Q&A with MIKE

by Christian Triunfo

Q&A with MIKE

WRBB’s Chris Triunfo spoke to New York-based rapper MIKE before his performance at Block Party to discuss his influences, record label trials and what he has planned for the future.

Thanks for taking the time to talk. I was wondering if we could start off with a bit about what your introduction to rap and hip hop was like.

For sure, I’m happy to be here. I was actually just talking about this with my homies. When I was younger, my sister used to put me on to a lot of R&B, and a lot of earlier rap. But, I never knew what they were saying, I only got the rhythm. I would just repeat the lyrics back in gibberish. Now when I think back to who I really fucked with, I can’t even really think of a specific artist or song. When I started creating though, I was definitely influenced by a lot grime rappers early on. UK rappers. I was in the UK for five years early on.

Did you find yourself stuck with that influence once you returned to the U.S.?

No. When I came back, Drake had just started getting big. I was listening to Drake constantly. I lived in Philly, and there was a dance there too that really hit me. I remember my first day of high school everybody was just dancing on the steps. I didn’t understand what was going on. A lot of footwork. There was this one track, ‘Nike Man,’ that was insanely popular. It was a golden era.

Can you describe the creative process for your most recent project?

A ton of us just went out to England for three months, and when we got back we immediately started working on the project. At the time, I was dealing with some weird label energy that I had gotten myself into. It was a time where I had to face reality, the reality of going from living some fairy tale lifestyle, and now you’re back home, and you have to face some real shit.

When you say there was “weird label energy,” what do you mean?

This [UK] label called Lex. We released two projects with Lex, Black Soap and Renaissance Man. When I first agreed to working with this label, I didn’t know about the process that goes behind all of that. It takes a while. It’s just a time I spent reflecting. I felt conflicted with the process.

So it sounds like this is a mark of your growth as an artist. What differences or similarities do you find when you compare where your are now to when you started?

When I first started making music, it was totally different. The first rap I ever made was really dumb, ignorant shit. At first, I think it was because I didn’t know how to express myself. I didn’t know what to say to express everything I was feeling. If I felt angry, I would just write aggressive lyrics that didn’t really reflect my actual state of mind. Now, I know that I have a bigger purpose. I have things to say, things I think people need to hear. One of my homies was talking about Amirir Baraka. A lot of people don’t like him, but he became a poet for the world. Not just for himself. He became a man of the world. Sometimes you have to see it that way. You’ll find yourself seeing people look up to you for hope, and it changes your vision.

You mention Amiri Baraka. Do you draw from other forms of art in your creative process?

Yeah, for sure. I draw from all of my homies. The energy they put out, and all of the content as well. They inspire me on a day-to-day basis. The Renaissance Man project was also heavily inspired by visual art. It’s crazy because I think that the artistic systems that were in place back then are very similar to the ones that are in place right now. It’s a constant cycle of reuse.

You say you draw from your friends. Can you tell me a bit about them and your collective, [sLUms]?

[SLUms} started in high school. I met two of my friends at Bushwick campus. We were in tenth grade, on some bullshit. I had just moved to Brooklyn from Philly, and I remember we got the idea of starting a group pretty early on. But it just took time for everything to come together. But we just stick together, through and through.

Since those early days, you’ve made it quite far. I know that Earl Sweatshirt has mentioned your music, and you cite him as a mentor. I was wondering about the role he has played in your music and why you see him as a mentor.

Even before I knew him personally I looked up to him, and I still do. The way he’s able to express himself is some shit that I’ve always looked up to. I remember searching up his live performances. I have a quick attention span, but when I listened to his live shit, it was like fuck, this dude is really expressive. I’ll always have respect for him, he’s done a lot. There are a lot of people in this world who are like him, but you wouldn’t know that because that pocket of rap isn’t pushed. There’s no land for it. I think even Earl is slept on, and he’s big. If he’s slept on, what does that mean for me? But it’s cool to be a younger artists and realize that there’s somebody else who represents a little bit of what you’re going through.

What do you have in store for the future?

A lot of new music. We’re trying to make shit and have fun. We’re working on this new [sLUms] tape, but we’re also working on a lot of other stuff. Everyone’s just dropping new projects. But for people who are trying to get put onto this shit, me and Darryl released Black Soap and Renaissance Man, and there’s a lot more coming. Keep looking, like the main shit is to keep doing the extra research, you’ll get it.

Listen to MIKE: