M Dot R: Island Born
International selling artist M Dot R cuts an intriguing figure as he takes his dancehall styles from Sheerness to a worldwide audience
Standing out on the island beach, watching the tide roll gently in while a familiar sweet aroma fills the air….
We could be in the Caribbean – apart from the sideways rain.
We have come to Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey to meet Moses, aka M Dot R, a dancehall, rap and reggae artist who is pulling up trees (not the only greenery for which he has a passion) in the online world of music.
Introduced to the world of hip hop and raga in his early years, the locally born lyricist is one colourful guy. Glistening chains and considered threads have him ready for the photo shoot on Sheerness beach before it’s off to the American diner for lunch. He is a pro in front of the camera, despite the less-than-ideal weather, but we should have known that.
Anyone who has seen an M Dot R online video will know already exactly who he is. He stands out, is confident, focused and, most important of all, talented.
Dismiss him as a black music wannabe at your peril.
He has racked up more than 265,000 views of his freestyle patwa-infused rap on the Toddla T show on BBC Radio 1Xtra and a further 635,000 hits on his Bl@ckBox YouTube appearance.
Some 50,000 followers on Instagram and another 2,000 Facebook fans means that M Dot R produces hit tracks and videos on a regular basis. Oh, and he has an online Caribbean-style cooking show – Cook & Vibe.
A hot chocolate with cream and a bacon sandwich later, we get to know the real M Dot R, from his father’s days as a multi-instrumentalist folk musician to moving to London, through to being interviewed on a Jamaican news channel.
The first question is, of course, about the patwa-inflection in his music that also creeps into his everyday speech.
“The London accent is taken from Jamaican,” he explains. “Just growing up around it, listening to the music constantly, you hear that tune for the 10th time, you’re going to understand what the guys say because it is only broken English. Not a different language.
“My sister lived in London for a while and used to go out with a Jamaican fella, I used to go round there at Christmas and listen to the music. I used to steal their lyrics, go home and record them.
“I’ve always wanted to do music,” he says. “I’ve never told anyone this in an interview, but when I was little I would go up to my room, play my favourite song and then act in the mirror as if I was doing the song and pretend I was singing to the girls at school that I fancied.”
So you always had the vision of performing?
“I used to have a couple of old friends who had the Sidewinder tapes and Helter-Skelter tapes – remember them?
“We had an old stereo where you could put the headphones into the input and you’d be able to talk into the headphones and it would come out the speaker. You could record on the other side of the stereo. We used to do that in practice.”
Inspirations are cited as Shabba D, Flowdan, Maxwell D, Beenie Man, Popcaan, Vybz Kartel and Michael Jackson. A move to London in his teens saw the musician grow up in and around the emerging grime scene, but M Dot has a slight bristle at the suggestion of an extensive past in grime music; he is passionate about what he does now.
“The grime part was just a product of my environment, I was never that much into grime,” he explains. “I like melodies. I’m a melody guy, which is why I like dancehall. If you give me a rap beat, you can only do a certain thing with it. If you give me a dancehall beat, I can sing with it or rap with it. It’s much easier to work with.”
But his connection with the London scene is undeniable, having featured garage legend Fumin’, of More Fire Crew fame, and grime heavyweight Jamkvy on his latest track Foul.
“I wanted to do something quite raw, with an English beat but with the dance hall feel. My fans like that raw side of me. Fumin’ is a legend in grime and we had spoken previously about doing something. When we went to the studio, Jamkvy was there, so he ended up jumping on it, too.”
He keeps a capital connection, using the same SP Studios in Plumstead to record, but it was the return to the seaside that focused the mind on the goal.
“It was about moving from an MC to a recording artist. It was when I came back here, I started to learn how to structure music with verses and choruses, ad libs, stabs and everything else.”
It is one thing being an enthusiast for a certain style of music, it is quite another to become a recording artist with a fan base that stretches across the globe.
“I used to DJ behind closed doors with a lot of reggae music and would go to record shops to get dubplates and do grime lyrics with a bit in patwa or a reggae beat with English lyrics. So it was always there,” says M Dot R.
“When I moved back to Sheerness, I had time to think about the music that I really wanted to put out, and it was dancehall and reggae.
“There is a heavy Jamaican culture in London and, because of where I was, I knew people and I was in all these WhatsApp groups with people that was in the dancehall and reggae industry, people from Germany, Jamaica, Africa and England, and everyone just networked. That’s where I met my good friends who I stay with when I’m in Jamaica now.”
And what is the reaction when he is out in the Caribbean performing?
“The reaction is shock,” he says. “Whether they like it or don’t like it, they’re still shocked. And when I’m in Jamaica, they love it, but they’re still shocked.
“They’re used to a white guy in Jamaica being very reserved, but where I am so forward they will ask me for a lyric and I will give it to them and they’re like ‘The man serious, the man have energy’.
“I’m an outgoing, confident person. When I’m in Jamaica, I always wanted to walk on my own and explore and feel it, like I lived there.
“When I’m in Portmore they like me because I walk on my own, they like that I feel comfortable. They’re happy that someone is not looking down on it all – I’m appreciating it, eating their food, dressing how they dress, talking how they talk. Out there they just live life.”
A large following in Jamaica is only bettered here in England – specifically London and Birmingham – and, randomly, in Canada.
“I’m going to do some shows out there this year. I’ve got some collaborations set up. I don’t mind if the artist isn’t big or doesn’t have a big following – if I like the song they want to collaborate on, I’ll do it.”
The intrigue that exists in M Dot R doesn’t end with his waterfall-based music videos and inimitable freestyles, it is even bigger than that. He is currently the subject of a documentary.
“I just got approached about it,” he says. “They followed me around Notting Hill Carnival, which was crazy. I performed there and they came backstage, and it has just carried on from there. It’s a year-long thing and we’re at the last stages now, doing an ending in Jamaica.”
The artist is not fazed by the idea of a crew following him around, it’s all about the drive forward.
“I’m so focused, I don’t even realise and think ‘Oh, I’m having a documentary made about me’. I am still nowhere near where I need to be. I have got so much to do before I can feel relaxed or accomplished.”
With the ability to create a huge online following and direct streaming services, the desire to get a record deal has waned for up-and-coming artists in recent times, and it doesn’t hold too much sway with M Dot’s goals, either.
“I’m not bothered,” he says. “I have a vision and I know what I need to do to make it happen, and social media helps. If I get signed, then everything will happen quicker. If I don’t, well, it might take a bit longer, but it will be the same outcome.”