Words by: Words: Will Pritchard
Photography: Stuart Nimmo
Stylist: Neesha Sharma
Styling Assistant: Danny Walker

“So, I was just on my Instagram, yeah?” M1onTheBeat is talking about the time, in November 2023, when he accidentally caused a roadblock in north London. “And I said, ‘You lot,  come link me.’ I baited up my whole studio address, I went mad.”

The producer realised that his followers tended to be most interested when he posted about how he makes beats on Fruity Loops, so he figured it might be fun to do things in person. “I told them to link me at 3 p.m.,” he goes on, “so I’ve gone there at 2:30 p.m. to prepare, and bro… there’s already 30 youts outside!”

By the time three o’clock rolled around, more than a hundred youngsters had shown up, piling into the studio unit from nearby neighbourhoods, outer boroughs and cities as far as Bristol. Video clips from the impromptu writing camp offer a mosaic of teens and twentysomethings hunched up in puffers and hoodies, headphones on, laptops whirring, a line of necks bobbing like a novelty shop stacked with nodding dogs. Someone’s working out a woozy lick on the guitar; another teases a loop from a glowing MIDI keyboard; drum tracks are clacked out on MacBook keys – all the cavernous kicks, skittering hats and whipsnap snares now synonymous with the culture-shifting UK drill sound that M1 has played an outsized role in shaping.

M1ONTHEBEAT wears: Overshirt: Maharishi, Hoodie: Only The Blind

For M1, the appeal of this ragtag event wasn’t just the creativity and spontaneity he’d conjured. He saw it as an opportunity to nurture something bigger. “I want to turn these youts into super-youts, and I want them to have someone that they believe in,”he says, peering down the front lens of his iPhone once the dust has settled a few weeks later. “Because I didn’t have that.”

This kind of earnest, open and optimistic sentiment is typical of M1. Clad in the unofficial UK rap uniform of Nike Tech tracksuit and braids, he tells stories laced with excitement and side-jokes. Still just 24, the north Londoner has already exerted enormous influence on the shape of contemporary rap. His slippery, gesticulating basslines recall new school grime and mephedrone-era dubstep, and have become the defining aural signature of drill music on the world stage – underpinning scenes in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Ghana, Australia, Ireland and India, as well as the UK. After that open studio invite back in the autumn, M1 asked his followers to send him their mobile numbers so he could pile them all into a WhatsApp group. “There was like 400, 500 numbers in the first 12 hours,” he says. Around 20 percent were from London, with the remainder scattered across Europe, Africa and beyond. He says he’s relished Googling country codes to figure out where new members are signing up from – the scale of his reach seemingly more tangible in a +27 or +45 calling code.

As a teen, alongside fellow innovator MKthePlug, he helmed numerous tracks that helped steer UK drill’s evolution from Chief Keef facsimiles to something more distinctly of these shores. Swiftly minted classics like CB’s glistening Take That Risk, stake-in-the-ground Next Up? freestyles from OFB and CGM (then known as 1011), and Headie One’s Golden Boot cemented M1 as the go-to producer among UK drill’s second wave. So much so that when Drake wanted to try his hand at the new style – with a stumbling guest verse on Headie’s Only You Freestyle in 2020 –  it was M1’s producer tag echoing in his headphones in the booth.

M1ONTHEBEAT wears: Jacket: Avirex, Jeans: True Religion

“I was really just having fun with it,” M1 says now of those early experimental years finding his way around Fruity Loops. He got big into dubstep just as it hit its filth phase, and would sink hours into his laptop trying to emulate Skrillex’s nosebleed basslines. “I didn’t start making beats because I wanted to be the biggest producer,” he says. “I like private living.” But as the scene ballooned, M1’s success made him realise something else about himself, too: “Now I can proper change people’s lives.” A debut solo mixtape released back in November, simply titled M1onTheBeat the Mixtape, would be the next obvious step to take in building that legacy, and hand down a ladder for those coming up behind him.

The youngest of six children, M1 left home at 16 with a push from his dad after their relationship grew fractious. “Maybe if you have six kids and that last one is just waiting to get out of the house, you’re gonna be a bit impatient with the person,” he says, with a half-smile that suggests a bit of sympathy. “I feel like my dad just needed me to pattern up and do well fast, and I feel like that pressure kind of helped me to become who I am.” After moving out, he bought a blue HP laptop and spent six months living in a YMCA hostel before being placed in a council-owned studio flat on Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate.

M1ONTHEBEAT wears: Jacket: Avirex, Jeans: True Religion

The name of the place alone conjures history: synonymous with the unexplained 1985 death of Cynthia Jarrett while police searched her home, the subsequent riots and killing of PC Keith Blakelock (and falsified police investigation that followed), and the 2011 uprising that followed the shooting by police of Mark Duggan, who also grew up on the estate. By the time M1 landed there, the place was having a new chapter written for it by the OFB (or Original Farm Boys) rap crew, led by burgeoning talents that included Headie One, Abra Cadabra, Double Lz and Bandokay (Duggan’s son Kemani). The group’s manager was familiar with M1’s work with CB and tapped him up for beats. He went along to a studio session, and the first track he produced with the crew ended up in their viral Crib Session for Tim Westwood’s YouTube channel.

The relationship with OFB blossomed, but M1 chose not to let on that they were neighbours. He liked that he could keep his home life and music separate. But in the close confines of the Farm, that didn’t last long. “I can’t lie, they just caught me slipping,” he says, laughing. “Then, boom, next thing you know, what I did not want to happen, happened: everyone’s coming to my yard, bro.” His flat was on the ground floor, so he’d get regular knocks on his living room window from people stopping by. Soon enough, his place had become the spot – a haven of sorts – for OFB-affiliated MCs to come and write.

M1ONTHEBEAT wears (L) Hoodie: Supreme (R) Overshirt: Maharishi, Hoodie: Only The Blind

For the next few years, M1 remained comfortable in his background role. But in 2020, just as drill discovered new commercial peaks, he began to itch for something more. He started work on a solo showcase that would take in drill, but also road rap, more delicate pop songwriting, and showy hip-hop. Over time, he dialled in guest appearances from Digga D, Skrapz, Kojey Radical, Headie One, M1llionz and more – the tape showing off not just the breadth of M1’s phonebook, but a wish to break out of the cage he’d inadvertently built for himself. He lets a wandering pop piano come to the fore on Hear No Evil, See No Evil, goes widescreen with Slim on Hustle Can’t Die, and coaxes air-bending flows from bright up-and-comer Cristale on Sing Dat. “I’m proper grateful that I’m able to do this because now I feel like I have a voice for everyone,” he says of the mixtape project.

“I'm proper grateful that I'm able to do this because now I feel like I have a voice for everyone”

If there’s one measure of how far M1 has come, the trajectory he finds himself on, and his uncanny ability to shrug off pressure and expectation while offering a hand down to others, it’s the offhand way in which he mentions Skrillex. Not in a story about figuring out beats in a YMCA dorm room, though. This was a more recent encounter, with the globe-straddling super-producer stopping by his north London home to hang out and write together. (The pair have wrapped on at least ten tracks together, he says.) M1 admits to feeling a little starstruck. “I told him, ‘Sonny, fam, I can’t lie…’ I told him the whole shebang, basically, about how he influenced me. He turned around and told me he’s been watching me from the start. That really made me overstand.”

M1ONTHEBEAT wears: Overshirt: Maharishi, Hoodie: Only The Blind

UK drill is entering the next stage in the inevitable life cycle that befalls any buzzy new sound. The step that follows that innovative spark, after being crowned the next big thing; after the industry has caught up and sucked everything it can take. That moment when a scene has to prove, to itself as much as anyone else, that it has the backbone to stand alone again. “It feels like the best time to do a solo tape now, because people are giving up on drill,” M1 says, more forthright now. He’s confident he has the shoulders to carry it. Not because his are especially broad, but because he’s felt the power of bringing people together to make that load lighter – be that in a Broadwater Farm front room, an overflowing north London studio, or even, it turns out, a WhatsApp group with 500 kids in it from all over the world.

M1onTheBeat The Mixtape is out now via Rattrap Reality/Reality Entertainment