words by Alex Lauer
photography by ZoePrinds-Flash
“I’ve got to take these off to eat.”
When I met up with Minnesota-via-LA rapper Mike Mictlan, I didn’t expect him to be laced up straight out of his classic “Prizefight” video. But as we sat down at World Street Kitchen, he took off his classic three-finger Doomtree rings and placed them neatly on the table like sacred rap artifacts.
Since 2001, his aforementioned seven-piece crew has steadily taken over the Twin Cities. The adoration was apparent as a plate of guacamole was dropped at our table, a gift from the line cook sporting a hat with the logo from Doomtree’s last crew album “No Kings.” But with HELLA FRREAL, his new self-proclaimed “mini” LP, Mictlan has started the journey to a solo career.
In the middle of an insane week that included moving into a new house with his six-year-old daughter and her mother, as well as his current girlfriend and her daughter, he took some time to talk to Greenrom about the album, being a “man-dog”, a potential upcoming EP with Greg Grease, and how he’s eschewing mystery for honesty in hopes to “supercharge” himself as a solo act.
Greenroom: You’ve said your album SNAXXX that came out a couple years ago is a record that’s easier to perform, where you don’t have to go to a deep place to get at the material. HELLA FRREAL feels more like Hand Over Fist in the sense that you’re not afraid to tell people straight up about your hardships without concealing that behind wordplay that people can’t understand.
Mictlan: Totally. I feel like SNAXXX was personal in a way that there were a lot of inside jokes, it was satirical—making fun of rappers, making fun of me being a rapper. HELLA FRREAL is a lot more honest and still personal but broken down in simple themes, to where SNAXXX was more specific. I mean, it was just weird. You know, “Spicy Peen” about my dick and weird shit. Now you’ve got [songs] “LESS’TALK” or “THA BRINK” about simple things. “LESS’TALK” is being comfortable talking with your friends and getting over shit, just a basic thing instead of this crazy SNAXXX world. But some of it still came out.
GR: The “LESS’TALK” track has Aby Wolf on it, and she’s one of three features on the album. You’re connected to so many parts of the local music scene going back to Doomtree Blowout 7 where your Entry show had like 30 rappers on it, and SNAXXX had a bunch of different features happening. Why did you pick just Aby Wolf, Greg Grease, and Ceschi for HELLA FRREAL?
M:The songs were collected over time. For instance, the Greg song came out because we want to do an EP together, and we’re still talking about doing it. The group would be called Junior Blind, and that’s the name of the song. It’s funny because on SNAXXX he’s track four and on this he’s track four again. I told Greg, I was like, “Dude, next solo record, you’re fucking not on. Sorry.” [laughs] I can’t do it. We just gotta make an EP. My friend has a house and a studio in Denver. We were talking about just going out there and suppressing ourselves, maybe with Cecil [Otter] again making the beats.
For the Ceschi song, I was in New York and he knew I was going to be out there for some shows. I was playing at a Har Mar Superstar residency at the Knitting Factory. He hit me up, “Yo, let’s do this song for this 7-inch that I’m putting out.” It was right before he went to jail for a while. I was like, yeah, no doubt, let’s do it. We recorded it at Louis Logic’s studio, the underground rapper from Demigodz who’s down with all these other people. You know, he’s like a duke. We recorded for that song and afterwards Ceschi asked Cecil for a remix. So Cecil made the remix which was fucking solid and I asked Ceschi if I could put it on my next record, and he said go for it.
With the Aby thing, initially I had Lizzo in mind. I wrote that chorus and thought, I’ll just have Lizzo lace this shit. As you know, she got super busy, and she was out of town so our schedules just didn’t work out. So I needed someone to sing on it. Ander had just got off tour with Aby and Dessa and was like, “Aby, no doubt, you need to hit her up.” I was like, oh yeah, I really like her voice. She came through and fucking killed it. She actually backed me up on that song a year before at the [Doomtree] Blowout, because I needed her and Dessa to back that song up. That’s initially how she came up. So the features weren’t super intentional, but they were all—
GR:You didn’t go into the album thinking I want this person, this rapper, this singer, etc.
M:Well it’s funny because I did do that before the album. I made a wish list of rappers that I wanted to get, but that shit always seems way too corny for me. I can’t approach anybody that I don’t know.
GR: I remember P.O.S talking about We Don’t Even Live Here and he said the same thing.
M: Yeah, for “Get Down” he wanted Pusha T. I remember being all salty about it too. We wrote that song together and he was like, “Yo, I might get Pusha T on this and I might take you off the album version, but we’ll do a remix that you’re on and then you can play it. Obviously I’m never gonna play with Pusha T. We’ll play the song together blah blah blah.” And I was like, “Alright. [long pause] Fuck you. Fuck y’all.” [laughs] “I fucking wrote this song with you. We sat here in the studio all day and wrote it together. Fuck Pusha T.”
GR: Not to break it down into one song, but if people out there know one Mictlan song it’s probably “Prizefight.” If we’re talking about an anthem from the beginning of your career, that’s it. On HELLA FRREAL I feel like you have that moment again, that career-marking anthem, with “Wild at Heart.” Just a bang-it-in-your-car-stereo anthem. The title and the chorus reference the David Lynch film, what’s your connection to that?
M: I do a lot of references like that. Off this album there’s “benicio del TORSO.” I’ve referenced movies before like Ichi the Killer. It’s not like I’m going to make a rap version of Wild at Heart and explain all the references, “I’m Bobby with the shark teeth,” you know? Obviously I use Lula’s part where she says, “This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top.” But also I’m Sailor Ripley in like a dog version. Two verses are written in the perspective of a dog. You know how they say dogs are man’s best friend, but really it’s just a reflection of the subjugation of humans in animal breeding? So to me, a dog is the most animalistic, raw human emotions. Sailor Ripley is a dog version in my story. In the first verse he’s just trying to fuck. He just got out of prison and is trying to hit it. That’s just his raw, wild, animal shit. Then the second verse is about alpha males and it’s about the violence in that love story, where he’s fighting for his woman. He’s fighting for a place, not in anybody else’s world, but in a place of his own. That’s where I was with that song. We’re all wild at heart, crazy as fuck. I’m just as raw and animalistic and I fucking hate this alpha male culture, but I’m a lover and I’m a man-dog too. [laughs] So it’s like the doggy style version of Wild at Heart. At least I tried.
GR: Well the initial reference offers a point of connection for people, especially people who’ve never heard one of your songs before, and then brings them to a lot of different levels.
M: It’s crazy because Cory [Grindberg] made that beat. I hit him up and said I needed some beats that have weird intros that go into stripped down beats, then diminish, then get huge, then diminish again, then go into some crazy outro—and that’s exactly how he made the beat. But when he hit me up he was like, “I made it like a Seinfeld episode. Each instrument is like a character in Seinfeld.” I was like, alright, I’ll hear you out, but I still don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. But he did everything I asked him to do. I really appreciate that.
GR: What’s the difference when you’re working on a project with a bunch of different producers versus Hand Over First where you were just collaborating with Lazerbeak?
M: Hand Over Fist was me and Lazerbeak’s first full-length record that we had ever made. There’s a lot stemming from that. At that time I didn’t have a whole bunch of producers to work with. All I had was Lazerbeak. Working with other producers now, it’s like, if you want to hear me over Doomtree shit you will hear it. We’re making records. People have heard me over Doomtree shit. With HELLA FRREAL this is the first time that I really really really really really want to be a solo emcee. [laughs] Even when I was younger I always thought about being in a crew like Wu-Tang or OutKast–even if it was a duo. I never thought of myself as a solo rapper up until recently. It goes with being in my 30s, having a six-year-old now, not wanting materialistic things but wanting resources and things of my own—proving it to myself with what I’ve done and my hard work. Focusing on solo now is a huge deal—separating myself, getting different beats, working with different people.
GR: Of course I want to talk about what’s going on with Doomtree after “The Last Blowout Ever.”
M: We don’t even know. I know that after Stef’s set at The Fucking Best Show Ever downtown, it made me feel a lot better about what’s possible. After seeing Stef’s show I was like, tight, we could do something like this. We want to do something that’s not in the winter, that’s outside, that involves a lot of people, a lot of different kinds of artists in the city, and we want to keep it local too, like downtown. Kind of like the first Soundset, but not as rap-y.
GR: What’s Cecil up to lately? I feel like out of Doomtree, you and Cecil are more mysterious day-to-day people where the general public doesn’t know what you’re up to.
M: On some real shit, when we put out our first records, we were the experimental first releases of Doomtree, kind of on our own. It was right before we put the machine in place. So we kind of lost our turns every time. I feel like we’re just biding our time, man. We’re not those type of people. I always took this really seriously and was like, “I’m not good enough.” I didn’t record early on because I wasn’t good enough.
Even today I still feel like I have so much more work to get better, to get better at making songs and fleshing out all the ideas I have, especially with Cecil. Cecil is my favorite in the group. If I look at it from an outsider point of view, he’s the best one in the group. He can make any style of beat, he can rap his ass off, he can draw his whole record. I’m excited for the shit he’s doing. He’s working on a lot of different projects with different people, things that aren’t rap. Then he’s working on a record that’s gonna be fucking huge.
I’m really excited for my next record too because I’m going to have proper setup time and have it done really early. I’ll get it done before we put out the Doomtree record and then we’ll tour on that and go super hard on Doomtree. I’ll be able to promote HELLA FRREAL and be sitting on a record that I feel is gonna be the big deal. At that point I wouldn’t care if it came out in 2016 or not. I could wait another whole year to put it out because I’ve never been able to have that type of lead up time. Me and Cecil always made shit last minute, didn’t have the biggest budget for it, and now we actually have time and elbow room. I think the mysteriousness will be lifted. Like I said, I want to fucking supercharge my solo career. I want to do vlogs, connect with people, just be out there more and not be so mysterious—let people in and shit, if they want.