Phillip Morris: Chicago was kind of slowly eating away at me

Phillip Morris: Chicago was kind of slowly eating away at me
Photo courtesy of the artist

Chicago indie rapper Phillip Morris has definitely gained traction with Minneapolis fans over the last few years -- so much so that he recently decided to move here.

He first began to make a name locally through his connection to Sean Anonymous, and recently dropped a full-length collaboration, entitled The Sick and the Dead, with Sean's group Wide Eyes. Morris has quickly made himself a presence in Minneapolis, and Gimme Noise caught up with him to talk about his album release show on Friday and his other assorted gigs around town.

Gimme Noise: Tell me about working on the album with Wide Eyes.

Phillip Morris: That was a lot of fun. I've been wanting to collab with those guys for a while. Me and Sean had done a couple collabs already, but never a full album of stuff. I've known Wide Eyes for a while. I'd say Wide Eyes are responsible for me being as popular as I am in this city. The first big show I did was their video release for "Borrowed Time," I think it was sold out, or really close to sold out. It was a huge crowd. It was I think my fourth time going up to Minneapolis. After that the momentum just kept going. I love those dudes and have a lot of respect for them. Working on this album was great. It was also really nice because Sean went ahead and wrote a lot of verses and hooks for stuff off the bat, so I already had a lot of concrete stuff to work with.

I work really well when I don't have to think of a concept for a song. Collaborating I can just do that a lot more quickly. I overthink it when I write my own stuff. That's why I come out with an album every two years or so. Working on this album was really tight. I also got to know all the members of Wide Eyes a lot better by working on this album. I already knew Sean pretty well, but got to know Tony Phantom, DJ Name, and Dimitry Kilstorm a lot better through the process of it. It's some of the best stuff I've written in quite a while to be perfectly honest.

Was it different working with them in a full-length capacity instead of just collaborating on a single track?

It was nice trying to figure out where I fit in in the mix of Wide Eyes. I feel like my style is a bit more comparable to Sean's; it's very calculated, mathematic, heavy emphasis on syllables and timing. Tony Phantom's style is more like prose poetry, still very wordy and complex, but it's also loose, very loose. Finding out where I fit into that and trying to be a happy medium between those two was nice, because it allowed me to make some adjustments to the way that I spit, and play around a bit more. It was a fun challenge.

What prompted your move from Chicago to Minneapolis?

Chicago was kind of slowly eating away at me, at my soul. I'd been living in Chicago all my life. I love that city. It's a wonderful training grounds. I'm really happy I started off there and made a name for myself there, because it's very hard to do. It's huge. Everybody's a rapper. Everybody here is a rapper too, but everybody in Chicago is a rapper or promoter or quote unquote record label owner with only five dollars in their pocket. There's so much stuff going on all over the city, and the city's so huge. It's a lot harder to get people out to events from different parts of the city.

My impression is the scene is kind of divided.

It's segregated in a lot of ways, outside of the music scene, so the music scene reflects that. But also it was just a rough city in general. I felt like I had kind of worn out my welcome. I had been coming up to Minneapolis for a couple years already, and had already developed a solid fan base up here. I just thought it would be the next logical move for me. A lot of stuff fell into place for me when I was strongly considering moving up here, because I stayed up here for a few weeks in August, when Lizzo and Dimitry asked me to [take over] Auto-Tune Karaoke [on Monday's at the Nomad].

That's when [former host] Lizzo was on tour, and Lizzo was like, maybe you should move into my room, and I was like, cool, you live with Sean Anonymous and that's my best friend! Those things fell into place with no work on my part. I'm a firm believer in signs. I took the plunge, and here I am.


How's it going hosting Auto-Tune Karaoke?

I'm a huge fan of karaoke. [The auto-tune] helps out, especially when people can't hit the notes. It's really hilarious if they're completely off. That's been going well. Loving it. [I'm] also doing [Nomad's] Minneseries for the month of December, the 5th, 12th and 19th. I'm curating that, so I'm throwing together some line-ups. I have a select few artists, but I don't have entire line-ups put together yet. I should probably get on that. I'm gonna have Minni Blanco DJ one of the nights, and have Bombshell La Belle do some burlesque one of the nights. I'll be performing maybe all of them, I don't know. Depending on how I'm feeling. Yeah. Working on it.

Tell me about the hip-hop workshops you've done in Chicago.

Some of them were just hip-hop related in general, revolving around the writing process and telling kids how I cam up in the hip-hop community and hip-hop scene in Chicago. Some of them were beat-making workshops, just teaching the bare bones of production, using Garageband and stuff that was easily accessible [and] easy to get a grasp on. Also workshops revolving around the history of hip-hop, because I think it's really important, especially with how hip-hop has constantly changed over the course of time. It sounds nothing at all like how it sounded when it came out, which isn't exactly a bad thing, but a lot of the younger kids have no idea about hip-hop.

The first question I ask when I teach these workshops is "Who can tell me the four elements of hip-hop?" Usually not a single kid can tell me the four elements of hip-hop, so that's already a problem. So I like to educate them on the history of how it came over with Kool Herc, the sound systems and how that came over from Jamaica, the famous birthday party, two turntables and a microphone. But yeah, I love it. I've done workshops and performed for grammar school kids, high school kids, college kids, and it's always the most fulfilling part of being a musician for me, actually being able to influence the youth and the future. Being able to use hip-hop to draw them into something positive was awesome.

How did you first find yourself interested in making hip-hop?

I used to write short stories in grammar school, and I was really short and very nerdy. I got picked on quite a bit, bullied quite often. My defense mechanism was writing these short superhero stories about the kids in my class. They all had cool names, but people knew who they were. So the kids that were cool with me were obviously the superheroes, and the kids who were not cool with me ended up the villains, But all of them wanted to read it and see how they were portrayed. So that kind of helped me stop getting picked on and bullied as much, people kind of accepted me. They were like, even though I'm mean to this kid, he still gives a shit about me enough to write about me and portray me as a character.

That's how I got started writing creatively. Started getting into music in general around 7th or 8th grade, and started listening to hip-hop in high school. I started writing raps kind of as a joke in high school. Once I got to college, I went to University of Illinois for a year, the first time I ever ate LSD, while coming off of that trip, I was just like, I wanna rap seriously. That's what I want to do. I was still a horrible, horrible rapper at this time, but that was the turning point. Instead of rapping as a joke, this is what I really think I can do and be good at. My parents always emphasized vocabulary and very much wanted me to be wordy. So I just started practicing and a few years later became good enough to start recording stuff I was comfortable with, and after that became good enough in my eyes to get in front of people on a microphone that I didn't know, who weren't my friends. It just took off from there. I used to produce quite a bit too, before I even started rapping.

I was making beats, and then just had accompaniment so I could rap over it. Still dabble in that, but not as much as I used to. I produced my entire first album and some of my second album, one track on my third album and maybe a couple on my fourth, but it's taken a backseat because I kind of drive myself crazy making beats, tweaking knobs and sliding faders a pinch. It'll wind up being 4 am, I'll start writing raps while I'm making a beat. A half-finished rap and a half-finished beat and just be really high and tired. That's taken a backseat, and I try to just focus on writing. I think that's made my writing stronger and enabled me to really find my voice. 

Phillip Morris joins Wide Eyes and Ecid for a double CD release show at the Triple Rock on Friday, November 15, 9 pm, $5/10.

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