Mike Mictlan: "I Was the Aztec Ancient Interstellar Galactic Traveler"

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Mike Mictlan | 7th St. Entry | Saturday, November 1
Doomtree MC Mike Mictlan dropped his latest project HELLA FRREAL this week. It's a powerfully crafted combination of the abstract, hardcore, and inspirational parts of the rapper's brain. As grimy and hard-hitting as his last project, SNAXXX, Mictlan again advances his sound by effectively blending harsh realities and positive forward momentum.

Gimme Noise caught up with the rapper at Palmer's for an enlightening conversation about his process and his upcoming album release show at 7th Street Entry this Saturday.

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Gimme Noise: Which producers did you work with for this new record?

MIke Mictlan: Cory Grindberg did five out of the ten on HELLA FRREAL, and those were ones I was sitting on for a minute. Cecil [Otter], Mike Frey, Nineteen9d, Muck, and JuanL -- he's this kid who was Booka B's student. They were all fucking half ideas. [This] is actually considered like a mini-LP. I Wikipedia'd that shit [laughs]. The mini-LP, which was popular in the '80s, apparently. It's longer than an EP, but it's the price of an EP with an EP budget, and a promotion for the next full-length. That ends up being like all my projects so far [laughs]. In anticipation for the next shit.

What's your process for approaching new material?

Usually I like to listen to beats, especially if I'm picking a bunch for a record, I like to listen to them kind of cohesively together and then get down the ideas I have immediately -- freestyles, little patterns and shit like that. Usually I write a lot in my head as far as patterns, making words connect, but for a minute, the beat always has a cadence. I like to keep them fresh, because by the time I write the second half or work out the second half, then I revamp the first half, you know what I mean?

Do you usually start with cadences and patterns, or do you start with a core lyrical idea?

Those kind of go hand in hand with the way I write. I see a lot of imagery when I'm writing. It's like video installation. I pick out a lot of titles before I even write stuff. I have the title of my next record already. The idea, the movie that I'm trying to make. I think some of the best shit I've ever done is freestyle, and nobody has ever heard it. I'm always trying to tap into that.

The beat tells me the story. I like movies a lot and that's kind of how I write my albums, but not in a story type of way, it's more like Tarantino. It's different dialogues, different situations. Art film, Kenneth Anger or Jodorowsky, where it's just total visual art. You're in there. When you're in that movie, it's not like you're reading it. You're in it. You see the whole setting of everything. I feel like I'm developing that shit more. It's funny, I've been putting out solo records for fucking six years - well, fuck that, for ten years, since the Deity For Hire shit -- and I still haven't considered myself to have put out an official record. 

You wouldn't call Hand Over Fist an official record?

It was Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak as a group as Hand Over Fist. At that time I wanted it to be totally collaborative. I wanted him to have input on the lyrics. Some of the lyrics are [The Plastic Constellations] lyrics. That's how it was billed. That's something that goes before Doomtree. My brother's a DJ and that's where I got my whole inspiration to rap since I was a little kid. I could've been making records since I was 14 at least, but I always took this shit super serious, and I was like, "I am not ready."

I always felt like I wasn't ready. I'm always critical of myself. I know what level of rapping I'm at. I know how good I wanna be and I know where I'm at. That's why I feel like SNAXXX and HELLA FRREAL were to separate myself from everyone else and be like, "This is my sound alone."

What were some of the inspirations behind the themes and subject matter you touch on throughout HELLA FRREAL?

It's a reflection of where I'm at in my life. During SNAXXX I was coming off of a hard breakup with my ex and with my kid not living with me. SNAXXX was a complete product of a collection of me being depressed, for one thing. And number two, some crazy shit happened to me in between all the No Kings touring. In between going to Europe for the first time and coming home and going back out on the road, I went to a fucking 72-hour hold insane asylum. That's what the first song ["benicio del TORSO"] is about.

That's why that first song is more specific. Everything surrounding that time, that was SNAXXX. Over the years, [Doomtree] got pegged as a lot of things. We got pegged as emo, we got pegged as conscious. I made really serious, heady music for a while. There's lots of parts of me. I'm funny, I'm weird, I'm fucking gross, all types of shit. On SNAXXX I wanted to show people that rappers are gross. Don't like me, I'm a creep. Fuck you.

I used to do hella questionable shit, and because I rap, that's kept me out of trouble. The whole reason I even have a connection to Minneapolis is because I was getting in trouble when I was a kid. I came out here for a year because my parents made me come out here. My uncle lived out here, he bought a ticket one day in Orange County because his brother died, and I'm like gonna fly to Minneapolis.

I don't have any other connection other than that. I came out here because I was fucking up. I came out here for ten months in high school and met [P.O.S.] and started a rap group, then got sent back because I was still fucking up. I was a too smart for my own good type of kid. I had a troubled past. We're all just regular-ass people. That's part of SNAXXX: I wanted to fuck with people.

What was the initial response to SNAXXX?

I feel like even my fucking management team didn't get it, dude. They were like, this is too weird.

I loved it. I thought it was the Minneapolis scene needed at that time. 

That's what I thought! I didn't want to come with what people thought I was going to do. I can do all types of stuff. Out of depression, out of drug use, out of picking myself back up, came HELLA FRREAL. Sometimes, I've played it safe because it's easy. I'll make a song that I know you'd like from me, because I've done it before. A lot of people do that shit. There's a lot of fucking boundaries that I want to step out of. But HELLA FRREAL, as compared to SNAXXX was like, SNAXXX was me being real with it. I'll be real: I've done drugs in my life. I've been sober off of hard drugs for a minute now.

The times that I've been single, I've had sex with a lot of girls. I rock shows. I do dirty shit. HELLA FRREAL was like, that's real, [but] this is hella for real. This is really real. I have a lot of different experiences and things that I'm still waiting to write about. HELLA FRREAL was a little glimpse into that. Then [songs] like "Wild At Heart" or "benicio del TORSO", "CLAPP'D", a refined way of where I'm going.
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"CLAPP'D" is kind of built with this particular arc to it. There's tension at the beginning with no drums, but you lead them with lyrics to a heavy chorus.

I totally built it that way. Trying to make the pain on every word. That fucking song, that beat started out from Cory [Grindberg], and I gave it to [Lazerbeak] and Cecil, and I was like, revamp this, do some cool shit with this, and they did. The whole first verse, the build-up, that was at first this little interlude at the end of that song. That's totally how I wanted it to happen, with that long-ass buildup. That beat took three different makeovers before it became what it is.

To be completely honest, "CLAPP'D" is like my best P.O.S. song. I see what [he] does, how he makes everybody hang on every word with bass drops and little drum flutters before you come in with this huge-ass part. I'm really just trying to play around with this shit. I have so many more ideas. I've been really hard on myself for so long with Doomtree and solo shit. I gave 100 percent to Doomtree, and I'm thankful enough to be involved with people that are really self-motivated. We trip cuz it's like a marriage. It's the longest relationship I've ever been in, even with my parents. My mom was in prison. I didn't see my mom for like 11 years... I've been with [Doomtree] the longest ever.

HELLA FRREAL blends a lot more positive, inspirational material in with the grimy sound of SNAXXX. Where did that direction stem from?

This past couple years has been picking myself up, going to the edge and kind of dying as a person, and reborn as the persona I was before, and am going to be. This record is symbolic of that. I made HELLA FRREAL in the midst of [a struggle with drugs], and finished it coming out of that. It means a lot to me, more than shit has in the past. I can honestly say that. I've always felt that my life is a roller coaster and the bad is what makes the good. It's like, fuck, I had to go through some shit in order to tell people, "This is my best shit."

I'm going to be extra real with you. A lot of people won't take you there. They don't want to really be real with you, because you really don't wanna know that shit [laughs], and I understand that. I respect that. I'm just confident in saying that, being upfront like, that's what it is, now watch what I do next. It'll be more awesome than you ever fucking thought, if you like this shit, if you're reading this fucking article, get ready for this and more. Tons more. 

How did you choose the opening acts for your release show?

Completely racially charged. Totally. I grew up with more mixed brown and black, in equal number. That's kind of how the Southside is, with a lot of good white people sprinkled in everywhere. I respect that, I respect being an outsider and coming here. I heard about Mac Irv from "Homecoming". I'm a fan of rap music. Recently I met him at the Sims and Astronautalis show that I played. I was like, "Yo man, I fuck with you, I heard your shit, it's tight," and he was kind of surprised. He saw me just play that set, he was like, "Oh shit, really? Damn I appreciate that." I was like, "Hey, don't get it fucked up. I'm a rap fan, I'm checking for people in my city."

I can't be in interviews with Spin or around the whole country preaching this Minneapolis shit and not really knowing what the fuck is going on here. I could never do that, or else you would never hear it out of my mouth. I wouldn't be able to say Minneapolis, Southside, wag, without knowing what's up. 

When I made the lineup, I wanted it to be multicultural. Especially with some of my newer shit, it's going to go back to being Mexo-centric. I want to show people that I have love for everybody, but there's only one way to tell my story and that's from my perspective. [My song] "so so STRAYNGE" [is about being] the only Mexican rapper to rap the way that I do. From where I am to where I'm at, I'm the only person doing it. When I was younger, [choosing the name] Mictlan: I wanted to be Aztec, I wanted to be Mexo-centric. In my 20s I went through this self-exploration.

Tell me more about that.

I went to outer space, Parliament-Funkadelic. I was the black spaceman, I was the Aztec ancient fucking interstellar galactic traveler. [I] went off into my own realm of self-discovery. This is who I am and this is why I am. I grew up wearing fucking Dickies and Cortezes and creasing my pants, fucking Tres Flores in my hair... I was a Mexican kid.

I wanted [to include] somebody Native [on the bill, and] I fucking love [Akrite of Mundo Libre]. Every new verse he comes out with is just the best. Killing it. One of my favorite right now. They only do shit when it's super special, and I was like, hell yeah, kind of represent the Native side of out here. That first song [on HELLA FRREAL], "benicio del TORSO", that's about me talking shit to these cops.... I fucking hate cops. I'm not a gangster, but I grew up with gang culture and it's heavily influenced how I think. I understand the structure. As a warrior, as a tribal person, that's how I am, especially with Doomtree and my friends.

Being a tribal warrior, you kind of put who you are out first. Put it all out in front, and then you proceed. [I]n ["benicio del TORSO"], I explain my origins after the first four bars. The rest of that verse, I mention Native shit, Red Lake and shit, the same thing with my lineup for my show. I recognize who I am. I can't hide my face. I look so Native. I'm so Mexican. This is who I am. That was the whole thinking. Sims is like my white constituency. That's like my best representative. That's a dude who like, [if] somebody came up to like, you fucking beaner, if Sims is next to me, he would just punch the fucker, he wouldn't hesitate. He would fucking knock them out in a heartbeat. 

What do you hope people take away from this record? What do you hope people carry with them?

The people who have already heard me, I hope they see that I'm better at what I do than ever, and that they're ready for some new shit. New people, it's what we've been trying to do for fucking many years, is just hope they hear the hard work, the authenticity, the genuine sound in our voice, the alternative style. I hope that a lot of people that end up seeing me [see] that there's a Mexican person that they've never seen rap like this. Shit, I didn't have role models like me, in terms of rap music.

[T]here's tons of Chicano politicians and organizers, people that are more famous than I would ever be, but just in terms of pop culture, there was nobody to really idolize growing up, and now we're coming to the point where there's more Mexican people in this country than fucking anybody. This was our country. My Dad's last name Marquez, my great-great-grandparents were from New Mexico when it was still Mexico. People [who] are native to this country before the Louisiana Purchase, shit like that. That's why Native rap is so ill right now, this is the authentic American story.

At this point, especially with this future America that we live in, this new fucking Mad Max future we live in, why haven't you heard the story from the most authentic American people here? My name is Mictlan, my name is Aztec. I want to explain, this is Mictlan, this is what it means. I am [that] unapologetically, plus [I'm] this futuristic rapper too, and this regular Mexican kid. That's what HELLA FRREAL is, reality on this exaggerated, not fake, tip. Exaggerated truth. Make the truth bigger than it is. Hella for real.. It's super West Coast too. People on the West Cost say hella. Midwest Coast.

I've always liked the way you bridge the gap between West Coast rap and the MInneapolis hip-hop scene.

One of my biggest appreciations I have for this scene is I Self Devine. He brought West Coast graffiti to the city, flat out. Ask any graffiti writer. He brought West Coast underground hip-hop from the late '80s, graffiti and rapping, to this city. He was an originator, and made it so. I have a long connection to L.A. and Minneapolis. The Lakers come from Minneapolis. My brother loved Prince. It's just something that was always embedded in me, something that was one in the same to me. To me [I Self Devine] is like the O.G., he's a general veteran in this shit. Many people have come up under him, a lot of people I fuck with. Being a warrior in this rap shit.

Being as true to yourself as you can, being true to everyone else and having a respect for what we do. This is our way. We're all I Self Devine's kids, straight up. I enjoy this scene, I enjoy these people. They fucking enjoy me back and respect me back. People I look up to give me respect and that's a responsibility, you have to uphold that respect. There's a reason they fuck with me. I think just putting all that shit on blast, we're fucking next. Up here, we're just next, in terms of the whole country. Our story's ready to be told, it's been boiling up for so long. It's so crazy, living here for so long and seeing how much we influence, as far as politicians, creative people, athletes, different thinkers, all over the whole country who go on and be successful out of here. They have a certain ethic, a certain energy about that. 

I'm just like coming into my own, this HELLA FRREAL shit. Being confident enough to not be modest anymore. As I get older, no room for modesty. I got kids to feed. I've done this for a long time, I'm fucking awesome, I'm awesome live, me and my group [are] awesome. We're real people, we work hard. We never took a fucking loan from a bank or from anyone. Never came from any money, any of us, never used any of our drug money to fund a label.

I've sold weed and different drugs, I've sold drugs to do more drugs; it never went into Doomtree. Being one of the only groups like the way we are, I'm confident at this stage to say, you should support this. We can all support each other. There's people who, when they started they didn't go out and talk to the crowd, they didn't go to the merch table. That was mandatory for us as a group, now it's just a natural thing, going in the crowd and talking to people after the shows. People have influenced us as much as we've influenced them, this is a symbiotic thing. Be able to give people truth, and finding better ways to do it. HELLA FRREAL, Doomtree's record, it's about finding better ways of connecting people and doing it so that we can support each other. 

Mike Mictlan's HELLA FRREAL CD release show is Saturday, November 1, with openers Sims, Mac Irv, Mundo Libre, and Ander Other, at 7th Street Entry. $10/12, 18+, 9pm. 


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