DJ Treats returns with another illuminating Throwback Thursdays post. In addition to LargeUp, you can see his work in Complex, Mass Appeal and other fine publications, and on his website, DJTreats.com.
School was in session when I bought Ms. Dynamite’s debut album, A Little Deeper. There was no chance of finding the CD or vinyl; eBay had it, though. Within days of its arrival, I held it up on my public access show for viewers to see, similar to how Jimmy Fallon introduces the next big thing on late night television.
Dynamite was part of a British invasion of American music in the early aughts, joining Dizzee Rascal, Mike Skinner (a.k.a. The Streets) and Wiley in representing grime, the U.K.’s hybrid of hip-hop, dancehall, and 2-step electronica. Loaded comparisons to contemporary rappers awaited them in the States. Dizzee was to 50 Cent, as The Streets was to Eminem, as Dynamite was to Lauryn Hill. The comparison between Dynamite and Ms. Hill made the most sense musically because their debut solo albums mothered a generation of multi-talented female musicians after them. Dynamite now is an icon looked up to by new U.K. artists like Lady Leshurr and Katy B. A Little Deeper also featured guests from Ky-mani Marley to Barrington Levy, all-star production from Salaam Remi, Dave and Tony Kelly, and Sticky, and remixes featuring Nas, Swizz Beatz, and Kardinal Offishall. None of Dynamite’s British contemporaries had such an arsenal to work with.
I remember watching a 60 Minutes-type of segment on BBC where they interviewed Dynamite and her family, around early 2004. She was humbled to be in the spotlight. She voiced her humility best on the track “Now You Want My Love,” saying, “All this shit don’t make me no superstar, little name, little fame up in this game, shit ain’t change, I’m still the same.” Likening herself to the girl-next-door enduring typical teenage trials and tribulations, Dynamite’s down-to-Earth demeanor, and lyrics targeting unfaithful boyfriends to global poverty, made her relatable to women of all ages. And her message to her dude about being second best, but not having his baby mama stress—you have to respect that type of real talk.
Even though Dynamite looked a little younger than 21 when A Little Deeper was released, her music sounded wise beyond her years. Born Niomi McLean Dealy to a Scottish mom and Jamaican dad in North London, she was the eldest of 11 kids, and her motherly instincts played out in her music, similar to Ms. Hill. Maturity rang from her stern Jamaican-cockney accent on the album’s intro, “Natural High.” She was the U.K.’s closest thing to Nas (who recorded guest verses on alternate versions of “Dy-na-mi-tee” and “Afraid 2 Fly” that were left off the album), a masterful storyteller and prolific wordsmith.
In hindsight, A Little Deeper never really got the respect it deserved. The album was of its time, when U.K. hip-hop was in its prime. Unfortunately, British hip-hop artists never got their moment in the American mainstream, though Vibe bigged up Ms. Dynamite in an extensive feature on U.K. hip-hop. The music industry’s transition from analog to digital, meanwhile, spelled doom for record shops like Sidewinder UK (Sidewinder was also a label and hosted parties with artists like Dynamite and So Solid Crew) where DJs and fans could discover new local talent. For the benefit of those wondering what happened to Ms. Dynamite, or those hearing her for the first time, we’ve dusted off a live Sidewinder recording from 2001 (Dynamite comes in at 1:22), when she was just starting to bubble. As a bonus, catch her “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee” video below.