Artist Interview // MIKNNA On Their Breakout Year

Coming to the end of their first headlining tour, Mike B. and Ken Nana are still full of energy and ideas. The duo, united under the neon-lit name MIKNNA, has had a landmark year since dropping their debut album 50/50 (Side A) back in 2016. Since the release, Mike and Ken have embarked on a tour sprawling from their hometown of Los Angeles all the way to Stockholm and Berlin.

In between international flights, the two have carved out enough studio time to cook up “Mona Lisa,” “Cues,” and “MPH,” all of which received major attention following their release as singles. Industrious and dedicated, Mike and Ken haven’t looked back since their chance encounter on the street brought them together in the studio. From the outside, MIKNNA comes off streamlined and natural. However, the duo faced a massive uphill challenge growing MIKNNA from the ground up. At its core, Mike, Ken, and their group of friends and family behind the curtain have grafted since coming together to define what MIKNNA means to them and what it should mean to listeners.

I caught up with Mike and Ken before their show in Berkeley to chat about what the path leading up to their solo headlining tour, what they’ve learned since hitting the road, and where their group is headed:

“We linked up two years ago. I came out of work for a break and Ken was just skating down the street. The chances were so random, and at the moment we were like ‘we need to get into the studio and do some work ASAP.'”

Ken and Mike found an instant chemistry after hitting the studio together. Ken found in Mike the type of complimentary and consistent vocalist he had long been looking for. In Ken, Mike was able to link up with a versatile and experienced producer whose musical style just as capable as solo work as it used underneath Mike’s vocals.  The difference, however, between linking up for a few songs and committing to each other as a duo is huge. Mike and Ken had their work cut out for them cultivating the chemistry and balance that MIKNNA boasted on its debut album. Ken emphasizes the importance they put on cementing this chemistry before anything else.

“Before we started making music we sat down and had a long conversation about our styles, our backgrounds, and what pushes us to make music. We really took that time to get to know each other and feel it out to find that balance.”

The time and work put into crafting MIKNNA shows through. As a group, they have an incredibly salient conceptual drive. From the music to videos to press photos, MIKNNA is a shadowy, neon-lit fusion of classic R&B and neo/electro-soul aesthetics. Outside of the group, Mike and Ken work with their team to create their collective Nana Lifestyle, another conceptually driven creative brand born out of the coming together of minds from different backgrounds and influences. As Ken describes, “the whole package” is evidently important to the entire team. Mike places a similar importance on connecting the minutiae of their work to the broader elements.

“A lot of it comes down to our taste level and what we want to do aesthetically and sonically—it all needs to be complimentary or it doesn’t work.”

The balance between Mike and Ken has racked them up millions of listens on leading singles such as “Trinity Ave” and “302,” as well as over half a million streams on their most recent release, “MPH.”  With the numbers to back them, Mike and Ken took the next step in translating their studio chops to the stage on their tour.

“You really have to be on your game all the time. There’s no lower gear you can be in when you’re performing, but it’s a challenge that helps to motivate. Really we just try to take it one day at a time. Work as a team trying to think about how we can just elevate and move forward. That’s the fun part! Figuring it out.”

On the stage in Berkeley, MIKNNA look as comfortable as anyone. Ken, vibing and stationary at his drum pad and mixer cuts a distinct silhouette opposite Mike, who bounces around the stage with verve and enthusiasm. Playing through 50/50 (Side A), MIKNNA boast the same intimacy live that their studio work benefits from. The duo make it a point to engage the audience, creating an atmosphere that buoyed and was buoyed by the performance. Mike and Ken are up on stage to enjoy themselves and their music over anything else. At one point even taking and audience request to play “Mona Lisa,” they both came off relaxed and positive, relishing the moment and how far they had come. With shows on November 29 and 30 in LA and San Diego respectively, MIKNNA look to finish off 2017 and their tour strongly.

“What’s next? Just working to finish up the next project and a lot of new music. Think of it like an evolution of everything that we’ve gone through over the last year, building and working out the kinks. And hopefully we can keep up with our consistency. We’ve been grinding, but consistency keeps us all on the same page so everything can keep moving. We’re excited.”

Coyly describing the upcoming project, Mike and Ken can’t seem to stay away from the word “fun.” Mike characterizes their work as a “sonic vacation.” At their most simple, the musicians behind MIKNNA are music fans. Their technique and style helped them cultivate a unique and eye-catching sound, but it’s also an entertaining endeavor for two super musicians. Evolution, coalescence, fusion—however you characterize MIKNNA, what is undeniable is the pure enjoyment that drives the group. From top to bottom, the MIKNNA team’s appreciation for and ability in their trade is evident on stage or over headphones.

2018 looks set to be a big year for MIKNNA. Before then, catch MIKNNA’s closing shows in Los Angeles and San Diego here, and revisit 50/50 (Side A) below.

Stefan Ponce Picks Up Speed Ahead Of Upcoming Album

Whether or not they are aware, most people have heard Stefan Ponce‘s prolific influence as a producer and composer within the last few years. As a Grammy-nominated collaborator with fellow Chicagoans Vic Mensa, BBU, and Chance the Rapper, Ponce has also added his touch on releases by Logic and Childish Gambino over the last four years alone. Stefan’s understated musical nous has allowed other artists to flourish with his aid. Now, the Chicagoan finally steps into the spotlight in preparation for his debut studio album releasing two star-studded tracks that promise only good things for The Boy Who Fell From Earth

Ponce’s first release hit the internet back at the tail end of August. “Super Star,” a bouncy and vibe heavy joint to close out the summer season featured theMINDJulian BellMicah Freeman, and KYLE. “Super Star” is a testament to three things. First, the groovy track shows Ponce’s potential to be a key member of the new school funk revival. Second, “Super Star” demonstrates not only Ponce’s connections in the music industry, but also warrants the respect he commands given his ability recruit and connect the right personnel for the benefit of the song. Finally, Stefan showcases the dimension to his trade, piecing together themes of love, infatuation, and idealism in a coherent and catchy single.

Early October saw Ponce’s most recent release, “For A Girl,” featuring Rejjie SnowMoxie Raia, and the returning Julian Bell. “For A Girl” is more withdrawn than “Super Star,” and spanning give and take between the four. Building buzz for The Boy Who Fell From Earth, “For A Girl” revisits themes of love and self-discovery. Ponce described the process by which the song came to life as more hands off, with Rejjie Snow bringing many of the threads to the forefront.

While there is still no firm deadline for The Boy Who Fell From Earth, it can be expected within the coming few months. Don’t sleep on what could be a potential classic.

Little Simz Hops On Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s “Bombo Fabrika” Remix

A collaboration that few saw coming but all will relish, London’s Little Simz and Brooklyn’s Gabriel Garzón-Montano linked up on a remix of “Bombo Fabrika,” originally a centerpiece of Montano’s 2017 Jardín. An eclectic pair, Gabriel and Simbi linked up at a festival in Japan and began to cook up the collaboration. With styles that many wouldn’t put together right away, the two fit seamlessly with Simz adding her verve to the dazed instrumental that Montano cooked up.

Per Stones Throw Records, Montano and Simz were blown away by each other after both headlining at Taicoclub 2017. The two are as similar as they are dissimilar. Their quality in the studio is matched by a commanding stage presence and incredible live chops. Both boast a masterful musical IQ that speaks through their projects in different ways. Garzón’s work is immaculate and poised, created with a succinct simplicity that is implicit of his innate understanding of music composition. In comparison, Simz’s strength is her lyrical dexterity. She knows her way around instrumentals as well as any other MC, which allows her to incorporate herself into the track uniquely, and create the raw sound that made projects like Stillness in Wonderland so popular.

The combination of Simz and Montano on the track is potent. The swelling instrumental builds around Simz, who adds her own voice to the background at the end of her first verse. Simbi brings the heat she has become known for, gleefully creating complex lyrical schemes to the subtle rework of “Bombo Fabrika.” The duo merge their voices into one at the tail end, layering Simz’s “ain’t so pretty as it seems” refrain over Montano’s original vocals. The two combine in a way that few other artists can; whether it is due to their stylistic similarities or differences, the raw art of the piece cannot be understated.

The rare quality of the collaboration would could trick listeners into believing the duo have worked extensively with each other in the past. We can only hope that, as Montano promises, he and Simz aren’t done working together. Tune in to the “Bombo Fabrika” remix below.

Watch Jaden Smith’s Stylish Trailer For New Album

Jaden Smith continues to blossom at the tender age of 19. Already tested musically with the release of This Is The Album, the young artist has tried his hand in modeling, design, acting, television production, and entrepreneurship, seemingly going from strength to strength. Following the recent releases of singles “Batman” and “Watch Me,” Jaden and Ezra Koenig’s Netflix original Neo Yokio hit platforms, proving to be a surprisingly self-aware and tongue-in-cheek series that already has the shape of a cult classic. Back on the musical side of life, Smith recently dropped off a six-minute preview for his upcoming album, Syre, a vignette-style trailer that reads about as stylish as the man himself.

The trailer previews songs including “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” “Icon,” and “George Jefferson,” presenting an interesting spectrum of bop-heavy tracks, melodic musings, and introspective pieces. “Fallen,” released just under a year ago, will feature on Syre and features a noteworthy Kid Cudi cosign. “Batman” and “Watch Me” also appear on the tracklist. Three attention-grabbing tracks, these singles will bracket Jaden’s new work.

A short three weeks out from the release date, the album looks to be a comprehensive and self-analytical offering a la Tyler, The Creator’s Scum Fuck, Flower Boy, on which Jaden featured, delivering an underrated hook on “Pothole.” Two of the most young creative forces around at the moment, Jaden and Tyler among the best when it comes to bringing concept to life; the exchange of ideas and continued collaboration between the two bodes well for Jaden’s album just as it did for Tyler’s.

Knowing the middle Smith child, the project will be fiercely Jaden Smith. He has successfully shaken off the shackles of “Will Smith’s son” and continues to grow into his larger-than-life persona.

Stream the trailer for Syre below and look out for the full album on November 17.

Chuck II Drops Off “Murder Scene”

Chuck II continues to slowly but surely add his voice to a Bay Area music scene that is dripping with talent. While this influx of exciting artists means only good things for the future, it has created healthy competition to reach airwaves. Many fail to set themselves apart. Deuce is not one of them. Since his smash hit “Wass Hannin‘” dropped, Chuck’s voice and style has racked him thousands of listeners on Soundcloud alone. His latest release, “Murder Scene,” proves that he has more to offer listeners beyond what he brought on “Was Hannin’.”

“Murder Scene” features hard hitting production from No Luck, which hints back to the classic hyphy vibes that Deuce connected with on “Wass Hannin.'” Chuck thrives on his ability to bring his relaxed, new school flows over more nostalgic instrumentals without losing any punch in his bars. “Murder Scene” sets a pace from the start, knocking heavy up to the bridge that Chuck delivers with a composed determination and confidence. Linking up with W&V, Deuce described how he tries to lay himself out on in his bars.

“I started letting words out and it turned into me simultaneously flaunting and accepting my ego with the bravado of mob boss.”

The role that “Murder Scene” plays in a greater context will be fleshed out more when Chuck drops his full album. For now, sit back and bounce with Chuck’s laid back swagger that belies his young career.

IDK’s ‘IWASVERYBAD’ Exceeds The Hype

IDK recently culminated years of stellar mixtapes with his first major studio album, IWASVERYBAD. Never one to sugarcoat his story, IDK uses the album to reveal even more about himself than ever before. Backed by Adult Swim, the rapper finally had the support and resources to fully integrate the highly conceptual audio-visual experience he has incorporated into all of his projects. IDK’s talent on the mic and as a crafter of narrative is bolstered by an all-star supporting cast of DoomYung GleeshChief KeefSwizz Beatz, and more. The execution is immaculate. From his “episodic” releases of songs to the very content of the album, IWASVERYBAD is a reflection of the immense talent that is IDK.

IDK opens the album with “Mrs. Lynch, Your Son Is The Devil,” a self-analytic joint that opens with phone calls to his mother from teachers, community leaders, and police officers warning her that her son is a menace to society. The song follows suit, with IDK putting himself, his actions, and his drives in the spotlight. This type of gritty, stripped down tone is what drew listeners to IDK on his previous projects Subtrap and The Empty Bank, projects on which Jay turned his critical eye on the state of society, hip hop, and more. On IWASVERYBAD, it’s his turn on under the microscope. IDK raps “I’m trying to right my wrongs, but I’m sorry the same wrongs helped me write these songs.” This complex perspective is central to IDK’s message, which he took to social media to explain in more depth.

“Most people lie about their past or make up stories to look like someone they ain’t…this story is the truth. The good the bad and the in between. From the dumb s**t I did trying to be cool and even the way I treated women including my own mom. This is the soundtrack to my life and what makes me who I am today. I hope you can feel this shit the way I did.”

IDK dives right back into this with “Pizza Shop Extended,” the story of his forays into gang life as told by himself, Doom, Yung Gleesh, and Del the Funky Homosapien. Yet another track where IDK pulls no punches, “Pizza Shop” examines why Jay took the path he did, his choices, regrets, and what he continues to learn from the experience. The overwhelming realism of the track is in no means a glorification of the violence – rather, IDK presents the facts as they are, not excusing himself but not turning a blind eye either.

This is the a driving theme of the album. Put best by the man himself, IWASVERYBAD is “soundtrack to my life and what makes me who I am today.” IDK writes himself into the album, which is as strong overall as it is song to song. As introspective and conceptually impressive as the album is, it’s also full of bangers top to bottom. IDK enlists Chief Keef on “17 Wit a 38,” but also shows he can do it by himself tracks like “Windows Up,” and the groovy hit “Birds & the Bees.” IDK is a master of variety. Each track on the album feels like it has its own purpose, as well as a function within the larger context of the album. The result is an incredibly cohesive album that is also noteworthy on the individual level as well.

IDK goes crazy on IWASVERYBAD. The album is an reintroduction to a rapper we thought we already knew and the quintessential example of how to bring a concept in to reality. Tune in on Spotify below.

Caleborate Lays Himself Bare On “Real Person”

Berkeley’s favorite son Caleborate has worked hard to put the city on over the last few years, dropping projects such as Hella Good and 1993 showcasing his ability on the mic and paying homage to his roots and supporters. Both projects looked toward the future as Caleb continues to build himself and grow into the Bay music scene overflowing with talent.

Caleborate’s latest release, Real Person, is a major departure from the previous two projects. Where Hella Good and 1993 offered hints of Caleb’s ability to wax introspective, Real Person is a project completely centered around authenticity and candor. His ability to lay himself bare over the track does not come at the cost of any content and results in his most comprehensive project to date.

Real Person sheds the ornaments that adorn the current wave of hip-hop. The project carries few features apart from 1-O.A.K.Donte Thomas, and MVCK, as well as guest vocals from Alexis Angulo. The instrumentals are laid back and cohesive, dropping multiple vocals layers and samples in favor of a more simplistic approach. It works. Real Person focuses on the essentials of production and songwriting, allowing Caleborate’s voice to reverberate throughout.

This would not be possible without the quality Caleb brings to his bars. He pens a eulogy for himself over fantastic production from names such as Lege Kale, Ian McKee, Willem ArduiDrew Banga, and a few others. Caleborate’s familiarity with his producers is another driving force of the project. Their ability to translate their visions into reality sustain what would be a daunting concept in others’ hands.

Caleborate talks living, legacy, mental state, drive, ambition and more on the project, even tackling the complexities of current politics on “Down.” Caleborate fleshes out the roots of his ambitions and traces his trajectory all the way back to his parent’s divorce on the standout track “Wanna Be.” His phenomenal singles “Soul” and “Bankrobber” also make an appearance on the project.

Real Person is a story of life, obstacles, anxieties and dreams. The multiplicity of topics that Caleb tackles over the course of the 10-track album coalesce into one concept: the real person. Caleborate strips himself down to create music on a human level that reflects the humility that has endeared him to so many fans.

Caleborate continues to push forward, already releasing visual content and hosting listening parties to celebrate the new project. Let him take you away with Real Person on SoundCloud below.

 

 

Don Mykel Proves Himself On New Album ‘Infinite’

Don Mykel has been exciting listeners this year with an series of stellar singles. “Return of the Don,” “N.W.O.”, and “Hell On Earth” showcased the young rapper’s abilities on the mic. Though Mykel’s most outstanding talent is as a lyricist, past his creative lyrical ability, the Don seems to be able to change his delivery and inflections at will, creating a streamlined and relentless flow over more traditional, conservative instrumentals. Mykel’s pen game cannot be ignored, and really pushes his tracks to the heights they reach. However, it is not just his lyrical ability that takes him to the next level, but a broad skill set that pushes his music through the roof. Infinite is a test of Mykel’s ability to tune into this skill set and create a comprehensive set of tracks.

Mykel passed the test with flying colors. Featuring “N.W.O.” and “Hell on Earth,” Infinite is an entirely different entity to the singles, and gives them a new meaning within the context of the album.

The lyrical overload that Don Mykel has cemented as his calling card is balanced out by more paced, thoughtful tracks. Infinite‘s lead track, “Notorious,” previews what listeners can expect from the album as a whole. With a more outspoken instrumental than he normally employs, Mykel bounces around the track with his typical energy. He deftly switches his direction on the track, slowing down and altering his deliveries before picking the pace mack up to close it off. The ability to grow with and in the beat is a distinct strength of the Don’s. He is the type of dynamic rapper that can cope with a dynamic beat, such as “Notorious.” In this way, Mykel creates a kind of call and response within his tracks, bouncing off of the instrumentals and even himself at times.

The album continues with same ferocity it started with. Mykel is relentless over the track; even his slower bars pack a major punch. Infinite proves a lot about Mykel. Many rappers stylistically similar to Mykel struggle to create a a consistently strong album. Raw talent goes only so far; it can sustain singles but supporting an entire album is a different animal. On Infinite, the Don demonstrates an impressive ability to balance his tracks against each other. The “Levy Grey Interlude” divides the album in half, splitting the tracks into two succinct sections that function both separately together.

With Infinite under his belt, Don Mykel can take the confidence the project will give him and continue proving himself one of Harlem’s most exciting young voices. Keep tabs on him and what he has to offer moving forward from Infinite.

Stream the full project below.

MIKNNA Continue Funk Revival With “MPH”

W&V sweethearts MIKNNA are back with another outstanding single. Since dropping their debut “50/50 (Side A),” the enterprising duo have set off on a traversing national tour. Despite a strenuous tour schedule, MIKNNA have still managed to push out three huge singles including “Mona Lisa,” “Cues,” and their latest, “MPH.”

All three singles have received the overwhelming support and attention they deserve. Since forming and dropping “Trinity Ave” together just over a year ago, Mike B and Ken Nana have held themselves to a level of quality unprecedented of such a relatively young group. While MIKNNA as a group are just beginning their career side by side, Mike and Ken benefit from a long history of working together, both professionally and personally. With styles that one wouldn’t initially put together, MIKNNA is a union that few could have predicted, but that continues to impress.

Mike B has proved himself repeatedly capable of handling the R&B funk tone that Nana’s production invites. His strength lies in this flexibility.  “MPH”  is yet another example of Mike’s control over his own voice. From the loose melodies he covers the track with, Mike deftly switches gear and cruises into an uptempo delivery with the ease of the Camaro pictured in the track’s artwork.

Ken Nana brings his own steez to the track just as easily as Mike. His instrumentals speak out in the track in a way that exceeds standard production. The bright synth and guitar lines are as much part of the song as the vocals. MIKNNA is a duo that relies on balance, and the two artists never seem to lose equilibrium.

MIKNNA continue to drop hit after hit. When their tour wraps at the end of the month hopefully there will be more new stuff to come. Until then, vibe out with “MPH” on soundcloud below.

Don Mykel Drops New Single Ahead of EP

Harlem’s bar-heavy lyricist Don Mykel continues to boost interest in his upcoming EP with banger after banger. Infinite is set to drop September 8th, but the Don has had our attention for a few months now. Mykel’s “Return of the Don” and “N.W.O” singles have cemented his voice as one of the most exciting in the already competitive New York scene. Now imminently approaching the release of what could be a huge album for him, Mykel seems more focused than ever.

“Hell On Earth” is something of a departure from what Mykel has shown recently. His lyrical avalanche remains, but gone is the relentless punching style that he brought on “Return of the Don” and “N.W.O.” Instead, he opts for a more calculated and melodic approach, swinging from bar to bar. “Hell On Earth” is the shortest of the three singles and comes off as a much more deliberate track than other two.

All the tracks that we have heard from the Don, however, benefit from his undeniable lyrical ability. Mykel’s game lies not just in his word choice and delivery, but also in his dexterity and ability to shift his emphasis to fit the bar. Where “Hell On Earth” differs from the previous two singles in tone and style, the techniques remain uniquely similar.

To call Don Mykel’s talent raw seems a bit of a disservice to the MC. Mykel combines a mean pen game with a distinctive voice and delivery into a style that feels raw, but is also very precise. We look forward to hearing more from the young artist.

Stream “Hell On Earth” on SoundCloud below and pre-order Infinite here.