As a young girl growing up in North London, Niomi McClean Daley kept a daily diary of her feelings and experiences. She also wrote poems about her Jamaican family and the neighborhood in which they lived. At the time, she had no public outlet for her private verse, until she discovered U.K. garage, the vehicle that would transform her from Ms. Daley into Ms. Dynamite.
"It was really popular and there were lots of young producers, but there were no female MCs," she said last week. "So people encouraged me to turn my poems into garage lyrics and I would MC over these garage beats."
She almost wound up on the wrong side of the tracks. In 2000, Dynamite started her career with the controversial U.K. two-step dance group So Solid Crew, a 30-odd member ensemble that has gotten in trouble in England for drug and weapon-related offenses. Soon after, while working at pirate radio station RAW FM, Dynamite met producer Richard Forbes (a.k.a. Sticky) in a London club and he helped focus her dynamic pop approach (see "Ms. Dynamite Says 'Booo!' To Stage Fright, Heads For U.S.").
"He had some really great beats and I brought some lyrics in and it just took the underground by storm," Dynamite said about "Boo!," her first single. "It had a very dance flavor that the garage did not have at that time."
The song paved the way for Dynamite's debut album, A Little Deeper, which came out in Europe in July and was immediately hailed as a musical breakthrough (the record comes out in the U.S. March 11). Straying from electronic-based U.K. garage music she was weaned on, Dynamite explores a variety of pop, R&B and dub styles that sound like Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige filtered through the British sensibilities of the Streets.
"I felt that this one is a little deeper than [anything I've done] before," Dynamite said. "I'm talking about all these different things: emotions, where I'm coming from, where I've been, personal experience, things that I think are important. This is me."
When she was working on A Little Deeper, Dynamite was intent on creating a passionate disc that reflected her interests in pop, hip-hop and especially reggae, which is why she worked with Kymani Marley on "Seed Will Grow" and Barrington Levy on the reggae classic "Too Experienced."
"It was really important for me to get reggae artists on there because I love reggae music," Dynamite said. "That's something that I've grown up listening to. My dad is Jamaican. I feel like it's in my blood, it's in my bones, it's part of my heritage."
The first single from A Little Deeper is "It Takes More," about being responsible and positive when confronted with negative influences. It's a recurring theme on an album that opens with a declaration that dynamite is "strictly chemical free."
A video for the song was directed by Jake Nava, who in the past has worked with Spice Girls and Tina Turner.
" 'It Takes More' is a song I wrote in relation to the negativity I see as an older sister and as a young person who feels responsible for my actions in terms of how people see me," she said. "I just see a lot of negativity — sex, drugs and violence — and that seems to sell a lot more than positivity, so therefore it's constantly there and young people are growing up in relation to what they see. I don't know whether we are carrying ourselves right and if we are showing the future the right way."