How M1onTheBeat rose to the top of UK drill with just a laptop, a pair of monitors and a copy of FL Studio: "I want producers to thrive just as much as the people behind the microphone"

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"I've got an opportunity to change my life, and an opportunity to change everyone else's life around me," says M1onTheBeat, keen to convey his relentless drive to grow and develop. "I don't wanna waste this opportunity."

The Tottenham-born producer has been a key figure in the rise of UK drill over the last few years, producing some of the movement's most explosive tracks, including Digga D hit Woi and K-Trap sensation Warm. But he's far from satisfied. Knowing how his life might have turned out if it weren't for music, M1 appreciates how quickly things can change, and how success shouldn't be taken for granted.

"I didn't have anything going for myself," he says, joining me for a call to discuss his role in a movement that has changed the face of Black British music. "Before music, I was doing nothing good, nothing that was putting me in a positive direction. Man's seen darkness, where you have to wait for the light to come on. You can't even shine the light, you have no choice but to wait."

As a teenager in a tough part of north London, M1 (who prefers not to share his real name) sought refuge in creativity as some of his friends started to drift toward crime. Raised by musical parents listening to "a lot of jazz and old school reggae," he had the foundations to construct a broad musical palette, taking influence from a range of genres.

My go-to software is FL Studio, mainly because of how quick and easy it is for me to get my ideas on the screen

The drill sound that has exploded across the globe in recent years has its roots in the early-2010s Chicago scene pioneered by the likes of Fredo Santana, Chief Keef and his producer Deepee On The Beat. But while those artists — as well as UK producers like Steel Banglez and Labrinth — were important to M1, drill's potential for adaptation became clear thanks to UK producers like Carns Hill, the architect of many of 67's biggest hits, including Check Dis and 5AM Vamping. "I used the inspiration of what certain UK producers were doing and tried to change the sound from there," he says.

What was it about that early drill sound that he wanted to adapt? "I wanted to change the way it bounces, I guess. The three-step drum pattern, I started identifying that stuff as soon as I started, but we made our own little twist on it."

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M1 started developing his own distinctive sound, using that light, three-step pattern — which like others within the scene, he views as closely linked to afrobeat rhythms — as a foundation, and adding heavy, sliding 808 patterns, sparse, eerie piano refrains, and flickering off-beat hi-hat taps. Over several years, his beats have helped set the blueprint for a dark, enticing, hugely popular and commercially successful UK drill sound that has had a serious impact on the masses.

"I normally start with the melody," says M1, reflecting on his typical approach to beatmaking. "My go-to software is FL Studio, mainly because of how quick and easy it is for me to get my ideas on the screen. The Slide Note tool, as many producers will know, is the most important function in the toolbox when it comes to drill 808s. FL Studio's approach to their slide tool gives me complete freedom and control over what each and every note does."

I usually start with a deep 808 sample which I would then saturate using FL Studio's Fruity Blood Overdrive plugin to give it more body and beefiness

"I usually start with a deep 808 sample which I would then saturate using FL Studio's Fruity Blood Overdrive plugin to give it more body and beefiness," he continues. "Then, I would use the Stereo Shaper plugin to add some more width to the upper mids of the 808 sample, further adding to the body of the sound. A technique that almost every FL Studio producer uses but is imperative to drill is setting the envelope to a square on the 808 sample. This allows for complete control over the tail of the 808, making it super easy to create the quick and snappy bass lines I've become known for."

When it comes to this process, consistency is key for M1. "I've been using the same gear since I started," he says. "Plugins like Nexus and Kontakt... Kontakt is like a world full of other things, violins, drums, pads, synths, anything that makes sense for what I'm trying to make. That's what's helped me keep my sound. I always use the same tag too, I never change it."

Here, he's referring to the hushed, sped-up, robotic-sounding voice that spits 'M1onTheBeat' at the top of every track he produces. You can hear it on anthems from Drake and Headie One's cross-atlantic link-up Only You Freestyle to RV, Chip and Backroad Gee's high-octane single Moonwalk Slide, and its significance shouldn't be underestimated; the tag is one of the few opportunities producers get to stamp their identity on a track and spread their name far and wide.

This is something M1 cares deeply about. His debut solo project M1onTheBeat: The Mixtape is motivated by a desire to put the producer front and centre within the UK drill conversation. Featuring long-time collaborators like K-Trap and Abra Cadabra, alongside up-and-coming rappers like Cristale and Meekz, the 15-track tape is built around the skippy, atmospheric drill sound M1 has cultivated over the years ("with this tape, I kinda wanted to go with what I already know," he says), and crucially, across the project we're treated to lengthy outros and gaps between verses designed to spotlight the instrumentals that everything is founded on.

While the mixtape uses a proven production formula, there are detours into more strident brands of road rap (Top Form featuring Nafe Smallz, Skrapz, and Rimzee) and more bouncy, commercial-feeling tracks (Like Dat featuring Nemzzz and SL). That blend underlines the young producer's versatility, and captures how the UK drill sound has evolved since the days when pioneering crews like 67 and Harlem Spartans first started gaining recognition.

The core of collaborators come from London, but rappers from Manchester and Birmingham also feature heavily, highlighting how M1 — as his name implies — is keen to stretch his wings beyond the capital. At the same time, the north London beatmaker knew he had to pay tribute to some of the artists that have been there since the early days, when M1 was honing his skills living on the Broadwater Farm estate in north London.

Mandem would just come to my house when they didn't wanna be on the road. All of them used to just come to my house and chill

"I met Headie One around 2016, 2017, when I used to live on Broadwater," he says. "I used to see them a lot on the main road, and they knew I was doing beats, so I was able to talk to them freely. Mandem would just come to my house when they didn't wanna be on the road. All of them used to just come to my house and chill. They were young guys trying to make it out, just like me."

Clearly, M1 has come a long way since then. When asked about the main lessons he's learned during his rise to the top of the UK drill pyramid, he says "everyone has a story, people are going through real life things away from music, and it's not always what it looks like." Those stories are peppered across M1onTheBeat: The Mixtape, penned by a range of UK rap's best lyricists.

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(Image credit: Press)

But it took a little while for M1 to get to the point where he was ready to release this project. "I'm in a much more clear headspace now," he tells me. "When you set a goal like this project, it's a massive mountain, and once you get to the top of the mountain, everything seems much clearer. I feel good, and I hope everybody gets the grasp of what we're trying to prioritise."

Were there are any key changes in the creative process that got him to this place? "I just had to be more of an adult. I had to dress up nicer, take more pictures, worry more about content, worry about a social media presence. I'm embracing every part of it, and I want to take every opportunity that comes my way. To do whatever it takes to make it happen."

The vision behind the new project is that "producers can thrive just as much as the people behind the microphone"

In M1's words, the vision behind the new project is that "producers can thrive just as much as the people behind the microphone". His stomping ground of Tottenham has given birth to a long line of influential UK rap talents (artists like Chip and JME even attended the same school as him), but he's right that producers are often left out of conversations about this thriving scene. 

He's attempting to counter that narrative, and various landmark moments suggest he is doing that, including collaborations with global stars like Drake and D-Block Europe's Nafe Smallz ("I didn't know he freestyled at the time, but the guy just freestyles everything, bro, and he sounds so amazing!" he says), and accolades such as Producer of the Year at the 2021 Rated Awards. Not that awards are what drives him forward.

"It's cool to get recognised and rewarded, but I wouldn't say it motivates me," he says. "The whole reward system is a bit rigged, so I don't really care for it. The people whose opinions are most important are your own, and those who actually listen to the music."

Those fans will be keen to soak up the latest landmark release on M1's trail from being a humble teenage music lover trying to make it out of the ends to a defining figure within the vibrant UK drill scene. What kind of legacy does he want to end up with? "I want to be known as someone who changed the sound of drill forever."

M1onTheBeat: The Mixtape is out November 24th.

Fred Garratt-Stanley

Fred Garratt-Stanley is a freelance music, culture, and football writer based in London. He specialises in rap music, and has had work published in NME, Vice, GQ, Dazed, Huck, and more.


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