With a firm hold over the UK charts and his gaze cast up into the stratosphere, Russ Millions is moving with purpose and persistence.

There was a scene that left an indelible memory on the mind of Russ Millions: a performance by Michael Jackson in Bucharest, 1992 that flickered across his eyes as a child. Jackson stands before a crowd of 90,000 people, motionless and defiant, carved like a statue of the Renaissance. The crowd are screaming his name. Jackson does not flinch. But then, he spins around; the crowd unravel into hysterics, tears streak down cheeks, faces erupt into euphoric grins, arms are outstretched in rapture.

 

And Russ will settle for nothing less. Having cut his teeth in London’s drill scene, with his viral hit “Gun Lean”, Millions’ meteoric success was more than just a personal victory: scoring a UK Top 10 charting position, it elevated the profile of drill to an unprecedented, mainstream arena, where the scene earned the right to rub shoulders with precision-engineered major label pop.

 

Despite being an outlet of creative expression for young people, the UK authorities have demonised the genre, taking the controversial decision to use its provocative lyrics as evidence in criminal trials. The depiction of drill in our cultural landscape is often bleak, but Russ Millions is reframing the canvas and unveiling a new perspective before fresh eyes.

 

To capture the essence of Russ Millions, you must look beyond the music: at its core, what has made his releases platinum-selling is the way they make you move. Having watched his nana and grandad in their Jamaican household with their shared passion for dancing as a child, and grown up idolising Michael Jackson (“He’s still my GOAT – everything he has ever done live, I’ve seen it”), movement and music was his lifeblood.

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The incalculable success of “Gun Lean” is in no small way indebted to this God-given instinct for dance. First step: bring the right shoulder up, then bounce back and do the same from the left, leaning backwards under the weight of the beat. At one point in its ubiquity, England footballer Jesse Lingard broke into the “Gun Lean” after scoring a penalty. Russ doesn’t make music for himself – he makes it for those moments. “Obviously, my fans got me to where I am now,” he says. “As long as I can dance to it, and they can dance to it, it’s a vibe. That’s how I see it. I just try to make vibes, and that’ll never miss.”

 

He knew exactly what he had on his hands when he committed “Gun Lean” to record. “I knew, I knew,” Russ smirks. “I was getting attention, and people were messaging me from the industry, rappers and stuff, so I was like, ‘Rah! People actually like the song, and they’re rappers, so it must be good!’” The legend goes that it was UK hip-hop pioneer Chip who encouraged Millions to drop the track, along with his collaboration with chucks and JB2, “Link Up”.

 

But in his formative years as an artist, long before the mainstream success and the number one hit “Body” with Tion Wayne, Russ admits he had no designs for his career. “Honestly, didn’t have no clue what I wanted,” he shrugs. “I just started making music, started getting blessed and moving further than I ever expected. I didn’t expect to be in the charts, or having record labels wanting me, or signing any deals, or anything like that. I was just making music with my friends for fun. I didn’t know nothing about PRS, Spotify, Apple music – nothing. I would just make YouTube videos and upload stuff on SoundCloud. That was it, literally.”

 

Russ is well acquainted now with the ‘business’ of music, and with that knowledge, sacrifices were demanded. “You lose friends, you got to stop doing certain things,” he tells me. “You can’t really go to certain places because you don’t want to put yourself in mad situations, or silly situations. You don’t want people to see your name on that, you know? Because you’re high-profile, you’ve got to be responsible, make the right choices, keep the right company.”

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Russ Millions

It was in 2016, at 20 years old, that Russ felt he had to reassess his life. While he was growing up in Lewisham, he tells me he was doing “mad things, teenager stuff, parties, smoking…” He explains: “I had to take a break and make a plan, like, ‘OK, this is what I want, and this is what I need to do if I want to make it happen’. I took some time out to get my head right, be in the right place, and then I got straight back on it, back to the music, and just stayed focused. I’ll always make music, even if I don’t have a project. I keep myself occupied, stay in the booth.”

 

Russ is insistent, now, that despite the fact he will always hold affection for the south-east London borough that raised him, his gaze is set firmly on the future. ‘Home’ is not a place he has been before, but wherever he decides to make it.

 

I ask if he ever misses a certain level of innocence that his early career afforded him, before he became aware with the intricacies of the industry. “Yeah, of course,” he says. “But it worked out in the long run. I don’t do music because I love my job, I love my job because I love music. Whether it was my job or not, I’d still be doing it. I’ve not lost that – that’s just how it is. Making music ain’t a job.”

 

Another interesting facet of Russ Millions’ career is that it is inseparable from social media; “Gun Lean” in particular seemed to be almost an alchemic hit on TikTok. The global youth were replicating the dance, bringing a world of drill into their daily rotation. It seems that he has social media mastered to a fine art. “You see, people see that, but I just do it naturally,” he shrugs . “I don’t even have a plan. It’s not calculated: I just post and hope for the best. I don’t have much of a strategy, honestly.”

Russ Millions
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Russ Millions
  • Jacket Moncler x Craig Green
  • T-Shirt Moncler
  • Jewellery The Kettle Kids

Many artists resent the indivisibility between their artistry and their social media presence, but that’s not the case for Russ. When I ask if he ever struggles with maintaining that balance, he’s clear: “No, never. I don’t make music for TikTok. I’ve never made a song and thought, ‘This one’s for TikTok’ – but if it does do well on there, that’s a bonus, because it’s a powerful app.”

 

It should come as no surprise that Russ has reached the highest echelons of the music world, joining Stormzy on his headline set at Reading Festival and being invited to perform alongside Drake and Davido at the O2 Arena. What is it like brushing shoulders with artists of that calibre? “They’re human beings, they’re calm,” he says. “It’s an inspiration to be around artists on that level, and it makes me think, ‘This is where I need to be’. It motivates me, still. I think people think artists are mad cocky and stuck-up, but they’re cool. They’re normal people.” He pauses for a moment, and laughs, “There are probably pricks as well, but I ain’t met them.”

 

Becoming something of a household name in the UK hip-hop landscape, Russ has started to see this treatment reflected in his own life. “Some people forget I’m human, too, like I’m a robot or something,” he tells me. “They show you more love – if you can even call it that. More attention, and all that stuff. Sometimes people try to carry my bag for me, and I’m like, ‘Nah, man. It’s cool’. It’s all about balance, some people let it get to their head.” I’m about to ask if he feels he’s managed to stay… “Level-headed?” he breaks in. “Yeah, man. You can lose everything. Of course, but you can’t let the bad outshine the good. More time, if I’m getting annoyed, I’ll put a beat on and start writing a song.”

 

The release of his latest track “Backseat” is a little something for his fans before the dawn of a new era for Millions, with his new mixtape primed to drop this year. “It’s showing people what I’ve got coming up, but really, this is just a treat for my fans,” he explains. “I made it about a year ago and didn’t release it, but I’ve kept previewing it and they’ve been asking, ‘When will ‘Backseat’ drop? When will ‘Backseat’ drop?’ So I said, ‘You know what? We’ll give them ‘Backseat’ next’.”

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It gives them a flavour of what he describes as ‘Old Russ’: no chorus, and harder 808s in the bass to give you a nosebleed – but now, he’s merging the old with the new, weaving in choruses that have secured its status as a certified earworm. “Obviously, when it comes out, I’ll read the comments to see what people’s opinions are,” he says matter-of-factly. Wait, he reads his comments? “Obviously I read them, innit,” he shrugs, like this is nothing unusual at all. “Not everyone’s gonna want to read them, because they’re not all gonna be good comments, but I just do it.”

 

Negativity doesn’t faze Millions in the slightest: he has the entrepreneurial sense to know that sometimes all attention is good attention. “At the end of the day, it’s a comment about what I’m doing, so you’re just supporting me. See me,” he says, “if I don’t like something, I’m not even gonna click on it. I’ll just scroll past it. To find my song, they’d probably have to go on my profile, or search my name, or take some actual action to find it.” Where does he get this confidence from? “I don’t know,” he smirks. “I’ve just always been this way.”

 

Though Russ is eternally planning his next move, he wants to make clear that drill is not a leg-up to this position, but a fundamental part of it. “I prefer to be called an artist, though,” he tells me. “Just an artist. But I don’t mind being called a drill artist: that’s how I started, that’s where I came from.” He doesn’t feel limited by that categorisation, despite the fact that being associated with it sometimes feels like a poisoned chalice. “See me, I don’t really take that stuff as anything,” he says. “Because if I’m classified as a drill artist, then I’m bringing drill to a higher level, to a more respected place than where it started from. I ignore all that rubbish that puts drill in a negative light. In early ’17, it was bad. They used to say they were gonna ban drill and that. But now look – it ended up at number one. I’m doing something else: I’m just trying to put drill in the charts and give people good music. I think, finally, people are starting to see it as a real genre of music. It’s not what people think.”

Russ Millions
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Russ Millions
  • Jewellery The Kettle Kids

Drill is more than a moment. “I want to make a proper impact on drill, but not like everybody else. I want to build a legacy,” says Russ. “Drill is forever, man. It’s a real moment. It’s staying for life, not going anywhere. Ever. You know what it is? Someone’s always going to make it – and I’m not gonna stop.”

 

Already, Russ Millions owns his own label, and he’s already no stranger to the charts (“I’ll be honest with you, I want to get Top 40s for the rest of my career – minimum. That’s where my head is right now”), but nevertheless, he doesn’t want to play in the hands of trying to win a numbers game. I ask if he ever worries if he’ll hit a glass ceiling. “If I stopped making music when it didn’t hit the charts, I would never have got my number one,” he counters. “The moral of the story is never give up, trust me. Sounds cliché, but because I’ve been through it myself, that’s why I’m saying it. Glass can always break, so you need to be the one to break it.”

 

Yet, despite these game-changing triumphs, Russ Millions is not satisfied. “I always want more. You can never have enough,” he insists. “You can never allow yourself to be complacent: that’s just how I see stuff. I’ve always got to do better, there’s always a way – and even though it’s hard, I’m gonna find it.”

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