We talk with the Florida transplant by way of Chicago, Sir Michael Rocks, about his newest album "BANCO", animals, The Cool Kids, and experimenting with his sound, among other things.
Sir Michael Rocks is not new when it comes to this rapping thing. He's been doing it for almost ten years now, yet he can still be considered a young'n at the current age of 26 (and in fact, he's often grouped in with the young'ns, something we discuss during our interview). When he started out with Chuck Inglish as The Cool Kids back in 2005, he was too ahead of his time. Now that time has caught up with Mikey's style, he's on to the next one. His new album BANCO proves just that, as he forays into unchartered rap territory while still maintaining the "thing" that makes him Mikey Rocks, the intangible "thing" that fans love about him. With a new sound and a new style, we hopped on the phone with Sir Mike to discuss all things new, old, and in between. Read what happened below.
HotNewHipHop: Michael, Sir Michael…what do people call you, like your regular friends?
Sir Michael Rocks: Banco…Banco Populair.
HNHH: I saw your REVOLT video where you were asking strangers what it means. But really, is it Mikey, Michael, Banco?
SMR: Everybody actually just refers to me as Sir Michael Rocks, all three words.
HNHH: Why did you decide to kinda formalize it? I mean people still call you Mikey Rocks but I feel like now you really want to go by Sir Michael Rocks not just Mikey Rocks.
SMR: I mean Mikey Rocks is still the same thing. It’s just a different state of mind. I felt the need when I started doing stuff on my own to differentiate that from my stuff with the Cool Kids. Because it’s totally different, I have a totally different approach when I’m doing stuff in the group and when I’m doing stuff on my own.
HNHH: Let’s talk about your new album and your album artwork in particular. Who put that together? Does every image represent something important to you? It kinda looks like a computer screen saver.
SMR: Yeah that was me actually I created that. I wanted to just bring together two things that I feel are very important to our lives, and that is nature and technology. I wanted to do it in a way that is visual and meant something to me as well. Each image has its own little meaning to it. There’s a picture of some foxes in the corner. I admire nature, I admire animals, I respect all God’s creatures at all times. I feel like a fox is a clever animal, a cunning animal, who is very used to living in different situations and being crafty and surviving so I definitely have a lot of respect for the fox. There’s a picture of me in the back in the middle of the picture on a tree, and I really like that forest, it’s a forest out here in Florida that really has some cool trees that are fallen over and stuff like that. I go to this forest a lot to think of ideas for music and meditate and go fishing and things like that so I really wanted to get that forest in there ‘cause it’s been an inspiration for this album. The Mac tool bar on there, and making it like a computer layout brings together the technology side of it. ‘Cause I feel like technology is where we’re going, and what we strive to perfect, and nature is where we come from and what’s already perfect. So I wanted to bring those two elements together and show my appreciation for ‘em.
HNHH: Yeah and nature, if anyone follows you or listens to any of your music, then they know that’s important to you. “Fuck Seaworld” is a track I was really feeling, I assume you’ve seen the documentary “Blackfish”, but can you tell me in particular what inspired you to call out Seaworld and how that track came together.
SMR: Well “Fuck Seaworld” did in fact come about from me watching “Blackfish” and movies like “The Cove” and just doing a little research on these big aquariums who are holding orcas captive and dolphins and whales, big aquariums that are using these animals for entertainment. I did a little research and kinda just figured out that it’s fucked up. They’re keeping huge whales that are used to spending time with their family and swimming 100 miles a day, basically, and they’re keeping these huge animals in these bathtubs. They’re intelligent, and they get depressed, and they get sick, and they get mentally disturbed and they kill trainers and it’s all fucked up. And we never really look at it that way because we grew up on Seaworld we grew up watching whales and dolphins do tricks, it’s just been a part of our lives. As I was doing a little research I was just like, yo, this shit is fucked. We’re way beyond that as humans, with our morals and values, you don’t treat intelligent animals or any animals like that. They’re intelligent enough to the point where it’s torture for them.
HNHH: And I read in another interview that you got a call from their CEO. Seaworld’s CEO?
SMR: There was a call. A call was made.
HNHH: Were they threatening? Did you actually talk to them?
SMR: I didn’t pick up, I just received the message that they weren’t happy about it. There was a little bit of slander and things being said about their establishment, they weren’t happy with. It can’t be slander, it’s facts. I’m not slandering your company if it’s the truth.
HNHH: Yeah. The last time I spoke with you, I dunno if you remember maybe two years ago, we were talking about your song “Too Short Back” and how you wanted to get a verse from Too Short, and that finally happened on BANCO. So I just wanted to know how it happened and did you get to play him the song?
SMR: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually it’s a funny story, I had helped Too Short on something not too long ago before I created that “Ain’t Nothin’ Like” song, and he was like, ‘yo, you ever need a verse or a favour from me, I got you man.’ I was like cool, and a little time passed and I started recording my album, and I started creating that song and I was thinking about who I could get to feature on there and Too Short is the perfect guy to get on the song. So I got a chance to reach out to him to see if he was down to get on it, and he was definitely down to get on it. So he came over to my house, we recorded it at my home studio, he’s super chill, we smoked a joint.
HNHH: In Florida?
SMR: No this was actually in L.A. I was living in L.A. at that time. We drank some Henny and shit. He had heard “Too Short Back” when it first came out, that was like 2011.
HNHH: Did you talk to him about it, what was the conversation like?
SMR: Oh yeah, see that’s how I got him to get on this song. Basically, he heard “Too Short Back” awhile ago, and I had talked to him, and he was like, ‘I really appreciate yall making the song’, and I was like, ‘yo hop on the remix, man.’ But he couldn’t find the time to do it before the song got too old so I was like, ‘nah don’t even worry about it’, he was like okay well I got a song I need you to jump on, for my album. So I was like, ‘cool, I gotchu’, so I did a verse for him and he repaid the favor with the “Ain’t Nothin’ Like” song.
HNHH: Cool. And what’s your personal favorite record off your new album?
SMR: I really like the “Intro” and I really like “Memo.” Those are two of my favorite.
HNHH: BANCO, there was obviously a lot of experimenting on it, and it was definitely different from your first mixtapes like Rocks Report and Premiere Politics. Why did you feel a need for a sound switch up, and do you think that this is now your sound or do you think it’s forever evolving, like will it be different on the next album?
SMR: Nah, I finally figured a sound that’s comfortable for me, a sound that I like and that really captures my vibe and my vision. All the other mixtapes up until this point, I was still tryna find a sound. I was good at stuff, like on Rocks Report I was good at rapping like that, but it’s nothing new, it’s nothing original. I feel like Dom Kennedy could do that, Kendrick could do it. I feel like it’s so many rappers that can rap like that, where would I fit in? I’d just be like a bootleg Dom Kennedy, they’re already at the top of that genre. These guys have already conquered that genre of rapping and I wanna conquer my own genre, I wanna be my own Sir Michael Rocks, I don’t wanna be second rate version of anybody. So I wanted to create my own lane, my own genre, where I can be the best at what I do. I found the sound with this album, and it’s constantly growing and evolving, but I found the sound that I really like and it brings out the best in me.
HNHH: I find this kinda funny, ‘cause you’ve been around for a while, but I feel like your consistently grouped with everyone that’s new. I mean you are in a new generation of rappers, but I feel like you’re always considered a ‘new’ rapper or ‘upcoming’. Is it a good or a bad thing?
SMR: Ah..that’s interesting to hear, I haven’t heard that before. I guess it makes sense but I haven’t heard that from a writer before.
HNHH: I dunno, that’s just kinda how I feel. You’re still considered “new” but you’re not really new. Maybe it’s ‘cause your sound is so experimental…
SMR: Ohhh, I get it. I understand what you mean. That’s a good thing. That’s tight. That comes from me constantly being a creator of things. I create things. I’m never scared to like create something new. I’m never comfortable where I just wanna not create anything new and just keep doing what I was doing. I’m always down to create something new and I think that’s where I’m always at my best. When I try to copy off of somebody or make a song that sounds like something else, everybody always gets mad. I’m not gunna try and make a song like anybody else I’ll just do all this random ass original shit that comes outta my head. Sometimes I’m like, ‘yo, I’m too weird, if I do what I wanna do nobody’s gunna understand or like it.’ Often times, when I do what I wanna do, that’s the most popular shit. Like “Memo” was just something that I wanted to do, and that song came out really well. “Fuck SeaWorld” was just something that I wanted to do, and it came out really well. So I think constantly getting grouped in with new rappers because it’s still new to me. I dunno what I’m doing. I’ve been rapping for awhile but…
HNHH: Yeah but you started when you were so young, and you’re still so young. I feel like that could be part of it. You’ve always been kinda avante-garde.
SMR: Yeah and I started off in a group, so coming from a group, you are kinda the artist you do kinda have to start over, so that’s new, and then I started really young being at the forefront of something. Usually when a really young person comes, they do something well that’s already being done, like ‘the new Jay Z’, he’s a kid but he’s the new Jay Z. I wasn’t the new anything, I was only Mikey Rocks, there wasn’t anything to compare me too. I dunno man, I’m just always doing cool shit. But I think it’s good to be known as somebody who is constantly new and on the cutting edge of things. I don’t wanna be stale and comfortable where I’m at. But that’s a really cool compliment I haven’t heard that from a writer before. That’s cool.
HNHH: Do you ever see yourself exiting the underground? Would you ever want to be a mainstream rapper?
SMR: Hell yeah, I see myself as being huge man, I see myself as being really big. But not in the sense of being just a hitmaker, like okay, I got a bunch of #1 songs. I’m not a #1 song hitmaker-all-the-time. I think I’ll have some, but I’m not like a Drake where I got a constant #1 hit-hit-hit-hit. I think I will be really big, but it’ll be because of the world that I create and the lifestyle that I’m creating. I think I’ll be big because I have clothes that are really cool, that the kids in my world like, and I have a really good stage show, and good music and good songs, and I’m doing things outside of rap that are cool and big. I like to do fun stuff, I like to do weird stuff, and that’s not always #1 hit material. I can make ‘em, and I will creep up with some hits every now and then, but that won’t be my claim to fame.
HNHH: You talked about how you do cool shit, and I know you’re about exotic pets and animals, so what are the pets you currently own? And where’s your monkey’s mixtape?
SMR: Trunks’ mixtape is done already, he gotta shoot his videos and get his PR and his press kit right.
HNHH: I’ll interview him.
SMR: Yeah he’s finished man, I’m sure he’ll get a higher rating on his than mine, he’s a little better. Currently the pets that I do have is just Trunksis, he’s a Marmoset, and it’s a handful, I really couldn’t have too many pets. That’s enough for me right now.
HNHH: Do you take care of him by yourself, or do you need help or training?
SMR: Well it’s basically me by myself. The guy I bought him from, he trains monkeys for a living so he’ll help me now and then, but for the most part it’s just me, and it’s a fucking handful, yo. It’s like a kid and a half.
HNHH: If you could be any animal what would it be, and why?
SMR: If I could be any animal I would definitely be a wolf. They run in a pack of families, they always with their family and friends. They one of the only animals that when they find a mate, they stay with that other wolf forever, and then they raise their whole family and have a bunch of little wolf babies, the whole family sticks together. They’re always around friends and family, there’s strength in numbers. They’re smart. They look cool. They howl at the moon, man. They got cool fur. I think that’s one of the tightest animals.
HNHH: The Cool Kids album that is coming out is also animal-themed, Shark Week, is there any update on that now that BANCO is out and Chuck Inglish released his album?
SMR: Well, we’re closer to a timeframe but I don’t wanna give much cause people get mad when things change. So I’ma keep it up in the air and not give too many dates or details. But we are working and we’re creating something amazing. We’re two guys that sometimes people have to do things on their own to learn something new, sometimes you can be more beneficial to the group, when you’re more beneficial solo. So we just took time to learn those things and build ourselves up individually.
HNHH: Is it an actual album or free release?
SMR: No it’ll be album.
HNHH: Ok. Another thing I wanted to ask is about Six Cell Phones, is that just something you reference or is that an imprint you started?
SMR: Six Cell Phones is an imprint, a record label right now that I’m releasing my music under and potentially a few other peoples’ stuff as well. Something I came up with so I can release my music under my own imprint and start building that legacy up.
HNHH: What happened with Jet Life?
SMR: Everything’s cool with them man. Curren$y’s my dude, we’ll probably do some stuff with them real soon. I know he’s been working on his new stuff and touringg and all that, he’s a busy dude and I’ma busy dude.
HNHH: Okay, but you’re not signed or anything officially to Jet Life now..
SMR: Nah, I was never signed to Jet Life. Curren$y never like wanted to do a contract or anything, we just wanted to collaborate and make music and shoot videos, and bring more attention to both of our separate entities. It was more like he just wanted to help out, it was never a record deal type thing.
HNHH: Ahh, and just one last question to wrap things up, what other rappers are you listening to these days? What’s in rotation?
SMR: Well I try not to listen to too much other rappers when I’m recording and making music ‘cause I don’t wanna be influenced. ‘Cause you’ll be subliminally influenced when you listen to some shit, and you won’t try too, but you’ll end up saying something that somebody said ‘cause you been listening to him all week, or you’ll pick a beat that sounds like somebody you been listening too. I try to stay away from listening to a lot of people when I’m creating stuff. Or I just try to listen to shit that has nothing to do with me
HNHH: Or that has nothing to do with rap music in general.
SMR: Right, right. I try to listen to stuff that hasn’t nothing to do with rap music, and if I wanna listen to rap I’ll listen to, just drill. That’s all. ‘Cause if I listen to somebody that’s kinda like me it’ll rub off on me. But with like Chief Keef and Tadoe and fuckin’ Lil Herb and shit I won’t sound like them.
HNHH: That’s not your style.
SMR: I could listen to them all day ‘cause it ain’t my style and it won’t rub off on me, and it’s fun to listen too. I listen to super hood shit, honestly. Like I don’t listen to nobody in the same lane as me, I stay away from that. I listen to real real ghetto shit, all day. It just keeps me from being influenced.
HNHH: That’s why your shit doesn’t sound like anybody else’s.
SMR: Yeah, I try to keep it that way man. And listening to other people will definitely influence you a little bit.
HNHH: Well, it’s been dope talking to you. I’ve got BANCO on repeat I’m looking forward to Shark Week whenever it drops.
SMR: Thank you, thank you, we gotchu it’s gunna be tight.