By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The first lines of the first song of Mike Dreams's debut, Dreamer's Poetry, do a fantastic job of setting the stage for the 16 equally uplifting tracks that follow: "My pops telling me I gotta get my head out the clouds," he raps. "He said son, you gotta focus on the here and the now/I said dad, you know I'm hearing you now/But there's just something about my dreams that keep holding me down." At its high points, listening to Dreamer's Poetry is like mainlining pure joy; the 21-year-old Dreams's flow bleeds enthusiasm and youthful passion as he raps over bright, major-chord trumpets and shimmering synth lines.
In anticipation of his release show tonight at the Entry, Dreams took a few minutes to answer some questions about his debut release, his poetry, his change from Young Son to Mike Dreams, and his disarmingly positive outlook on life.
City Pages: On your website, you write about being interested in hip hop as early as age four. What are your first memories of hearing hip hop, and which records or artists excited you?
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Mike Dreams: Some of my earliest memories of hearing hip hop were around like 1994. I was around six years old at the time and I used to hang at my cousins' house quite a bit. I would hear Snoop Dogg (that was around the time he dropped "Doggystyle"). I also remember hearing Kriss Kross a lot. Basically, this was during the time the West Coast was really running the scene. When I was eight, I remember when the Fugees' "Killing Me Softly" video first premiered, and that was one of my favorite songs as a kid.
CP: Which came first, writing poetry or rapping? Or did you try out both at the same time?
Dreams: I was rapping before I ever began writing poetry, but it wasn't anything real serious, and even though I had performed and did talent shows and stuff, it hadn't really fully been all my own songs (though I do remember writing an original eight-bar Christmas rap when I was nine). But I started writing poetry in seventh grade, and I remember talking about some deep things. I really started writing raps a lot in seventh grade, too, but they never really were about anything significant, just goofy kid stuff laden with rap lingo and slang I'd picked up from other rappers out at the time. I even had an entire song influenced by E-40, where I used words like "Weeblelizations." Around ninth grade, I started making the connection that poetry was in fact rap, and I felt pretty slow for not understanding that earlier. That's when my content and subject matter began to shift to some more serious styles of music.
CP: The lyrics in your first single off of Dreamer's Poetry ("Hip Hope Anthem") are overwhelmingly optimistic. Do you feel like it's important to keep your art positive?
Dreams: Well, I personally just feel there is enough negative in the world, period, that we need to start combating that with more positive. Now, I never want to use that idea or the idea of being a "conscious" rapper as a gimmick. I'm just a hip-hop artist at the end of the day, with no subgenre classification. But I just can't find myself making detrimental music for the world to hear. The biggest hip-hop fan base is the young generation, which I am still a part of, and I have nephews, nieces, and godchildren even younger than me who are a part of it, and I feel we have to be an example. Just like I say in the song: "Gotta be better examples for our siblings and our kids."
CP: What made you decide to change your name from Young Son to Mike Dreams?
Dreams: Over the years of my career, I've lost some credibility as a serious artist before people even had heard my music due to the fact that I had the word "Young" in my name, and it was so unoriginal. I wanted people to be able to hear my music first and judge me by that. Plus, I think the name suits me. My album was already called Dreamer's Poetry, and I've been on this "dreamer" vibe for a while, in the terms of aspirations and the obvious connections of sleep (which I rarely do, by the way). It just all made sense. My name is Michael (Mike), and I dream.
CP: Tell me about your volunteer work with PeaceJam and performing with youthrive LIVE!
Dreams: I've been involved with the nonprofit organization PeaceJam from as early as 2005. I've varied in roles during my involvement, but my biggest input has been with a hip-hop concert series, "youthrive LIVE," that was implemented. I've traveled, along with various Twin Cities artists including Maria Isa, DJ Snuggles, and Hypel to Minnesota elementary and junior and senior high schools, as well as regional and national youth conferences and even the Red Wing Youth Correctional Facilities performing hip-hop music, promoting the sentiments of peace and positivity with fun and uplifting performances, and letting the youth know they can excel in this world and stay out of the nonsense that the young years of growing up can bring. Those have been the most fulfilling shows for me in my entire career, knowing that I am influencing other people's lives, especially the younger generation. After all, if you're not making a positive impact on someone's life with what you do, then what's the point?