Mike Dreams on Soundset, Kurt Cobain, and humanity

Mike Dreams on Soundset, Kurt Cobain, and humanity
Photo by Peter Jamus

Mike Hannah, aka Mike Dreams, is certainly mysterious as a young man who has lived many lives in his short years. The rapper/hip-hop artist has brought to fruition his dreams -- so to speak -- on his third album Millennial. The album is a collection of songs that hit you in the gut -- even when they create a fragile world of imagination -- then puncture straight through it.

The artist took some time to talk to Gimme Noise about the many people and places that went into the labor of love before his album release at the 7th Street Entry on Saturday.

Gimme Noise: Tell me about your fist exposure to hip-hop. What drew you to it, and why do you perform hip-hop?

Mike Dreams: My first exposure to hip-hop came very early on. It's hard to really pinpoint exactly where it was at, because it was simply part of the culture that surrounded me. I do distinctively remember songs like "Jump" by Kriss Kross and a lot of the West Coast rap that enveloped the mainstream way back in 1993 and 1994 when I was like 5 and 6 hanging over at my aunt and older cousin's house. My understanding of it became a little more developed around the time the Fugees dropped their The Score album in 1996, and when Mase, Puffy, B.I.G., and the whole Bad Boy, Shiny Suit Era hit the scene in 1997, that's when I really decided I wanted to be a rapper.

I didn't see it as a huge life decision then. It was just sort of formation of a childhood dream that just felt fun at the time. It became something that was a part of me, and over time, it's developed and evolved into the artist that I am today. It's part of my identity, and coincides with my desire to have a voice in this world and be heard. Music -- and more specifically hip-hop and rapping -- are the platforms for that.

Can you tell me more about your brother JB? How did he inspire you?

My brother's influence on me was another one of those things that you don't really realize its importance until later on. My brother was my dad's son, a child from his first family, and he was ten years older than me. He lived with us briefly when I was very young, but it wasn't until I was entering seventh grade that he came to live with us for a longer period of time. He served some prison time and was working on transitioning back into the regular world as a citizen in society. He lived in the basement of our house, and he'd play and show me his collection of rap music that mostly consisted of 2pac and the duo 8-Ball and MJG. Just being around that helped me to understand more about the music and the culture. He did some rapping as well, and I was able to hear some of his struggles through lyrics and began to understand how rappers could tell stories of themselves through song poetically. These things were embedded in me.

As I began getting more serious about making music during high school, he surfaced once again for a period of time, acknowledging the progression that I had made over the years and commenting on my evolution. I had only been recording actual songs in studios for about a year when he was tragically robbed and gunned down in South Minneapolis in April of '06. From there, I decided that the pursuit of really trying to be a successful artist was not only something I needed to do for myself, because I wanted to, but also to help carry on a dream of my brother's that he was never able to fulfill during his time on earth her, due to whatever circumstance, it was my obligation to keep this alive.

What was it like performing at Soundset in 2010? 

Soundset 2010 was an incredible experience. It was surreal in a sense, because I'd only been going to Soundset for about two years at that point. I wrote a song at Soundset 2008 that I was inspired to write after a very memorable performance of "This Way" by Dilated Peoples.

Two years later, I was able to take the stage as a performer at the festival and perform that song in front of a lot of people. It was also pretty cool because only months before that, I had just finished my first actual studio album. Lots of acts that were also on the bill that year had been putting out projects for years, so it was definitely a really cool experience that I hope to take part in again very soon. I feel that I am way more prepared as an artist and live performer now than I was then.

Do you feel that was the pinnacle for you, or are you always striving for more?

I absolutely hope it is not my pinnacle. I dream to do a lot more in my career -- leaps and bounds beyond anything I've done so far. Frankly, I feel all artists should be striving for this and not settling for anything less than everything they desire from their dream.

You work a lot in the community with youth and peace ceremonies. Why are these important causes for you?

I think working with youth is quite important simply because these kids are going to be the ones to run the world in a few years. Their influences and opinions are going to shape this earth that we live on, so my daily purpose as someone older than them, is to instill a positive foundation into their lives to base their thoughts off of as they get older and come of age to start making decisions for themselves.

I work with an organization called youthrive, and we are the Upper Midwest Affiliates of International PeaceJam. I find that work important because we live in a world full of a lot of negativity -- from the wars overseas to the wars and battles we face right here in America. When these festivals come together, we are working side by side with Nobel Peace laureates who have devoted their lives to making the world a better place. I'm all for that. I know I can't change the world single-handedly, but with everyone doing their part, collectively we can make a huge impact. Those festivals and ceremonies are powerful because it's so many people believing in the same goal of living in a peaceful and progressive world coming together. The positive and optimistic energy is an overly inspiring feeling.

Mike Dreams on Soundset, Kurt Cobain, and humanity

What was the story you wanted to tell with Millennial, and what's the meaning behind the name?

In recent years, I've been pretty obsessed with the idea of generations. As a kid, I used to think it was really cool reading about Generation X and that whole era. One figure I used to be frequently obsessed with was Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, and just how their music sort of became a trademark for that generation of teens growing up. As I got older, I learned about the generation that I was a part of -- referred to as the Generation Y -- but more formally as the Millennial Generation.

I stared studying more about our generation and started to understand a lot more about why people around my age are how we are. Things started to make sense. I learned that we are quite an interesting generation and one of the last of our kind. Delving into both worlds, we're technologically advanced and can probably run the entire world from our iPhones, but we still remember the days where UHF and VHF meant something; you had to tell someone to get off the phone, so you could use the internet. All of that was very fascinating to me, so in the album, my goal was simply to make music that could convey my life as a Millennial in this current generation and hopefully touch on topics that many Millennials could relate to. Things such as our heightened dependence on support from our parents compared to past generations, our dreamer ambitions and persistence to not sacrifice this dreams for security, our interesting obsession with fame and fortune, nostalgia for simpler times, the importance of creating memorable moments in life without regrets finding love and companionship, self-actualization, and optimistically looking towards what our futures hold.
You featured quite a bit of artists on this album. How did you come to choosing these artists, and how did they contribute to each piece?

All of the features on Millennial are vocalists whose talents I admire greatly. I specifically select certain vocalists based on my frame of reference of their styles as a solo artist and the song I am creating. I usually have certain vocalists in my mind during the writing process of my songs and their individual styles contribute to how the song is written.

A very large contribution in the creation and recording process was my good friend Ashley DuBose. She brings a bright energy and confidence to records, whether it's simply background support vocals on songs like "Be Anything" or lead vocals on "Still Standing Here" and "We L.I.V.E. 'Til We D.I.E."

Tameya Clark is another friend of mine whose vocal stylings has impressed me for years. She's now currently a part of the legendary Minnesota gospel choir Sounds of Blackness, and she really reflected the soul side of things on our anthem-like collaboration "In the Sky."

Adam Paulus is someone I met during the recording process. He engineered a few of my songs, and I found out that he was a vocalist as well. His voice screams early 2000 radio to me -- with vocal similarities of an Adam Levine from Maroon 5 and those acoustic driven top forty singles from that era. It was only right to connect on a collaboration. "Songs on the Radio" is essentially an homage to those musical times.

Alissa Paris is '80s/early '90s to me, and she helped me take it back to those times with her sensual, funky vocals on "Nu Generation Party," a Prince and New Power Generation homage track.

A long-time collaborator and friend of mine, Christina Fisher always brings her soprano Mariah Carey-esque wispy vocals along to help remind me of the '90s R&B world on "Everything's Good." Alnasa keeps it '90s in the R&B ballad form on "Hold Me Down Tonight," and Cameron Wright's contributed vocals on "We L.I.V.E. 'Til We D.I.E." took things to a whole new level.

Each and every one of these vocalists contributed to the entire sound of the album.

When writing, do you compose the lyrics or the beat.melody first? What's more important to you as a listener, the lyrics or the melody?

I work with a lot of different producers on songs, and I usually have their canvas of music to work from. I tend to write the lyrics of the verses first and the chorus and its melody are written afterwards -- usually based on the feel and content that the verses create.

I believe both the lyrics and melody are highly important, and I'm very specific when crafting a song to really make both of those elements good. I can always identify songs that had great lyrics but lack in the melody department, and vice versa. It's important to try and give 100% to both of these elements, because a music listening experience should stimulate the mind as well as the natural rhythm and vibe you want to feel. The musicality of a song is just as important as the message being conveyed in the song and vice versa.

"We Are the Ones" talks about life and chasing your dreams. Can you tell me the particular dream that you're chasing?

On the surface, my main dream is to be a successful music artist, which to me simply means being able to travel the world and perform the music that I wrote and created, have fans support and appreciate it, and continue to do that for a living. Of course, I dream for that to be on a big scale, but me getting to do that on any level would be a great fulfillment for me.

Deeper than that, it's really just fulfilling the dream of being a successful human being -- doing something I love to make a living and helping make the world a better place as much as I can with the talent and abilities I have been given. That deeper dream is to grow old and look back on my life and be proud of what I did, what I accomplished, and what positive and progressive mark I left on the world.

How did you choose the Entry for your album release, and what can we expect at the show?

First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry always seem to carry so much history and legacy with them, and I'm a big fan of feeling that nostalgic energy while performing. I hope to one day be a big enough artist to rock a show in the Mainroom, but the 7th Street Entry is the next best thing. It also gives quite an intimate feel. Every time I've performed there, I've been able to have a real connection with the people there to support. I'm excited!

Mike Dreams will release Millennial with Maria Isa, Allan Kingdom, and K Raydio on Saturday, August 11, 2012.
18+, $7, 9 pm

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