations and one of them was Kids Count.
B: I saw the photograph of you with David Cameron!
MD: A lot of people don’t know the story behind it. I was giving a lot of talks and seminars with that organisation in front of loads of MPs and the Prime Minister, the head of police etc… What I was doing was coming up to people and saying, ‘hi my names Maxwell D, artist… but my story starts with my real name, which is Denzel Cameron and this is what I used to be…’ And I’d give them the story of foster parents, domestic violence, up to my career and its ups and downs, to literally where I’m at now. And they were literally gobsmacked, like ‘ohmygod, perfect role model’. So when I did that in front of David Cameron, he was like ‘yeah, you’re a bright kid’ and gave me the thumbs up. I just took that picture with him, like ‘right, this is mine, my golden lucky charm.’
I also help with another organisation called Foundation For Life which I’m a behaviour consultant and they call for me a lot of times. I go into the prisons and I go give talks because obviously I’ve been to jail so I can give that experience of trying to get their mentality and mind right. People don’t really know I’m doing this and to be honest I feel a bit like a diamond in the dirt because I don’t have a proper PR team pushing all these things out there that are connecting to the community.
B: Maybe “Gone Away” will be the key that picks that lock?
MD: I’m hoping it is because I believe that is a very international crossover tune, we’re working on it. Fingers crossed.
B: Can you explain what it’s like behaviour consulting because you must meet kids who are really angry and don’t want to listen to anyone. How do you approach them?
MD: With the kids that are angry 9 times out of 10 it’s the person that’s approaching them [that’s making them angry] because I can talk their language. Soon as they give it that ‘nah man…’ and they want to be hard, half of the time they haven’t even done half the stuff that I’ve done. I say ‘I can guarantee I know your olders from your area.’ That’s how bad it is. I’m like ‘well, I know your boss and I know this person…’ Then you have a straight relationship with them. So they’re like ‘oh OK, I didn’t know you went jail, what you go jail for? Oh armed robbery?’ And then you can get into their world by identifying these things and then they open up to you. So I’m like ‘bwoy, don’t you wanna let it go, to change?’ They’re ‘nah, it’s hard’ and then it’s back to choice. I’m trying to explain to them that you do have a choice and loads of ways to skin a cat. What we don’t do, when we’re in the mentality of the street, is we don’t open our mind. We think ‘sport, drugs, music…’ and those three things are stuck in our head. But they don’t realise that a drug dealer is a potential scientist. They don’t realise that you could be a doctor, not everybody has to be a star, there’s some many people behind the scenes that make the clock tick. I try to get this message across to them, that there’s so many ways to make money. Some take it in, some are so far in it that it’s a vicious cycle. Because when they leave me they still got to go home, back to their parents, back to their life. So it’s not one session that will change their life it’s full time awareness. Not just me or anyone else giving talks but a whole cycle, because it will not stop because it boils down to the physics of life: good & bad.
B: I guess you can also relate to them with the early stuff that went on in your life too. Can you explain a bit more about your early experiences?
MD: Growing up, on my mum’s side I’m one of four. My mum’s a good woman and she struggled, basically. Single parent, trying to grow up her kids. My mum and dad weren’t together from the start and from when I was born I have never ever seen my mum and dad together. My sister’s dad is the one that caused the most domestic violence towards my mum. There were a few others but they weren’t really as relevant as him, because he was my sister’s dad. Because I was the eldest my sisters were very young, so I used to see a lot. And that’s the whole thing, seeing and hearing a lot, when my mum was upset or shouting and arguments, the screaming, the bruises, the running away. The whole 3 o’clock in the morning getting up and dressed and we’re out the house and the whole thing with him coming back. And I used to just hate him, the anger… cos I was 8 or 9 years old watching this, just angry thinking how dare you do this to my mum, but I was helpless and vulnerable but couldn’t do nothing. And the memories will never leave you when you hear your mum screaming in the next room when you’re trying to get to sleep, waking up in the morning and the house is just totally trashed, seeing my mum cry, totally fed up. It was painful. The whole battered wives home where my mum was one time, I will never forget the smell, it will never leave me. It was just like that horrible hostel kind of smell, loads of women just talking. My mum had me young, at the age of 15 or 16, so she is very young, so it was really hard. And obviously poverty: she never had much. My two sisters were there as well and I have a little brother after that but I think what happened was as I got to the age of 10-13, he got locked up, he was a very nasty man and when he got locked up it was like ‘freedom.’ He got locked up for a rape charge and for robbery. Even stuff like that, people coming to the house. You’re a young kid and you’ve got police coming to your house, turning on lights in the middle of the night, trashing your yard looking for stuff because of him. And I remember the last time he went to court he got 12 years. My mum was devastated, still hooked because you know, in domestic violence you actually think you love the person. But it was like freedom for us because after him it was like ‘yesss, we’ve got our mum back for once… properly’ Then she met my youngest brother’s dad and that who’s she’s married to now, which is a very sad case. And with him, it’s not so much domestic violence, he was just horrible to the children. I still have difficulties with my mum now, we don’t chat no more, because of this whole situation. He was just like a step dad coming into our lives and I don’t feel that he showed any love to us. He was kinda horrible to me. Because of what I’d experienced before and because I was older I was a bit gobbier. It was a case that I felt my mum chose him over me. I used to do silly stuff as a kid, run up the phone bill, come in late, stuff like that. I was getting a bit more streetwise, out there, mixing with the wrong people and so she kicked me out… yeah, she kicked me out.
B: Is that when you were fostered?
MD: Yeah at the age of 13. I went to live with my dad first and that didn’t work out because he was like … my dad’s a music man like me so having a raw 13-year-old in your life, we didn’t get on, so I ended up leaving there, going back to my mums, but that wasn’t working out because I couldn’t live with the guy. I ended up going to the social worker and they put me in a foster home. It was alright… they were black but they were white heheh. With black and white people, it’s not that we’re different… but there’s different upbringing and culture. Black people might have a certain food that they might specifically eat because of their traditions, it’s just different cultures. So coming from a Jamaican background going into an English background, but they were black, it was like ‘oh, I’m not used to this…’ So when I say they were back but they were white, they acted English. But it was fun, we went away and done lots of stuff but the problem with that was yet again, I never fitted in, because deep down I just wanted my mum to love me.
B: That’s so fundamental, you could never get passed that, and why would you want to?
MD: I just wanted my mum, dad and my family to grab me out of my home. I wasn’t their child, so when you start arguing with their children you slyly start to see the favouritism, and that’s not their fault it’s their child. After a while, at that age, the side effects were kicking in. I was on the street a bit more. At 11 I was doing what on the Jamaican side we call “deejaying,” going to park events with General Levi, Sweetie Irie, those kind of people and it was a hosting, toasting kind of thing. So they would run an instrumental and I would deejay over that. When I got into the MCing thing was at the age of 14, 15 when jungle was about. I used to go to these events and that’s when the real criminal activity started because I could never afford Versace haha. I was thinking ‘well this guy has got these clothes on…’ and you go to the shop and they’d be like £100 for a pair of jeans. So that’s when I started stealing and stealing leads to other types of things. So I’d go to the raves and think ‘yeah, I wanna be like this’ because I had that, I could deejay and stuff. I used to practice and in the end I got kicked out of the foster home and moved to another foster home. When you get to 16 you can’t be fostered no more so you get put in 16+, which is like a hostel. Being unsupervised with all the stuff I went through was just the worst one, a 16 year old in the real world, the most freedom and I could do whatever I wanted.
B: You thought you were a man but you look back now and you were a kid…
MD: I was a 16 year old in a hostel on girls, weed, drink: everything you could think of getting up to, I was doing it. One thing lead to another and started doing more and more criminal activities, linking up with more and more criminals. And that’s why I know so many people from different areas because my mum lived in Leyton, my dad lived in Peckham but I used to hang around in Tottenham. So it was all those three connections, you just get around. Basically I started doing a string of armed robberies with one of these guys I linked up with and then I was on Crimewatch at the age of 18, just before I went to jail.
B: Was that a shock? Did you see it yourself?
MD: It was and I did. It was like someone had just ripped your heart out and the most feeling of scared in my entire life. I never felt so… I was shaking. ‘Oh my gosh, I’m on TV…’ My phone was ringing like crazy, your friends were like ‘you’re bait! you’re bait! You’re going to jail!’ So they came for me a year later after another string of armed robberies. They got me and sentenced me to three years and I did a year and a half, because I wasn’t the person with the actual weapon I was the one flying over the counters to collect the money.
B: What people often say about going to prison is that it makes the negative cycle harder to break out of, because you meet people who are more serious criminals than you, but you seemed to escape that trap…
MD: It’s make or break. I was reading a lot of literature in jail plus I knew everybody so I had an easy time. So it became more like a youth centre for me, more than like ‘ohmygod I’m getting bullied.’ I didn’t need to be hard, I didn’t need to do anything. What my problem was though, was I couldn’t handle it, being locked up. I was too much of a free spirit. I was like ‘no girls in here? Ohmylord, how do you lot do it? I need to go home!’
B: Lucky you didn’t get 50 years!
MD: Arrrgh, I’d have committed suicide before that happened.
B: Well, I think it’s really amazing you can speak so openly about your life and experiences.
MD: I’d love someone to put my story out there. I just hope I get my time and when they do they’ll appreciate me and know what’s underneath it all.
Maxwell D's Twitter discussion on domestic violence in full:
How's every 1 doing tonight u kl who's been a victim of domestic violence ??? I know have (talk 2 me I wanna know ya thoughts on it ... ???
Who's seen there mum get wacked in by another man as kid and couldn't do shit about it where all the real people at ?? Don't b shy talk up
I'm gonna share some deep shit with u cause I can deal with it & I hope this helps 1 of u out there. I've seen my mum get whipped with wire
I use 2 be so angry but I was only 8 I use 2 pick up the kitchen knife on a regular swaering I was gonna shake this fool 2 death But air
I've seen some deep shit in my house hold that I'm not afraid 2 talk about with strangers cause its made me who iam I'm not ashamed its real
So which 1 of u hard nuts wants 2 talk about real life situations ha who can man up 2 the world about the darkest secrets ???
I member 1 night i cried in my bed all night fell asleep 2 the noise then woke up 2 a recked house ... The anger i had as a child was deep
Domesticviolence sucks Its a disease i broke the cycle because many times i wanted 2 batter the crap out a girl but it reminded me of my mum
Tonight is a emtional 1 whos with me domestic violence people talk shit but we need 2 share the important things so we can cure 1 another
Do u knw that the things u witnessed as a child stays with u 2 your old & grey ... But it has side effects u need 2 deal with it asap
Ok let me tone it down ..... Whos been foster care before .. Who knows dat feeling when ur with a new family ? & u tink urs dont love u ??
Whos not scared 2 speak about there past or child hood thats made them who they are today ... U need deal with ya it or it will deal with u
I remember the first night the social worker took me 2 the foster home i felt so scared but i put on this brave face it felt so weird
Da reason y im tweeting like dis is cause when i reflect on my life i c these horrible pics in my mind but when i C my son da love sets me 3
People judge u but have no idea because man dont broadcast tings ... People wanna knw whats makes a person real well here u go from da heart
use 2 actaully think my mum never loved me ca when i was sitting on the table at foster parents house i wished my mum would secretly save me
My foster parents were geat 2 me not gonna lie they were black but acted white so i have a white background 2 hahahaha thats how i blend in
All im saying 2 people knw matter who u R big or small we can all relate use twitter 2 heal eatch other im fed up nw of passa tweets trust
So where was i from foster parents and feeling no love from family it lead me 2 the streets where i felt the love brotherhood gang shit
Use hate 2 my social worker i kicked up her car once becuase she told me that my foester parents didnt want me anymore.fighting with kids
1 of my deepest memories that will never leave me was staying with my mum in that place (battered homes 4 wives lol it stunk in there
Im gonna stop tonight ... Whether u like me or not im sure u can relate some shape or form & thats whats makes us real ...#Positivetweets
Im sitting here gobbed smacked my face book pages are going off twitter has gone off tonight i didnt relaise so much people can relate deep