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Little Lady rapper Mikill Pane: 'I got expelled after hitting Tony Blair's son'

PUBLISHED: 10:20 20 March 2016 | UPDATED: 08:21 22 March 2016

Rapper Mikill Pane who lives in Hackney

Rapper Mikill Pane who lives in Hackney

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Rapper and musician Mikill Pane, who counts Ed Sheeran among his best friends, tells The Gazette about his life and work - and his schoolboy run-in with Euan Blair.

A painting of Justin Smith Uzomba, aka Mikill PaneA painting of Justin Smith Uzomba, aka Mikill Pane

Mere seconds have passed since the Gazette met Justin Smith Uzomba outside Haggerston station – and already one driver has hooted his car horn at the 31-year-old rapper, waving like mad as he sails past.

Justin, better known as Mikill Pane, says this happens to him all the time, having lived in the area his whole life – and we can’t help thinking his distinctive looks must help people spot him.

Ed Sheeran, one of Justin’s best friends, apparently described him on a Radio 1 interview with Hugh Stevens, as a “six foot four black guy with tattoos, his ears stretched and wearing glasses”. On top of that, he has a gold tooth and dreadlocks.

“You aren’t going to forget me very easily – at least, I hope not,” jokes Justin as we sip tea in Dunston Road’s Better Health Bakery.

Justin Smith Uzomba, aka Mikill PaneJustin Smith Uzomba, aka Mikill Pane

It was the fact Ed Sheeran recognised him in Oxford Street, the day after they first met on a Stoke Newington radio show in 2009, that led to them becoming friends and collaborating on the track Little Lady.

“Before my radio interview, this entourage of people brought in a red-haired kid with a guitar,” remembers Justin.

“I was thinking: ‘He’s so dishevelled and unkempt, I bet he’s an amazing musician’ – because he’s not bothered about his image, so you can tell all he cares about is the music. He played his first song You Need Me I Don’t Need You, and I was blown away.”

They exchanged numbers in Oxford Street the following day and Justin started going to his gigs “because he had a lot more of them than I did, and I was a fan of his music”.

Ed, who was homeless at the time, would sometimes sleep on his parents’ couch in De Beauvoir.

“With Ed we both were on the come-up,” he said.

“We were playing these little gigs here and there.

“We just looked out for each other. When he was recording his collaborations EP he asked me to work with him on it, and then that blew up. That’s probably still my biggest song to date – it was a fortunate encounter.”

Seven years on and Justin has worked with plenty of other well known artists, from Professor Green, Example, Rizzle Kicks, and Tommy Lee to the Motley Crue.

“I’ve got a Motley Crue band member in my phone book. That’s something I never thought I’d be able to say. Being on first name terms with him and being able to text him – it’s a good example of where music can take you. You just never know.”

For Justin, “the love of words came first,” and at the age of eight he began writing poems. Apparently as a result of watching adult TV shows like The Fast Show, Harry Enfield, Frasier and Third Rock from the Sun, he had “developed a sense of humour and wit beyond my years”.

He won a poetry competition at his primary school Our Lady and St Joseph’s in Tottenham Road, but it wasn’t until he got to his second secondary school – St Aloysius in Highgate – that his English teacher told him he had a talent for creative writing.

His first secondary school had been the semi-private London Oratory, but he was expelled from there after writing a “daring love letter” to a girl – the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, having already got into a fight with Euan Blair in Year 7.

“This was the first fight I had got into, and it happened to be with Tony Blair’s son,” he remembers.

“He insulted me. We both threw punches. You are a bit more pugnacious – we were kids. From then on it was a downward slope. I think they were waiting for the opportunity to get rid of me. I never really belonged there – I was from around here.”

It was getting into more trouble that led to him penning his first rap lyrics, feeling bored during some downtime, while carrying out community service for petty crimes like riding a scooter without a helmet.

Spurred on by a friend, he joined a rap group, but didn’t last there long, “because they had a different message to me”.

“I wanted to write positive stuff and they wanted to write street stuff, negative stuff, things we weren’t even doing,” he explains.

“I wanted to deliver loads of different messages but because I was so close to what was going on at street level, a lot of the time it was all about being a journalist, a reporter, and saying what was going on on the streets, without necessarily glorifying it but without passing judgement on people.”

Now signed to Mercury, Justin will be performing along with other emerging stars at RISE, at Islington’s O2 Academy, on March 29. Proceeds go to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Tickets are £15 from ticketweb.co.uk/event/YDH2903Z.

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