They can deny him radio spins—at least for now—but they can’t deny his talent.
Who is Andy Mineo? He’s one of only a handful of rappers to reach the #1 spot on iTunes Hip Hop chart without being a household name within the genre. Mineo was also the one wylin’ on MTV Rap Fix. In a cypher hosted by Sway and featuring 360, Emilio Rojas and Bizzy Crook, the Reach Records artist gave us bars like the following:
“Man, back up give me two feet like an ottoman / It’s obvious I’m out of your league like Jackie Robinson / Fake studio thugs be talking ‘bout their llamas when / the only Eagle you seen throwing bullets was Donovan.”
A native of Syracuse, New York, the Italian rapper grew up in a single-parent home. Issues of anger and aggression led to him being kicked out of public school, but he was able to focus all of his energy into music. Mineo and a friend built a studio in his basement. A close inspection of Mineo’s lyrics show that he has wrestled through that anger and bitterness and found a way to provide hope to others.
But make no mistake, this Italian boy gets busy on the mic, too.
That’s how Mineo ended up flowing on the Sway in the Morning Show, and how his latest project hit the #1 spot briefly on the iTunes chart.
After creating a buzz with the Formerly Known and Saturday Morning Car Tunez mixtapes, Mineo dropped his first full-length album Heroes For Sale in April of 2013. The album, which featured the hit “Uno Uno Seis” with Reach Records’ co-founder LeCrae, is Mineo’s attempt to be transparent and honest with his struggles, a stark contrast to the Photoshop-perfect image many rappers try to portray.
Mineo gained even more momentum with the release of his most recent project—the chart-topping Never Land EP—a six-track project that was documented in a four-part mini-documentary series called Saturday Morning Car Tunez Season 2.
HipHopDX caught up with Andy and discussed his latest project Never Land, Italians in Hip Hop, his lane in the industry, the struggle to forgive his father, and why he doesn’t get any radio spins.
Andy Mineo Reflects On His Sicilian Heritage & The Term Paisano
HipHopDX: What’s been the response to Never Land?
Andy Mineo: Well, the response to Never Land has been extremely positive all around. From a statistical standpoint, it was the #2 Hip Hop album in the country the week that it dropped. It remained in the top 20 for a little while. It hit #1 on iTunes for a few days overall, and to date, it’s sold about 40,000 units. It’s doing well for having been out for about a month-and-a-half.
The core fans have really loved it, and I think the new fans, or new people who were introduced to it, have become fans.
DX: Has there been any song in particular that fans really seem to be identifying with?
Andy Mineo: Yeah, “You Can’t Stop Me”seems to be the winner right now. And I think that’s because it’s fun. It’s high energy, and it’s memorable. At the same time, it has a deeply encouraging message about having confidence, and where that comes from. It’s a motivational record that says, “You know most of the time we’re the ones that stop ourselves from being everything we’re supposed to be. So you can’t stop me, and even I can’t stop me.”
DX: On Never Land, you have a song called “Paisano’s Wylin’.”What’s it like being seen as the white guy in Hip Hop or the white guy on Reach Records?
Andy Mineo: Most of the time people don’t think that I’m white, because I don’t have traditional Anglo, white features like blond hair and blue eyes. I have darker features; brown hair, brown eyes. And, you know, there are a million different cultures that you can be from with that—Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Spanish, everything.
So since I lived in Washington Heights, had a Hip Hop flavor and speak Spanish a little bit, most cats think that I’m Latino. I’ve even done interviews where people have said, “Man, I’m so glad we have we have somebody representing for us Latinos.” And I have to awkwardly wiggle my way out of that conversation.
I’m like, “Yeah, I have a lot of Latino friends, too.” I’m Sicilian. That’s where that song “Paisano’s Wylin’” comes from. Paisano is an Italian word for homey or friend. I think that whiteness or my Italian-ness has led me to have many different experiences in life and in Hip Hop. I think it offers something cool to the music because Sicilians aren’t really white, and they’re not really black. They kind of got their own culture.
We also know how much of an influence Italian culture has had on Hip Hop, especially in New York. Everybody idolizes the Italian mobster, the Italian gangster. A lot of the talk and the hand gestures come from the Sicilian mob movies and stuff like that. Let’s just put like this; I’m more gangster than anyone else in Hip Hop, just because of my bloodline [laughs].
How Andy Mineo Conceptualized “Sunday Morning Car Tunez 2”
DX: Other than that experience and perspective, has it been a factor in your music career?
Andy Mineo: I think people don’t expect much from a white rapper. When they hear my music and it’s really good, it also has a wow factor to it. For people to hear authentic Hip Hop from a white guy, I think it’s refreshing. There are a ton of good white rappers now, but being the underdog works in my favor.
DX: Talk about promoting Never Land with the Saturday Morning Car Tunez 2.
Andy Mineo: Yeah, at AndyMineo.com, we had Saturday Morning Car Tunez season 2. Saturday Morning Car Tunez is a show that documents the process of creating Never Land in webisode form.
Every week that passed, that Saturday morning at 10 am Eastern Time, we would release a new webisode leading up three Saturdays until the drop of Never Land on January 28, so the fans got an opportunity to still watch the creative process from top to bottom with me.
I did five days in a studio in Brooklyn with three producers, and I did another five days in Atlanta with three producers. A bunch of them are Grammy-winning producers, super-talented artists, musicians and writers. We all came together.
DX: What did you want fans to take away from Car Tunez 2?
Andy Mineo: I’m the guy who really likes to watch VH1 Behind The Music. I love watching shows like that because it’s the process, the behind the scenes and the lifestyle of the artist. I love giving my fans an inside look at what’s happening behind the music. Music is really all about authenticity, and I love letting the fans see that.
I’m also just a video guy at heart. I love producing, I love directing videos, and I love shooting videos. I love to create that experience for myself, so I know that the fans are going to love that experience, too. My music is all about creating memorable experiences for people that impacts their lives. If someone can watch me on video, they can go out to be inspired about whatever they are passionate about, too. I think the fans walk away with inspiration.
DX: How successful is that? Saturday Morning Car Tunez 2 was all the marketing you did for Never Land, right?
Andy Mineo: Yeah, that was pretty much all the marketing. Because it’s an EP, it doesn’t have the type of a budget that a full-blown album would. This was just supposed to be a holdover project until my next album. Heroes For Sale dropped in April of 2013. This drops in January, and now we’re pushing for January 2015 for a new album.
Why Andy Mineo Says He Offers A Perspective Of Grace
DX: Recently, you’ve been on MTV RapFix Live and Sway in the Morning. What were those experiences like for you?
Andy Mineo: They were amazing experiences for me. One, I grew up watching MTV and Rap shows. To finally be on one of those was a humbling experience. It reminded me just how far God has taken me and how far I’ve come along in Hip Hop from a spectator and a fan, to being inside the industry and having people check for my music; that’s just a crazy experience. To sit in on that show and rap for Sway and to impress him… Again that was a memory I will never forget.
DX: On both appearances, you did verses that weren’t on albums, right?
Andy Mineo: Yeah, those weren’t on albums, neither of those.
DX: Writing for an album’s one thing, but what’s it like writing when you know it will be a lot of people’s first time hearing you?
Andy Mineo: It’s a lot of pressure to write for those people—a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure because you want to always leave a good first impression. There’s so much music in Hip Hop right now. The industry’s so saturated that people have a million different options of what they want to listen to. If you don’t catch their attention on the first round, you’ll be hard-pressed to get another opportunity to impress them.
DX: You don’t fit into a box easily. It’s hard to categorize you as an emcee. What would you say is your place in Hip Hop?
Andy Mineo: I would say my place in Hip Hop is to offer another perspective outside of your traditional “money, hoes and clothes.” I really feel like Hip Hop’s been on that for so long, and it’s oversaturated. What I offer is definitely a perspective of grace. I offer the perspective of being in the hood and life that is definitely vital to the culture at this point.
How Andy Mineo Deals With His Lack Of Top 40 Radio Support
DX: What do you think needs to happen for your album to get more airplay?
Andy Mineo: The radio conversation is a complex one. There’s so much politics to the radio game. Because I don’t swear in my music or say provocative things, there are certain radio stations that would play it, but because it’s Hip Hop and Rap, it’s a little too racy for their formats. I don’t fit the format for some of those family friendly radio stations.
At the same time, I think in mainstream radio because of the format, it’s not racy enough. It’s kind of like I’m stuck in the middle. I’m too racy for non-Hip Hop stations and not racy enough for Hip Hop stations.
In addition to that, there’s the politics of the radio world. I think those two things combined are what has led to no radio play yet. And I say yet, because we’re hoping that it will happen sometime in the next few years.
DX: If that does happen, would it have to be a different format or people just saying, “We want something different?” What has to happen for that to change?
Andy Mineo: There would have to be a lot of relationships built with people in the radio world. There would have to be people taking a chance on our music. But, because of the movement we have is so strong already, I feel like people will be inclined to play the records.
It's kinda like when Macklemore started blowing up. He had a big following, and he had a lot of people checking for him. The radio wasn’t playing the records. The records ended up being spun, because right relationships were made on the radio side. And you know he was selling out tours and doing his thing!
DX: Anybody familiar with Andy Mineo knows you're a sneaker head. What's your favorite sneaker of all time?
Andy Mineo: That’s hard. I will tell you my top three shoes. The Cement 3s, the Concords 11s, and the He Got Game 15s. Those were the coveted sneakers growing up. I have not owned the Concord 11s or the 3s. I haven’t even owned those. Sneakers this year I really wanted were the Barkley Area 52 joints and the LeBron MVPs.
DX: Just to get real for a minute. On your album Heroes For Sale, there is a song called “Bitter.” It’s such a real song. Talk about the writing of “Bitter” and where that song came from.
Andy Mineo: That song came from a real place of hurt. I remember I had gone through an experience with a female where everything was great, and then she fell off the face of the planet. I felt really hurt and rejected by her. I sensed I was growing very bitter toward her.
I noticed that because it was affecting a lot of other things in my life. It was affecting my attitude, my outlook, and even what I thought about this person that I thought that I loved. So it was interesting to me how I could think that I loved somebody and almost in the course of a few weeks feel like I hated them.
And I knew I didn’t want to have hate in my heart toward anybody. I took to pen and I wrote that song in about 10 minutes. After that experience happened, I started to think about all the other people in my heart that I had hatred in my heart for. And my father was one of them. You’ll hear in the first verse me talking about my relationship. And in the second verse, you’ll hear me talking about how difficult it’s been to love him and forgive him.
“Bitter” doesn’t say, “Hey, I’m better than you. You shouldn’t be bitter. Get like me!” It really says, “I am bitter. I don’t want to be anymore, and I need God’s help to get through that.”
DX: You mentioned January 2015 for the newest project. What can fans expect?
Andy Mineo: They can expect some more mature content…some growing up as a person. I’m evolving as a person, and I’m going to have really fresh concepts to explore lyrically. I’m going to have I think a really interesting sound musically. I’m hoping to have a 2015 world takeover [laughs].