Exclusive: Sir Michael Rocks sounds off on Seaworld, the process for making "Banco," seeing sounds, and leveling up before returning to the studio with Chuck Inglish.
Since The Cool Kids decision to mutually expand their individual brands, Sir Michael Rocks has been developing his unique sound on a solo-dolo journey through the music industry. His 2013 release, While You Wait rang fairly quiet, but the Chi-city emcee never faltered, experimenting with a more conversational rhyme style that would eventually find it’s way onto his brand new release.
If you were a fan of The Cool Kids’ fun hints of ‘90s era boom bap and crisp lyricism you’ll want to give his first solo debut album, Banco, a listen. We all know Chuck Inglish was the one responsible for the production surrounding those catchy, off-the-wall beats behind the duo’s original sound, but his partner in crime has grown into the other aspects of production, as well. From his cover art to his visuals, Sir Michael Rocks has kicked his art into high gear.
“People tried but you never could really put it [his sound] in a category like that, it’s just more of a journey, it’s more of a little trip,” he says. “I can’t just rap and just put out songs. I gotta put all these other things into it to make the whole picture make sense, to make the whole picture come into a complete circle.” He’s experimented with new sounds, floating them out into the waters of the web, finally creating the wave he’d ride to Banco. Simply said, Banco is carefully thought out and intricately designed.
But even he can’t put a finger on his new musical style. If you squint, you may be able to find similarities to TDE’s Ab-Soul or his good friend Mac Miller, and of course, there’ll be the comparisons to Lil B as well as other members of Raps new young ilk. Even so, Sir Michael Rocks has forged a brand of sounds all his own as he walks us through seeing sounds, calling up Too Short and the making of Banco, among other interesting tangents. And no worries to those Cool Kids fans, their new album Shark Week will be seeing the light of day soon and the duo’s separation, as he states, has only made them stronger as a unit.
Sir Michael Rocks Talks Banco, Seeing Sounds & Too Short’s Collab’
HipHopDX: Your cover art for Banco is really, really Internet-y. Have you heard any weird interpretations of it?
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah, I got one good one. This one girl was like, “No, no, no, everybody’s wrong. What he’s trying to say here is that this fox is representing how America steals from us like a fox steals from different farmers, and they’re taking their food. And the forest represents the deforestation of the rainforest right now, and he’s standing in there on the tree to oppose these causes and oppose the deforestation in the rainforests and…” It just kept going longer and longer; she just came up with a whole bunch of real crazy, off the wall explanations of what this cover meant, and it made me laugh. I haven’t seen anybody do it like that, and I made it, so I kind of got an attachment to it.
HipHopDX: Banco is your first project as a solo artist with a barcode. Have you treated this album differently than you have your mixtapes?
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah, I definitely put way more attention into the details of things. I really took my time to shape my visuals, my photos, my imagery and the style of things I’m wearing. I really took a lot of time to perfect my presence, and I took a lot of time to perfect my presence on Twitter and on Instagram and shape everything to be themed. I wanted to make it kind of a world that you step into when you listen to my music and you come watch my videos. It’s like one consistent theme now that I worked on. Mixtapes I’ve done in the past, I’ve liked certain songs on them, but visually I didn’t really lock into what I wanted to yet at that point.
With this one it finally clicked on all these different levels, as far as how I want my videos, my pictures, my website, Instagram, and everything to look. [I understand] how I want to communicate with my fans and how I want to interact with them. Now I got a bunch of inside jokes that I can talk to my fans about that if you don’t know me, then you’ll be like, “What are you talking about?” All my fans know what I’m talking about it’s like a secret code. It’s like a secret language that we can all share. I’m talking about different things that we all know about and it makes other people from the outside want to know what it is like, “Man, I feel left out. I wanna know what’s going on. Why can’t I laugh? Why don’t I get the joke? I wanna laugh.” It took time to figure out how to do it and how to just be natural with it and make it my own thing, but now I finally figured it out.
HipHopDX: You have a very unique sound, what would you describe your sound or musical style as?
Sir Michael Rocks: My musical sound… I choose sounds that have colors basically. Everything is a color to me. I like to hear sounds that automatically make me think of different colors and/or place or something like that. This is how I see music. I see music in colors and shapes and all of that so it’s not a so much of a mood, because I go through different moods, you know I’m a Capricorn so we go like from super depressed to really happy and everything in between so I’m always just like different spots, you know what I’m sayin’? And like I’m never the same, never like the same every single day so obviously that’ll reflect in my music. That’ll reflect in the beats I choose and the sounds I choose, so I just base it off of what I’m feeling like and what I want to get across and I think of visuals when I hear the music. It’s always been hard for people to put my music in categories like that ever since The Cool Kids. People tried but you never could really put it in a category like that, it’s just more of a feeling and more of a journey, it’s more of a little trip, instead of… That’s why I incorporate visuals and clothes and nature and technology, animals, pictures, all of these things into the music because I can’t just rap and just put out songs. I gotta put all these other things into it to make the whole picture make sense, to make the whole picture come to a complete circle. You gotta see everything. You gotta see all these things to really get a grasp and understand but once you do understand, I haven’t had any complaints from anybody who is there with me.
HipHopDX: You mentioned colors, and a lot of artists talk about being able to see colors when they listen to music. Do you experience that?
Sir Michael Rocks: I’ve always seen it in colors since I started. Since I first started, I’ve always closed my eyes, because when I was a little kid I used to be in spelling bees and when they used to make me come up to the mic to spell the words, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and look at people while I was spelling or else I would get thrown off. So I used to have to close my eyes like and then I’d spell it with my fingers. I would, like, sound it out, spell it with my fingers and that kind of translated into how I started writing raps. So I would hear a beat, and then I would just see the colors of the music while my eyes were closed. I would be writing the raps with my eyes closed walking back and forth. When my eyes are open then there’s all this [new] stimulation going around.
I gotta shut everything out and kind of go into sensory deprivation. It shuts out all the stimulation going on around me so I can see the music and I could write. I could see what I’m saying; I see the words that I’m saying when I’m writing them. They’re poppin’ up in my head, and it’s like a highway and cars are goin’ by. That’s how I see the words coming when I’m writing, and I gotta close my eyes to do that. Those colors are coming up in the same way when I’m hearing the beats and the music. It’s like, when you take away one sense, another one becomes more sensitive.
HipHopDX: What color do you see Banco as?
Sir Michael Rocks: It’s the colors on that cover. It’s that green, aqua blue, clean white, grey, purple and a little bit of that fox orange right there. That’s exactly how I saw it. That’s how I see the music, that’s how I see the album and that’s how I want it to be perceived. So I think the fact that I got to do the cover myself really helped me shape the image of the album and help me shape how I want it to look to the outsiders. I feel like it fits the sound too even if a picture and a sound they don’t really mix in together like that. I feel like the cover fit with the sounds of the album, and it all goes together super well.
HipHopDX: You’ve grown considerably since Chuck and yourself decided to go solo for a time.What has the transitional period been like for you?
Sir Michael Rocks: Where I’m at right now and what has shaped Banco is me figuring out a lot more of my self as a musician, as an artist, and growing up, as well. I had to really lock in on the subject matter I wanted, the type of videos that I want to do and all of these things have just led up to what Banco is, and it all comes together and makes sense. I’ve always had different loose ends and pieces here. There are pieces I like about my music, my visuals, my imagery and all of these things. Now I’ve finally taken like the best pieces of everything that I like and put them together on this album. That’s where I’m at right now.
I think that I got a lot more involved in the music and a lot more involved on the beats and everything on this album. I’ve been picking the different samples, helping out with the drums and the programming and really just making it way more personal. It’s not like somebody’s just sending me beats. I don’t think any beat that I have is like somebody just sent me a beat and I was like, “Oh, OK I like that beat.” I’ve been in there, pretty much making it with them from scratch.”
HipHopDX: So you were in the studio…
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah. A lot of these tracks on here, I’m in the studio hand creating alongside with producers. So that’ll have a big effect on the sound as well. You’ll notice a lot of that, and that’s why I got a lot of flows and lyrics on here where it just feels so right. It feels like it’s not just reading off the paper rap, because I custom made the beat to be a certain way so I can fit in those pockets how I want to fit in those pockets and I can have my voice sound how I want it to sound because I’m creating a beat from scratch. [So] it’s not like the beat makes me; I make the beat. I’m leaving out what I don't want in there. I’m putting in things I do want inside of the beat, and it’s a big freedom that allows you to kind of write your best stuff. You write your best stuff when you can kind of arrange your plate how you want to. It’s like making a plate of dinner. You got your corn over here, you got your beef, you got your chicken right here and you can arrange it how you want to, so you can fit into it the right way. It’s not like a pre-made beat that everything is there, you can't move nothing around and you gotta just find out where you fit. Nah, if I'm making it from scratch, I can put in this instrument, take out this instrument, let this beat drop and just like tailor make it around me. That’s something that has upped the quality of my music, my beats and my writing.
HipHopDX: So on this album you have a variety of guest appearances from the likes of Mac Miller, Trinidad James and Twista. Who was your favorite collaborator and why?
Sir Michael Rocks: I would have to say my favorite collab’ would be the one with Too Short. Too Short was a fun one, because I basically just hit him up. I had known him for a little bit before we collab-ed this. I had given him a verse on one of his projects before, so he kind of still owed me the favor and he was like, “Yeah man, whenever you need a verse from me, man. Just hit me. I got you. I'm a come through.” So probably a year later, DJ Mustard came through, we went through hella beats and then I finally found one that was the one I wanted to use. I laid my verse and the hook on there and then I hit up Short like, “Man I need that verse from you. Can you slide through?” He was like, “I got you nephew. I’ll be there tomorrow.” He’s slides through, brings the Henny and I got a little tree rolled out. We kickin’ it man, smokin’. He’s super cool and super humble—especially for everything that he’s done for Rap. He’s still in tune with the youth and with what we’re doing and everything. After we recorded the song, he didn’t just get up and leave, he’s like, “Man, I'm a chill here for a while.” That was probably one of my favorite collabs because he’s somebody that my dad kinda put me on to when I was little. I grew up kinda looking up to him as a history maker in Hip Hop, and to have him to just come over my house and lay the verse down and get drunk and high with me, it was pretty tight, man. He’s super cool. Shout out to Short; that’s probably one of my favorite collabs.
HipHopDX: How do you lay your verses? Do you write when you get in the studio, beforehand?
Sir Michael Rocks: I have done it in three ways. I have written a verse to a beat before I go to the studio. I have written it in the studio like on the clock, which I hate. I hate doing that because I take long to write, so I hate being on the clock and being rushed. Somebody’s like, “Hey man, I’m paying for the studio time...hurry up.” A more recent way that I just start recording—which I think is the most fun and has come out with some of the best verses is honestly recording myself. When I’m sitting down, I have the mic right here, and I turn the beat on and I just start freestylin’ to the beat while it’s recording. Then as I’m freestylin’, I’m hearing lines as keepers like, “Ahh, that’s hard.” I just keep going, and it ends up giving it a more natural, conversational type of pace.
And it’s not so like, I’m reading off the paper rappin’ this rappity rap rap rap rap and stopping at all the lines. It’s like I’m just kind of talking to you, and it’s more free flowing. It’s more conversational, it’s more real, and that shit is not as thought out. It’s harder to do that when you’re writing it down because I’ve been rappin’ since I was nine years old, so I have a brain technique of how to write raps when I do it like that. I did that a lot on Banco, and I people have noticed and given me different compliments, so I think it’s going well.
HipHopDX: Do you have an example of a track that you recorded that way?
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah, “Fuck Sea World” was done like that. I did that with that style of recording, “Playstation 1.5” I recorded it in that way. I did a song on the album called “Kill Switch” that I did in that way and also the one with Too Short I did it that way too.
Sir Michael Rocks Reveals Possible Mac Miller EP & Getting Better Solo
HipHopDX: In terms of cohesion, you’ve worked with Mac Miller a great deal. What’s it like being in the studio together?
Sir Michael Rocks: Well, there’s only one way to be in the studio with Mac Miller and that’s at his house because Mac does not leave his house. Mac stays in the house. Mac records and makes beats and things like that all day everyday. I don’t think nobody’s seeing Mac on the work ethic, dog. When me and him work together, it’s always been a legit collaboration. It’s not like he has a song and I lay a verse on there. We’ll start it from scratch, come up with ideas and we’ll bounce ideas off of each other. We make up concepts and we’ll create the song together right then and there. Mac is a Capricorn like me, and we know how to collaborate with people. We’re not the type of people to just take control of everything. I’ve worked with people like that where they just gotta just take control of everything—every single little thing and it’s not a real collaboration.
Me and Mac know how to compromise, and we know how to give a little, take a little, and leave a little off. I’ll say, “Alright, here I’m a leave space for you to do this, and I’m a come back and do these lines after that.” And he’ll say, “Alright, I'm a record this part. Then you say the same thing on top of my vocals, and it’ll mix in together.” So it’s just a real collaboration every time we’ve made something like that, and we always get a bunch of people saying, “Man y’all should do a whole little mixtape, do a whole EP together or something because y’all just really have a good chemistry.” I feel like we both bring out things in our writing for each other and we both bring out things in our writing from each other whenever we work together. I just feel really free whenever I work with him. I’m like, “Alright this can go anywhere.”
It’s not really a set, and it’s not really set subject matter. If I go to get on a song with Jadakiss, I'm a go do the Jadakiss thing and you know, do that. But if I go get on a song with Wiz Khalifa, I'm a do the Wiz thing and we’ll do the song like that. But with me and Mac, it can go anywhere. We’ll make a collaboration, and he could have an idea, start off one place and I could take it another. In the end, there’s always this common unity that we share on the song that always brings it together. No matter if he’s talking about something a little different than what I’m talking about, the tone is always the same or the overall ideas always united. We know how to just bring out a good side of each other, whenever we get on songs.
HipHopDX: So is there a possibility that in the future you and Mac will have a full project together?
Sir Michael Rocks: Will we have a full project together? He actually wanted to start something a while ago. He was like, “Yo, I’m a make all these beats, and you rap on the beats.” I didn’t know if he was trying to get on the beats too. He probably would, but that kind of stuff is definitely possible. Once again, you just gotta go over his house. You just gotta go lock yourself in Mac’s crib for however long it takes to record it. But yeah, if we decided on it, I think we would definitely do it. We would definitely make it happen. I could see that happening for sure.
HipHopDX: And how did the idea of you guys collaborating come about?
Sir Michael Rocks: The first time we ever made something, I had just hit him up, and I had a song that I wanted him to get on. I e-mailed it to him, and it took him forever and 10 days and like two fucking years just to send it back. He finally sent it back,[and] it was tight and then I end up not even using the song at all. So the first song we did together never actually even came out, which is funny, and after that we met up again. I think it was in New York at Puffy’s studio. We both decided to get in the lab, our homie Brandon cooked up the beat real quick and we was like, “Alright, lets start it off.” So we start off a song going back and forth, and basically from there, every time that we get a chance, we get in the studio and we make something with each other.
It’s never a big plan, and it’s never something super-duper official like, “This is for my album. You have your manager talk to my manager and have your people talk to my people.” If we’re in the studio, it’s like, “Turn on the beat. Let’s go.” That’s how I work with a lot of people and that’s how he does it as well. Every time I’m at his house, whether it’s Ab-Soul, Dash, Retch, Earl Sweatshirt—there’s tons of people who always come over to Mac’s to record. That’s how it always works. It’s like if you over there and you tight, then let’s make something and we’ll all just hop on a song. That’s how a lot of collabs have happened, especially with all those folks that I just named.
HipHopDX: You’re coming together with Chuck again to put out Shark Week. How did you guys decide on coming together again and putting out this album? Was there a specific conversation?
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah, the conversation that led us to finally figure out when we could drop Shark Week was a little bit before Chuck put out his solo album Convertibles. I was still finishing up my album, and we felt like, “Okay, once we get these two albums out, we have spent enough time on our own, developing our own personalities on the mic, our own visuals, our own images and our own styles. We’ve learned things that we couldn’t have learned being together by rapping in the same group and living together and all these things. Separation has caused us to find out more things on our own and make us more powerful individually. When we come back together, then it’s like two way more powerful separate entities.
We’re both more powerful now, and he’s learned things that he didn’t know before. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before, and we’re gonna be able to teach each other those things and share that knowledge. The whole time while we were doing separate things, we would still be very active in each other’s process. He would call me, we would talk about his videos and how he should shoot it, where he should shoot it, what he should wear and what kind of beat should he make. He would tell me, “Okay dude, I think you should release this after this though. Release this first and then put out that video.” The whole time we’ve still been active in each other’s shit. It’s just not us rapping on the same song.
Through us being separate, we’ve gotten way better. I feel like I’ve gotten way better at holding my own weight, being more confident in myself and not just like letting him do all the work. He’s older than me, so when we first started, he started making a lot of beats, so I would just wait to go do my verse. Since I’ve been on my own I’ve been building up that confidence with myself and building up my talent more and more. Now I know what I have to offer. I know where I can help and I know where I can make something better. I know what I don’t know and I back off and let him take control of that, and he’s the same way!
How “Fuck Seaworld,” Got Him A Call From Its CEO & Animal Rights
HipHopDX: There’s an animal theme going on in your music, especially the fish category, what’s the story behind that? You got Shark Week, Gone Fishing, When Fish Ride Bicycles. And it ties in with the whole “Fuck Seaworld” thing that’s going on…
Sir Michael Rocks: Oh yeah, speaking of fish...
HipHopDX: You got a quick response to that. Can you get into the CEO calling you?
Sir Michael Rocks: Yeah, it was a little drama. I got a call from one of their reps, and they weren’t too happy about some of the images I put in my video. There were some things they felt were slander towards their family establishment. So go figure. But I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. I’m always speaking the truth, so you can’t really get mad at that. I let my attorney handle any of that stuff and I just keep my eyes focused on the music, keep making these videos, keep providing some type of voice for the animal community and keep them in safety You gotta make sure that they are taken care of and not being abused in these places.
As much as a part of my childhood as Seaworld was, I didn’t notice until I got older that it’s fucked up. These whales and dolphins, they’re very smart. They’re mammals—they’re not even fish—so they have a brain very similar to ours, chimpanzees and apes and all of this. You’re keeping them in such small environments where they can’t really move around. It’s nothing around but just concrete walls and water, and they gotta just live there. It sucks when you’re kind of intelligent, because they get kind of depressed and they are used to being with other whales and families and swimming hundreds of miles, and you put them in basically the equivalent of like a bathtub. They know how to communicate with people, they know how to communicate with each other, they know how to have strong family ties of 10 or more and they remember things. They have a more intellectual, emotional set than just regular fish, and you know they’re keeping them in these small little tanks and they get sick, they kill trainers because they’re frustrated. They’re pissed and they’re just sick of just eating the same little fish everyday and swimming in the same little pool. They kill the trainers, they eat each other and hurt each other and they get real sick, and it’s just bad. It’s just bad news man.
You would think in 2014, at this point, we would’ve kind of gotten rid of that stuff by now. It’s kind of barbaric. It’s real, old world type stuff like having a circus where you got a stool and a lion. You make the lion jump on the stool, and you’re whipping him and all this crazy stuff. It’s kind of outdated, and I think that people should wake up to that. Yes, it’s entertaining to see this big whale clap his hands and play with a beach ball and all this stuff, but at the end of the day it’s kind of not cool, man. I really just wanted to be a person that speaks out about it with music and visuals and bring some attention to people that might not have known.
HipHopDX: Rappers aren’t usually concerned with animal rights in that way. Do you think it makes you accessible to a new set of people?
Sir Michael Rocks: Well, you don’t see it that often in Rap at least, but I was different. I was a kid, we used to go outside, and I used to catch everything and try to bring it in the house and just scare the shit out of my mom and everybody. I used to pick up and snakes, frogs, turtles, random street cats and all types of animals. I wanted to be a zoologist when I was really little, and the world took that idea from me. It was like, “Nah, you can’t do that. That’s stupid.” So I forgot about it and went on to doing some other stuff as a kid, but I’ve always been interested in animals. I’ve always known a lot about them, and I figured it would be a good place in my music because all we’re doing as musicians and artists is just trying to show things about yourself you could relate to. I’m sure there’s more people out there who think like me and through being myself and talking about things I'm and that I know about, I’ll attract [similar] people. So I definitely got a lot of unexpected, new fans. I got a bunch of whale activist groups and a lot of older ladies that watch a lot of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet and a lot of people that don’t really listen to Rap. The message is powerful and the message is there, so they identify with that. They’ll say, “Man, I just respect whatever you’re saying, because you're talking about something that is a problem in our country and a problem with Seaworld. [It’s a] problem with zoos and all of these prisons that you keep these animals in.” I definitely got a lot of new fans since I dropped that song. Shout out to Orca SOS, because I talked to them briefly yesterday. They're definitely fans of my video and fans of my work. I got a lot of older ladies that are like, “He’s cussing a lot. He’s saying a lot of cuss words, but at least he’s talking about Seaworld, and fuck ‘em.” They’re with it so I made a lot of new fans and brought a lot of new people into the music that might of not been into before.