From NYC via Paris and Brazzaville, Milandou Badila was born ready for greatness. Here the recent Roc Nation signing shares his powerful story
It’s a hazy Friday morning in Brooklyn and Young Paris is starting his day with a large green juice. Behind him, the curtains are still drawn in his bedroom yet from my Skype screen view, I can see the sexy silhouette of his girlfriend reclining in bed. “I come from a strong culture and a family that nurtured self love, which gave me confidence,” says Paris between large sips of his drink. “Now people love how confident I am. I have the same amount of boldness in front of anyone – I’ll go to a gala with my face paint on and my chin up. That alone is a symbol of activism.” There’s been plenty of galas for this artist to attend of late, thanks to the success of his 2016 mixtape African Vogue and recent signing to Roc Nation. A glance at his Instagram feed reveals him exuding his naturally contagious swagger next to everyone from Solange and Mos Def to Rosario Dawson and Jeremy Scott.
Real name Milandou Badila, the 28 year old’s life journey has long prepared him for this precise moment, brimming with talent and tipped for greatness in 2017. Born in Paris and one of 10 children, his father was a dancer, artist and leader of the National Ballet of Congo (the country’s first internationally recognised dance troupe) and his mother was an African American playwright and dancer. “My father joined the ballet as a teenager and toured the country having received no formal education. So he raised us with a very freeform mentality and taught us that the world is ours,” Paris recalls. “All of us kids had a way of standing out and early on I was super interested in life.”
“I’m reminding everyone of the important role Africa has played in science, entertainment and the arts for centuries and in forming the foundations of our lifestyles today”
His early memories of visits to his family’s village near Brazzaville are filled with fondness. “As the son of a performer, I was treated like a little prince. The lifestyle was very traditional and raw in many ways but one of the most beautiful things was the way people had a communal way of making it work.” They moved to upstate New York when Paris was six, where they continued to perform as a family, bringing central West African drumming and dancing to schools and cultural events. Before long, Paris was giving hip hop dance classes while teaching himself to rap. He picked up his moniker at college (“Kids couldn’t pronounce my real name so they called me Paris.”) and relocated to Montreal in 2010 to make a rap rock album with Steve Duran. But just as the record came out in 2011, his father suddenly passed away.
“It was very intense so I started making so much music as a way to block out his death. I shot six videos in six weeks,” he recalls. “That was a turning point. It made me realise the importance of carrying on his traditions and the power of my culture to impact others.” As much a fan of US hip hop and EDM as he was of the African artists he grew up on such as Fela Kuti, Alpha Blondie and Salif Keïta, his new fusion sound had a dynamic energy that has seen his audience steadily grow ever since. Joining the line-up at festivals such as Afropunk, OkayAfrica SummerStage and Kanpe Kanaval and becoming a fixture on New York’s social scene, this summer’s release of African Vogue cemented his position at the forefront of African electronic music in the US. Re-released as a deluxe edition this week, the mixtape’s infectious rhythms, relentless bounce and meaningful lyrics are now given a boost by two bonus tracks - the sultry One Time featuring Reekado Banks and hard hitting No Weakness - plus a remix of the club hit Best Of Me featuring Tiwa Savage.
“This project shows my range as an artist from aggressive rapping to melodic stuff and has a social consciousness angle in terms of raising awareness of black culture and African history. I’m reminding everyone of the important role Africa has played in science, entertainment and the arts for centuries and in forming the foundations of our lifestyles today,” he says. “It’s also a love story. I have a beautiful woman and talk about the experiences we’ve gone through. You can dance and go crazy to this music but you can also listen up.”
Jay-Z for one listened up and as a result Paris has been bedding into the Roc Nation family for the past few months with industry showcases and plans for future collaborations. “Everyone is dope. I’m learning about the business and they’re learning about the whole African thing. We’re listening to each other’s ideas and getting things done.” Paris also puts his recent success down to the growing interest in African music in US in general, which has lead to hyped collaborations as Wizkid / Drake and A$AP Rocky / Skepta. “Usually Americans only care about American music but now we’re seeing Africa making an impact here, which puts me at the forefront of the sound.”
With profiles in US Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and V magazines, he’s speaking to a new audience beyond music with his personal style and image. His maquillage gives praise to his father (“I celebrate his energy and that of Africa. He gave me this pattern and I’ll pass it on to my children.”) while his wardrobe is a mix of designer and sports brands such as KTZ, Alexander McQueen and Gypsy Sport with African prints and designs. For the Nataal photo shoot he wears a suit by Dent de Man from Afromodernist e-commerce platform Oxosi. And he just performed at the Tidal X Moschino Art Basel party (where even being pushed into a swimming pool by a girl didn’t slow down his flow). On stage his look always becomes wilder, a reflection of his fierce live show that still incorporates his siblings as dancers and drummers.
Paris masterfully spreads his messages of diversity on social media too, with the hashtag #MelaninMonday. He started off by posting images of black models from fashion editorials two years ago and has since spearheaded the positive power of #Melanin that now has almost 3 million mentions on Instagram alone. “We’ve always been taught that black is less than. You see it throughout life. So this is my way of reversing the norms of how beauty is delivered to us in the media. A lot of black people in America have also grown up with a crisis of identity due to the rift of slavery so it’s important to recognise our connection to Africa by what unites us all.” Paris is now developing the concept as a brand with the launch of his Melinated website, which he hopes to grow into a legacy project offering education and conversation for all people of colour. If anyone can do it, he can. Milandou Badila is the whole package so hold onto his sparkling coattails now before he sky rockets out of reach.