Maturity is one of the most intriguing journeys in art; As audience we feel we know an artist but as an individual the person will continue to evolve in taste, environment and thought.
This seemed to be the most natural discussion with Dream Mclean, someone that gathered attention at 17 in career through videos and mixtapes in the Grime circuit. Still at a young age Dream is ready to step into the open market of the album with his new release ‘Greyscale’ released through MTA the label founded by ‘Chase and Status’.
INTERVIEW BY PAREETA NAYEE
You’ve mentioned previously you grew up listening to American artists. At what stage did you transition to such a British sound?
I don’t think it was a difference between American and British. I think it was a difference between hip hop and, sort of, grime and stuff like that. Because I was listening to…when I was younger, I was listening to really sort of, underground hip hop, and a lot of it was split between American and English. I was listening to a lost of Task Force, Jehst, Roots Manuva, and Klashnekoff. It was a lot of UK based sound, but when I was in school, when the big grime movement happened, that’s when I started like…I was always sort of listening to that but when I started to try and actually become a MC instead of just writing…because all throughout school I was always listening to hip hop and it was all sort of poetic with rappers such as Nas and stuff like that.
So I used to write, almost stories that couldn’t really go on a beat. I wasn’t writing them to a beat. I was just writing them. They had rhymes in them and everything but it was more like poetry. So when I like, got to about 16, the group of friends that I was around, they were sort of in the grime scene, and they were all sort of doing their own thing.
So I first started trying to write bars to beats, and then like, not really showing anyone I didn’t have the confidence yet and when I come out and started showing people, they were like ‘yeah you can actually do this.’ So we recorded a song together. Back then it was just grime and that was it. That was what everyone was doing. So I still always had the passion for the hip hop and for the rap sound, but it was just a lot more geared towards grime at the time. I’ve always been somewhere in the middle of the two, not really belonging to either one. And I feel like this project now, I’ve sort of, found a middle ground, in terms of finding my own sound which you can’t really say is that boom-bap hip hop sound or grime sound.
You generated a buzz and started at such an early age. How difficult has it been evolving and maturing knowing you already have a sound that was getting attention?
It can sort of feel like its holding you back when you feel like you’ve got, sort of a history, a past in the scene like I do, especially when a lot has changed and I was very young when I come out and built this with the mixtapes so I was sort of like 16, 17 and hadn’t really found myself as an artist. I was just more focused on being like the best lyrically and that’s how I got the following, but now, my priorities have changed in terms of, I’m more about the music and more about songs and now I know that I’m going to put this album out and I’m going to have those hardcore fans who have been there since mixtape one going ‘you ain’t the same as you used to be. You’ve changed.’ (laughing).
Well obviously I’ve changed because I’m not seventeen years old anymore. But in that sense, I do sometimes think what if I could just come out completely fresh and…especially with new artists coming out around all the time that haven’t anything before and they are able to put one song out and I wish I could so that. But at the same time the journey is half of it and I love the fact that that is still out there and there are still them videos on YouTube that I can watch and cringe at (laughs) so it’s all part of the fun of it and all part of the parcel.
Grime artists have traditionally developed through flow, so how difficult is it to then develop a personal style as a musician while keeping your original supporters happy?
In terms of the flow and stuff like that? When it comes to stuff like that I don’t really think about it. That just kind of happens naturally. It’s not what I find hard, like the technical side of rapping; the flow. When you try to force stuff like that, ‘oh I’m going to make a new flow today,’ that’s when you can tell someone is just trying to…. you know what I mean? I just think, what am I going to talk about and when I’m talking about it, sometimes, it will become the flow. It just happens naturally.
I think that’s why I find it so much harder to write now because I do it a lot more organically whereas before, I would have just sat there and thought ‘what sounds sick that goes like du du du du du, and I would literally just be like trying to use my voice as an instrument whereas like not really paying much attention to the words I’m actually using. I was more focused on…I wanted to use vocabulary, but I could do a 64 bar talking about all this but I haven’t really said much. So now I’m sort trying to say more by saying less, if that makes sense?
Obviously as a vocalist, visuals aren’t automatically the main concern or dream. With the internet such a necessary visual medium, at what point did you decide to focus on that?
I think it was around the time we was working on my last mixtape; ‘Purple Promo’ I can’t even remember, but like a couple of the boys at the time…I think it was Robbie or Shane. Basically Robbie and Shane are what people might know as DeadCloud, which is sort of a brand that we started up…I started this brand up with them, when we was a lot younger, um and we just thought we’d shoot out own videos, because coming out in Colchester, we were so away from everything. We weren’t in London, so we had to do everything ourselves. So we was like alright, we’ve got the studio in Si’s bedroom, we’ve got this and we’ve got that, we need videos. So I reached out to Robbie and Shane who I knew would probably be interested in that so we started doing it ourselves. And coke and vodka which is the first video that I ever done, that Deadcloud ever done was literally…I directed it and we literally didn’t have a plan. We just got some coke and got some vodka, and we went into Colchester town and I sort of put on Twitter if anyone wants to come and be in a video, come be in a video…cos I knew the town well and went to places where I thought it would be a cool shot. But yeah there was no real plan, and we just got more drunk as the day progressed and sort of…it was good fun though and that’s what I like. That was the most important thing about the video, for me, was to have good fun. So we had good fun and the end product actually surprised us all, considering that we didn’t have a clue what we were doing at the time, it was quite a good video. So I was happy with that and from there we sort of built up a brand with the whole Deadcloud thing, doing freestyles on there so it was really hands on visuals and that.
I think now I’d like to…now I have a higher standard and I want to have ideas and things, but I’d love to get back into the visual side of things. It does interest me. I just find it very difficult to come up with the ideas. There’s a lot of things I have a passion for, like music. I like to put all my time into doing that instead of just doing that half-arse and then there are people who are doing everything, ‘I’m a musician/model/singer/baseball player, I just wanna focus on the music and album out at least first. Definitely after the album I’m going to get hands on with the videos and that. I’ve got some ideas to do with Scribbler who’s helped me out with the album cover as well. So yeah I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things with videos.
Your imagery can be described as very dark and enlisting CAS on a single release shows that a crossover name such as Chase & Status aren’t forcing commercial. There is a lot of fear about an artist going mainstream and having to change. Is that necessary? How has the media’s representation been of you?
Well I think that I haven’t really put anything out so far that anyone could say is trying to cross over or anything that is mainstream so…and I’ve always made it clear and we’ve always had that agreement from when I signed with Chase & Status a few years ago, it was never a thing where they wanted to make me different from the way I was, do you know what I mean? We always had this agreement that I was going to have creative control over what I wanted to do which is why it has taken so long to build this album because I had to find myself as an artist. But there is always going to be people…because it is more polished and well-presented, I don’t know. I’m eager to…maybe it will come out and no one will say that but I reckon that someone’s going to say something along that line. ‘You sold out,’ do you know what I mean? But even though there are literally no singles – I’m putting the album straight out – how anyone could possibly say that is beyond me. But I bet someone pipes up on Twitter, I bet you someone does!
Your mother is an artist. Did that influence you and how does she feel about your career?
She’s been nothing but supportive over the years and I think a lot of it is to do with because she understands what its like trying to sort of, trying to make it in the arts because when she was at uni and that, she was self-employed, like making her own art, trying to sell her own art. She’s a teacher now but it look a long while…a lot of…you learn a lot of lessons on the way and she’s put up with me for a while now but she’s been very supportive and I think if she didn’t have that background herself then she wouldn’t be as understanding. So I’m thankful for that, and her work and her input…that is good because I don’t think I’d be as sort of artistic if you like. I liked art in school and then went onto to do graphic design in college, dropped out but that’s irrelevant, so now I’ve got that behind me, I mean I designed the album cover, things like that and I like to do…I like to be involved in that sort of thing and I think I get that from my mum.
Performance is huge for an artist in today’s market. Like it or not, you have to be on stage. After gathering such attention originally online, how transferrable was the performance in the video to the performance on the stage?
I think performance…it was the other way round. I started off on stage and then it went into video. I was in front of a crowd before I was ever in front of a camera. Because back in the day when, it was the grime days we used to have in Colchester, we used to have…Smudge who is now my DJ, used to run nights…he’d book us. I still remember our first booking – he’s still got the poster for it on his bedroom door I think – it used to be grime sets, like one mic, bag of man around it and passing the mike around and going crazy in this little club called Memories (it’s now a strip club but used to be called Memories.) It’s this underground club in Colchester, with a low ceiling. Like a little sweat box in there but it was just a sick vibe in there. We used to come out every couple of months and we’d all have out new bars and back then it was really our thing.
Everyone in Colchester knew who we were and it was our thing and it used to go off in there. We didn’t really have a clue what we were doing outside of Colchester but it didn’t really matter because we felt like we were making a difference in our home town and people were coming out to see us, so it was good. Then videos didn’t come ’til after that. So I’d say I got a lot of stage experience before which I was then able to apply to being in videos and stuff like that.
You are focusing on Greyscale right now, but what can we expect in the future?
Yeah definitely, I mean I’m not quite sure what yet but I mean there is a lot of music there already that I’ve been working on. I don’t ever like to stop working, even when putting an album out so as soon as we’ve got Greyscale out and as soon as we’ve started getting the singles out from this album, definitely going to start thinking about what we’re going to do next. What that is yet, I can’t tell you but I think that will be part of the journey. I’m looking forward to it.
YOU CAN BUY DREAM MCLEAN GREYSCALE NOW HERE.