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Interview: Million Stylez Yesterday and Today

Interview: Million Stylez Yesterday and Today

Interview: Million Stylez Yesterday and Today

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"The album I'm working on will be strictly roots and consciousness"

Sampler

Europe has taken a big step on the international reggae scene and more and more producers regularly voice Jamaican stars. But there are fewer European singers and deejays that manage to penetrate Jamaica and other parts of the world. United Reggae has met one of them – Swedish Kenshin Iryo, better known as Million Stylez.

Million Stylez

This interview was originally made for UK magazine Woofah in 2010, but the issue never came out. And the article you’re reading is therefore divided into two parts – Million Stylez three years ago and Million Stylez today.

Sweden is in proportion to its size a well known music country. Groups and artists like ABBA, Robyn and Swedish House Mafia have toured worldwide and played for hundreds of thousands. But behind the success in genres such as disco, pop and house is a burgeoning hip-hop and reggae scene and Million Stylez is one of few who has succeeded outside Sweden and the Nordics.

I meet Million Stylez at a café in central Stockholm on a windy afternoon in June 2010. It turns out that this internationally acclaimed artist is living only a few blocks away. He has recently released his second album Everyday and describes life as hectic.

“I tour all year around and have had gigs every weekend in the last five years,” he says. 

Competed in Jamaican talent contest

His music career began when he was nine years old and listened to hip-hop and rapping to beats. Around ten years later he replaced hip-hop for reggae and started singing, or rather, singjaying.

So, in 2005 came an important step in his career – Million Stylez ran in the Jamaican talent contest "Irie FM Big Break" and struck it big the following year with the massively popular Miss Fatty. 

“I was the only non-Jamaican in the competition up until that year. Out of 1,200 participants, I came in fourth. But I was not really there to win, it was more an important experience and an opportunity to promote myself and my music,” he explains, and continues:

All twelve finalists were like family. We supported each other and there was no drama at all. It was a nice bunch. A singer named Prophecy won and G-Whizz was also in the final.”

The contest took place at three parts of the island - St. Elizabeth, Montego Bay and Kingston. The judges assessed the finalists’ music, lyrics and appearance in general.

The audience at the different locations was a bit separate. We got the best response in St. Elizabeth. In contrast, Montego Bay was a bit stiff, but we had been warned about that in advance.”

He says that everyone thought he was Jamaican, partly because of appearance, but also because he speaks the language well. 

“I actually have more Jamaican friends than American, so it’s more natural for me to speak Jamaican English.”

Million Stylez has not been in Jamaica since the contest, but plans to go there again soon. The dancehall scene has changed a lot and he wants to meet friends and make new contacts with producers and artists. In addition, his music is played on the island. 

“I would like to work with Stephen McGregor and Don Corleon. Top producers are always a challenge and I know I can handle their riddims. As long as I feel the riddim, it’ll work out fine,” he says.

Growing Swedish scene

The Swedish reggae scene has grown rapidly in the 2000’s with names such as Joey Fever and Kapten Röd. But Million Stylez is by far the biggest reggae star in Sweden and the Nordics.

The Swedish reggae scene is prosperous and has big names like Governor Andy and Kapten Röd,” he explains, and clarifies:

“There are really two different scenes in Sweden; one for reggae in Swedish and one for reggae in English. The scene is segregated today and the audiences should be unified.”

His latest album Everyday was released in late May 2010 and has been reviewed in several major Swedish newspapers. On the album, Million Stylez collaborates with producers such as UK-based Curtis Lynch and French crew InkALink. He also works with international stars Gentleman and Busy Signal.

“In Sweden, the interest in reggae is better than ever with great interest from both the general public and the media and my album has been well received. But Sweden is not a reggae country,” he says.

Message is important

Million StylezThat’s why Million Stylez looks outside both Sweden and the Nordics. However, he’s somewhat sceptical of the current dancehall scene in Jamaica.

“I really like Vybz Kartel and Mavado. They’re versatile and good at what they do. But they’re more or less the only ones who get played on the radio and most of the times they’ve negative messages. In that way, they’ve become a bad influence to the youths.”

He argues that the European scene is different from the Jamaican.

“In Europe, one thinks more quality than quantity. I don’t care that it should be new, new, new all the time. It must also be quality,” he says with emphasis and adds:

“The message of the music is incredibly important. A lot of lyrics are superficial and about how many groupies the singer has had sex with and how much money one earns. It is mental enslavement. I want to contribute with positive messages about peace and love instead.”

Touring the world

The international reggae scene may be big, but not big enough for Million Stylez. He says he wants to reach outside of reggae circles, and has no problem being called pop. 

“If pop means to be popular, I’ve no problem with it.”

And popular is exactly what he is. Every day he gets requests for voicing new riddims. But he only accepts those that fit his style. He must be able to stand by his song 100 percent.

In July he goes on a U.S. tour with a live band. Previous tours have been around the world - Chile, Japan and Ethiopia are just a few countries where he has played large audiences.

“Addis Ababa was obviously special. The people were very poor, but had a lot of love in their hearts. I actually felt a very special contact with Ethiopia, which I’ve not felt in other countries. It was a very spiritual visit and I made many new friends,” he says.

Versatility important

Million Stylez will not delimit himself musically and likes trying out new genres and styles. 

“I can do hip-hop, grime, dubstep, RnB and roots. I can do everything,” he says with an emphasis once again.

And he certainly can. It’s nothing wrong with his confidence. He says that he’s worthy of the name Million Stylez, although he was more versatile earlier in his career. 

I've found my sound now. Before, I wanted to prove how many styles I had. But it’s important not to become monotonous. It happens too easily,” he says, and asks what the Swedish word for versatile is.

Three years later

Fast forward three years to April 2013. Million Stylez is busy as usual and has over these three years toured the world.

“My favorite places are anywhere there are humble and God loving people. Of course, I don’t mind beautiful and sunny places but the company and the crowd are most important,” he says.

He has also dropped several acclaimed singles and contributions to one riddim compilations as well as dropping self-produced riddims, including his popular Arabian Nights riddim with vocal cuts from Mr Vegas, Capleton and Ward 21 among many more.

One of his goal as a producer is to give something back to the reggae scene because it has given him so much over the years. And one thing is for sure – it’s not for the money

“There’s almost no money to be made in selling reggae music,” he laughs, and adds:

“In other words, it’s just for the love and passion I have for it.”

Disappointed in Jamaica

He has also visited Jamaica to get some yard vibes and to work. He linked up with some of the biggest producers, old and new, including King Jammy’s son Baby G, Russian, Fat Eyes, Notice and Seanizzle. But he isn’t too thrilled about the visit.

“To be honest I didn’t really enjoy my stay that much because of the attitude some of them had in the beginning as we met. They see an artist coming all the way from Europe and all they see is money. It’s kind of disappointing to me because if it should be one place where musicians can come together to work just for the pure vibes it should be Jamaica, right?,” he says.

However, the visit seems to have been fruitful since Million Stylez has appeared on a number of Jamaican riddims over the past years. But he has no plans of going back.

“There is a big world out there and you can find inspiration for reggae music all over, trust me,” he explains.

Working on several projects

Million Stylez says he doesn’t plan his life or career. He tries to seize the day, live in the now and do whatever suits in the moment

“Anytime I’m in the studio I just listen through some riddims, pick the one I feel the most in that moment and start voicing a song about anything that is on my mind in that moment. I think that’s why a lot people can feel my music on a deeper level because they can hear where it comes from - my spirit,” he believes.

Planning or no planning, he is currently working on a number of big projects, including two EP’s and one album aimed for release this year.

“One EP is called Songs About You and is already produced and it drops on Special Delivery. The next EP will be 100 percent dancehall and is under construction. The album I’m working on will be strictly roots and consciousness,” he says.

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