Hip-hop culture with Milla Thyme

After releasing his EP, Eternally the Student, the rapper returned to study jazz at Concordia

For Milla Thyme, rapping is about bringing light to important social matters. “You have to talk about things that are unjust and speak about them,” he said. Milla Thyme fuses a mix of soul, hip hop, and jazz into his music. Milla Thyme is the MC name of Concordia student Max Miller. It’s a name he developed in his early teens. “Milla Thyme is 100 per cent me. It’s when I’m playing bass and rapping and I’m writing all the music myself,” he said.

The MC can be spotted at Le Cypher, a popular hip-hop jam session party at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle, which takes place almost every Thursday night. It’s one of his favourite Montreal hotspots. In fact, the rapper said it’s like his second home. “We get 150 people average per week so it’s a good platform for people to see you perform regularly,” he said.

People from all walks of life can get a chance to come up on stage during Le Cypher and try out rapping—even if they’ve never done it before. “It’s a safe space for people to communicate,” Miller said. “You get people of all different genders, ages, sexual orientation. We don’t care. We’re all the same, right?” Miller has been rapping and playing bass with the band Urban Science at Le Cypher almost every Thursday night. The band is comprised of about 20 to 25 artists, some of whom played on his recent EP, Eternally the Student. “It was my friend Thomas Lafrance, a.k.a T-Cup, on the drums,” Miller said. “And then on keys we had one of the baddest under-25 keyboard players in the city, named Nicolas Dupuis, who goes by the name Anomalie. I’m just so grateful that he had the time to play with us.”

Come see Milla Thyme perform live on Thursday evenings at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle. Photo by Emily Vidal

Urban Science has also played at many popular venues in Montreal, including the Jazz Festival two years in a row, which Miller said he’s grateful to have been a part of. “That group has taken me to amazing places,” he said. For the rapper, there is no better feeling than freestyling on stage during Le Cypher nights. “It’s like having an amazing orgasm, a sweet release. It’s one of the best feelings, a natural high,” he said.

When he’s not busy performing as Milla Thyme, Miller is focused on his jazz studies program at Concordia. He said it’s important for him to keep up his studies, to never stop learning or growing, both as a person and as a musician. The artist is also the president of Concordia’s Hip Hop Community, a student club that holds rap battles for social justice. Each week, a different social issue is addressed at the rap battles, such as police brutality and gender inequality. The club also holds workshops that allow people to work on different elements and aspects of hip hop, and allow them to share their music with others on stage.

“It’s a good way for Concordia students and members of the community who don’t have much experience but want to be involved with hip hop and social consciousness,” Miller said. A rap battle on police brutality will be held on Feb. 15 at the Le Belmont nightclub on St-Laurent. The proceeds for this event will be going to Montreal Noir, which Milla Thyme said is a socially-conscious group advocating equality. Miller feels very lucky to have always been pushed to chase his dreams by his parents, who are artists themselves. “Michael Miller, my dad, is actually the most produced black playwright in Canada. And my mom was a TA at Juilliard in her 20s,” he said. “My parents are both established in their careers. They told me, if I’m going to pursue arts, that I have to [give it] my 100 per cent.”

Concordia’s Hip Hop Community president, Max Miller, also known as Milla Thyme. Photo by Ana Hernandez

This support really helped Miller overcome the struggles involved with creating his music. I think the biggest challenge we all face is ourselves,” he said. “That’s always the biggest challenge because it’s an internal conflict, just questioning [yourself], like we all do, in some way. That’s something, as an artist, you deal with a lot.” Miller said artists like Kendrick Lamar and J-Cole allowed him to forget about the hardships of the music industry. Through their meaningful lyrics, they inspired him to focus on being real in his music as well. “They gave me a renewed sense of purpose,” he said.

Miller’s EP, Eternally a Student, which was released in October, touches on deep subjects that truly matter both in his own life and in society. The songs, he said, are a true representation of what was going on in his life as well as what he saw going on around him. For the artist, that’s the ultimate goal: to express himself in a way that can be relatable to someone else. “I hope my music can help people in their day-to-day, and if someone’s going through something, that it helps them get through that,” he said.

If there’s anything Miller wants artists to take from his story, it’s that the most important thing is to believe in yourself, and in your own music. “Just keep pushing,” he said. “Don’t give up, and just know that no one can tell your music better than you can.”


#LECYPHER celebrates year two

Founder of Urban Science and #LECYPHER hosted two-year anniversary event

If you’ve ever wondered where to hear live hip-hop music in Montreal, #LECYPHER is your answer. Hosted by the collective Montreal hip-hop band Urban Science, #LECYPHER is a live hip-hop jam session that happens every Thursday night at Bleury Bar à Vinyle.

Musicians and emcee’s gather to play hip-hop as a collective. It is the first and only live hip-hop jam of its kind in Montreal. #LECYPHER celebrated its two-year anniversary on Oct. 6 by hosting a tribute to legendary live hip-hop group, The Roots. The event was hosted by #LECYPHER’s founder, Vincent Stephen-Ong, who is also the saxophone and keys player for Urban Science. Milla Thyme, a Concordia student majoring in music and one of the emcee’s of Urban Science, opened the event by performing songs from his new EP album, Eternally the Student. It’s the first time he has released material as a solo artist, and he wrote all the music on this album, he said. His hip-hop, jazz and funk vibe got the whole audience captivated from beginning to end. Mark the Magnanimous, one of the founders of ArtBeat Montreal was the DJ of the night. There were also delicious chinese BBQ wraps offered by Brothers Ku of Restaurant Dobe & Andy.

Urban Science began its journey when its founder, Stephen-Ong, visited New York City in 2013 for a gig with the hip-hop group Nomadic Massive. While there, Stephen-Ong, along with Nomadic Massive, went to see the former guitarist of Kalmunity, Jordan Peters, perform at a Thursday night jam session called The Lesson—where top musicians perform pure hip-hop every week. “A few months later, I went back to The Lesson and brought my horn,” said Stephen-Ong. “I got the chance to perform on stage and I jammed. There was nothing like that in Montreal.”

In June 2014, Stephen-Ong decided to bring the idea of a live hip-hop collective to Montreal. He had started to ask himself, “What if I got some people together and did a private jam session?” With ideas for a guided improvisation hip-hop band, he gathered a few musicians together, contacted some venues and eventually got a spot at Le Belmont—Urban Science was born.

Still, Stephen-Ong said he felt there was a lack of a regular hip-hop event in the city. “If you were a hip-hopper in Montreal, there wasn’t a jam session in town that happened regularly. If you were a instrumentalist that plays hip-hop, forget about it, there was nowhere to go. I created #LECYPHER nights because there was a void to fill,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science moved from Le Belmont to it’s current location, a smaller venue called Bleury Bar à Vinyle, where they started #LECYPHER nights.

The goal of the #LECYPHER is to specialize in hip-hop music professionally. People might mistake the event for a funky jam, but Stephen-Ong made it clear that it is purely hip-hop.”You can’t go up and play a random funky thing. There’s a language, a sound, an aesthetic to hip-hop that must be respected,” said Stephen-Ong. It’s a jam session, but Urban Science wants to keep the quality level of performances high.

#LECYPHER is not to be mistaken with an open mic event. “This is a collaborative jam session. You need to play along with the band and listen to what’s going on musically. It’s in the nature of the event to collaborate—it’s a hip-hop community,” said Stephen-Ong.

Milla Thyme performs his new album live for #LECYPHER’s two year anniversary. Photo by Frederic Muckle.

Urban Science rotates between 20 different members. On any given Thursday, there will be regulars and newcomers playing together. Sometimes there are guest hosts or well-known hip-hop artists. “I think Montreal has top-notch talent.That is why we have a 20 piece crew, so we can keep our local nights and do more projects as well,” said Stephen-Ong.

Urban Science has also played at The Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2015 and 2016. The band has even welcomed the reggae hip-hop group Les R’tardataires, from Belgium, to their #LECYPHER nights. “A lot of people from the local music scene know about us so, when international artists come to Montreal, they hear about #LECYPHER,” said Stephen-Ong.

Urban Science is also working on a new project, called Urban Science Brass Band, which will be a New Orleans-style marching band that will be jamming to Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre with trombones and tubas. “We have emcees on mega phones that are rapping while we walk. We did Montreal’s first ever hip-hop parade,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science is known for their live jam sessions but they want to be known for their original songs too. “We would like to make a document of our original music,” said Stephen-Ong. Urban Science will also continue to perform for The Rap Battles for Social Justice and have a few upcoming battles scheduled.

Keep in touch with Urban Science on social media for details about their upcoming events.

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