Mr Williamz, real name Micah Williams, was born in London and moved to Jamaica as a small boy with his Dad. It is in Jamaica where he first picked up a microphone on sound system at the age of 8 years old and in doing so won a clash contest against another young deejay. Moving back to London at the age of 16 he set up a small sound system where he recorded his own specials onto dubplates.
In 2008, he got his break into recording with Curtis Lynch and his Neccessary Mayhem label, becoming one of the label’s most prominent artists for the following few years. If Curtis cut a riddim, Mr Williamz had a tune on it. Tracks like “Babylon In Helicopter”, “Real General” and “Tommy Ranks” all raced towards the top of the reggae charts. A 12” EP “Dancehall Hobby” followed in 2012 for German electronic dancehall producer Jahtari. More singles followed over the next handful of years for producers such as Mungo’s Hi Fi (for their Scotch Bonnet label) and The Green Lion Crew from the US which is who Mr Williamz collaborated with for his second album (or first if you count “Dancehall Hobby as an EP) “The General Comes To Town” in 2017. The past three and a half years has seen more 45s come out alongside artists like Shy FX, Iron Dubz, OBF and yet another track for Mungo’s Hi Fi with Chief Rockaz for the various artists “Puffers Choice Volume 3” album last year. As an artist who is known for his dynamic live performances, the past 16 months have been a struggle for many artists but Mr Williamz has worked hard through it all, culminating in his new album on the TenWest label “Soundkilla Mindset”. I spoke with the great man himself about the new album, his artwork, his influences, the movie world and his thoughts on the current state of reggae music.
Alongside being a great MC, you’re also a great artist, drawing several of your own record covers a brilliant sketch of the late great Nicodemus which is available to buy on your website at https://www.mrwilliamz.net/shop. If you weren’t in the music thing, is art something that you would do full time instead? And do you get inspiration from legendary reggae cover designers like Liminous and Jamal Pete?
Yes backseat mafia, for sure if i wasn’t doing music I’d definitely be doing art full time, on a full time scale. Really, that was my focus, art was always my focus from a young young stage in life. Music as a ting, kinda took over, even during teenage years I was doing music and art, I was always sketching. For me, the two of them go together, so that was always something I wanted to do. To balance the two and merge both of them you know. So definitely for sure, that’s the part I was focused on.
I recently got the book by Liminous, I’m not sure about the other artists, maybe I’d seen his works and recognised the name. But always record covers were inspiring to look at from a young young age, reading the credits and stuff. But yeah recently I got the book and it was really inspiring and it had a lot of vibes, looking at the process and sketches he was doing, a lot of inspiration.
You appeared on Damian Marley’s Jamrock cruise and shared the mic with one of your inspirations, Super Cat, how was that experience for you and did you sit down and reason with him afterwards? Do you have any plans to record with him and are there any other veteran artists that you’d like to collaborate with?
Yeah the jam rock cruise was a great experience, and sharing the stage in the moment with supercap & king jamminz was a fabulous moment. We didn’t share in it or talk afterwards cos it was just a spontaneous thing. Before I realised, I turned around and he appeared, he shared some words on the stage with me, and then we started to chat some lyrics. So it was just a natural vibe and ya know, we didn’t plan to do any recording or anything, we just share that moment there and that was the vibes.
Recording with veteren artists, I just released Soundkilla Mindset LP and it features, Junior Demus, Mike General and some of them man from the foundation time. But really, is not like a plan to, there’s always like great ones that are inspiring that I’d love to do something with, but it always has to be a natural vibe and in the moment come together in a certain way, but we don;t have anything planned like that.
We saw you appear in a sound system scene in Idris Elba’s excellent film “Yardie”. What was it like being on an actual film set as opposed to being on a video shoot? What are the differences that you noticed? And do you have plans to appear in more films if the right part comes along?
Well appearing in the film was a great experience, and the film itself, we did 2 days filming in the scene I was in. And the way it was different from a video shoot, was the way it was setup. With a video shoot, you are more like miming the song you’re doing. But what we was doing was recording the audio and going live. So we were recording for like 6 hours each day or something, 2 hours at a time. And more in that way it was a performance and to perform over and over, different angles, different shots. I guess they caught the best parts and merged them in. It was a lot of vibing. It wasn’t written lyrics, it was all freestyling. They didn’t want like a song that was already released or that they would have to clear with the producers. So they wanted more freestyle on the spot vibes. It was like doing a session. But you do it, then do it again, then do it again and do it again. They would play songs in between to keep the vibes and then we’d go again. It was a nice experience and good to see from that side. And yeah i’d be up for doing some part if the right part in the right film was there. You know for that film I was just more being myself, I wasn’t doing so much acting. It was more remembering the style of language or the words that would be said in that timeframe, in the 80s, cos it was set in the 80s. But apart from that it was more just being natural and recording and going over and over, but was a nice experience you know.
You are one of the main artists in reggae and dancehall music keeping the old school style alive for us who were there at the time and also bringing the classic sound to younger ears. You’re working with the grime artist Footsie on your new album on what seems to be the title track “Sound Killa”. Do the grime MC’s have an appreciation of the classic dancehall sounds that paved the way for them? Which modern day artists do you think could cut a great album in the 80s dancehall style?
Yeah back seat mafia, I would say that the foundation grime artists are close to the soundsystem culture. You know like the appearance and stuff, coming from the carribean. So yeah the foundation grime artists, they really come with that soundkilla mindset, they come from that soundsystem school of listening to cassettes and clashes and tings. And even the way they do their battle and stuff, its all dancers and energy and stuff, with the crew you know. So is definitely coming from that vibe, and I don’t know if all the artists fully realise, but definitely the foundations with like footsy and Wiley from that soundsystem culture and school, so you know thats really the vibes that helped inspire them to create tier own ting now, with whats happening now. And Wiley, a record from that time with that mindset and vibe, the vibes you draw inspiration from and stuff, because you’ve been through that growing up and tings so definitely a big influence.
The new album “Soundkilla Mindset” is produced by Specialist Moss, who you’ve worked with before. He started out as a deejay on sound systems before entering the production side of music too. Is production something that you see yourself getting into a lot more in the future? Also with Specialist Moss’ background in garage, hip hop, et al, was that something that got him the job of producing the album, giving it a fresh “street” sound while retaining the overall classic dancehall vibe?
In terms of getting into production, I have ideas and stuff but I’m not planning to make rhythms and play instruments and ting like that. And specialist Moss i’ve known for years and he’s very talented in terms of naturally playing with instruments and sounds and stuff. So he’s always been using the them pc to create and program beats. So it was just a natural process really at the time, and as he has experience from different backgrounds and stuff, I came to him with this idea and concept of just wanting to do this raw ragga beats and ragga rhythms and you know original rhythms from the soundsystem time and the time we was listening to cassettes, some of our favourite rhythms. So we just went through and got the vibes together. So it come about naturally and was an easy process. And definitely having that background in music, having that UK feel as well you know. So it was just an element to add to it and have that raw sound and stuff, want it sounding like soundsystem you know.
Finally, how do you see reggae music right now at this moment in time? Do you think more artists will follow the route of artists such as Chronixx, Lila Ike, Kabaka Pyramid and yourself and bring back more of the old school vibes while keeping things fresh and innovative too? How do you feel about pop music artists such as Ed Sheeran dabbling with dancehall beats and being mentioned as an “Urban” artist now?
With the sound of the reggae music today, I think it has lost the raw element of where the rhythm laid, you know with live instruments and everything. With the advent of technology now makes the recording more perfect, everything sounds perfect, everything is in tune and perfectly done. For me as a fan of the music sometimes i like that raw edge, raw element. That’s why I like the soundsystem sessions, you know spontaneous tings happening and its not rehearsed, we turn up and the vibes, its one of a kind vibes like tonight. Tomorrow night is a different vibe, it;s not like the same vibe with a rehearsed band. So that’s my personal look on where i see the music going. It’s in that perfect stage of technology and tuning and that. With the artists concerned now, you always get some generation who stay to the original school, you know, the original school. The music is done in a fresh way but you;re drawing on those original elements. But i really think that it’s dying out in a certain way, almost like its being mimicked in a certain way, because of the lack of soundsystem events and live events where people can take in that vibe, so they have to engage in another way. From my view, its a more of a experience thing that you are sharing, so you can’t mimic it you know, its more inspiration from that. But its a different time with the same vibe, with that fresh edge and there is always gonna be generations that are more and more or less and less, like with fashion, you soon see everything again. You know it goes around.
Reggae and Dancehall artists are known for being prolific, sometimes churning out several albums a year back in the days (the late great Gregory Isaacs was known for this to name one artist). “Soundkilla Mindset” is your second full length album alongside a couple of EPs. Are you a great believer in “less is more”. I know personally I’d rather wait a year or two for an artist to release an album that has been carefully crafted, rather than the old practice of walking into a studio and voicing over whatever riddims that the producer has laying around.
So in terms of output of music, I do believe in quality over quantity. And in that sense less is more. So it does take a time but also variety is the spice of life. So you can be in a different mood, you can be in a dancehall mood, or deep reggae, a dub mood, a different mood in the reggae genre, so you know there’s no real limit also and it;s just the balance between those principally. You’re not gonna put out the same music every time, so like I put out soundkilla mindset, I could put out a different project with a different vibe another time. So thats the advantage of the original school style because it blends across the board and genres, so you can have D&B or electronic you know. But yeah I definitely believe in putting out strong output, not rushed. It;s best to take your time and cook it and not rush it.
Thank You for the chat King! It’s been an honour to talk with you. Best of luck with the new album and I hope that things will open up again very soon and we can see you back on stage nicing up crowds.
Check the new album out, here