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.

P-Lo Parties With The Bay In Tour Closer

Touring on the heels of his latest album More Than Anything, Bay Area native P-Lo returned victoriously to San Francisco to play a final show in front of a hometown crowd at the Regency Ballroom. Joined by fellow Bay Area artists Pluto Mars and Rexx Life Raj, P-Lo brought his music home, delivering song after song to a deafening and energetic crowd. The show was a testament to three things: P-Lo’s growth as an artist and performer, his authenticity, and the powerful love that shines between P-Lo and his Bay Area fans.

A founder of the HBK Gang with Iamsu!, P-Lo has always involved his contemporaries in his music wherever and whenever he can. His unique, consistent, and quality level of production has seen him produce for and collaborate with countless other artists in and outside of the Bay. As a result, P-Lo has garnered a distinct level of recognition and respect that was evident at the show. Speaking in a short interlude during his set, Rexx Life Raj, himself a Bay Area centerpiece, had nothing but praise for P-Lo:

You meet a lot of people in the music industry. P-Lo is one of the most genuine and talented people I’ve met. That’s why I fuck with him.

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.11.20 PM
P-Lo and Rexx Life Raj link up to perform together at the Regency Ballroom, SF.

His fans seemed to agree. Even before P-Lo had touched the stage, his name had been chanted countless times. Entering to deafening cheers and with his all too familiar tag echoing around the Regency, P-Lo dove straight into his More Than Anything lead track, “The One.”

Playing through his new album, P-Lo took time to bring out some oldies to pay service to his fans. Rexx Life Raj emerged again to join him on the Cal-A track “Real One.” Performing just some days after the late Mac Dre’s birthday, P-Lo paused the show to pay tribute to the Bay legend—in his words, an “inspiration”—taking a moment to wild out with the crowd on “Feelin’ Myself.”

Moments like these encapsulate P-Lo’s image as an artist. Grounded, talented, and entertaining, P-Lo has never let his accomplishments eclipse his origins. He is a leading figure in the resurgent Bay Area movement, which he admits “for a second… was pretty dead.” Yet, he is always ready to shine the spotlight on others, whether it is bringing up young artists like Pluto Mars or standing back and letting Rexx Life Raj do his thing.

The concert wrapped after just under an hour and several layers of clothing later with P-Lo playing his smash hit “Put Me On Something”—twice. Fellow HBK man Kool John made an appearance on stage to wild out during the song; no one seemed to want to miss out on partying with each other in the atmosphere that P-Lo and company had created.

P-Lo has been essential to the new Bay scene that so many are enjoying now. As a performer, he is experienced, energetic, and enthusiastic. As a person, he’s just another music fan who loves to have fun with his crew. Friday night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, P-Lo made countless new friends and went dumb with them all.

Revisit our piece on More Than Anything and stream the album below. Make sure to catch a P-Lo concert as soon as you can.

Show Recap // Stööki Sound at Bassmnt San Diego

London’s own Stööki Sound continues to impress with their stream of originals and remixes, most recently with their Ösiris EP. The duo comprised of Jelacee and DJ Lukey blend aptly swift raps with in-your-face production, making for a deadly combo not to be taken lightly.

Last month, Stööki Sound swung by Bassmnt to open for the legendary bass-head Bauuer. Jelacee and DJ Lukey brought their unparalleled energy to the stage, piecing together elements of hip-hop and electronic with their grime-heavy sound. Needless to say, it was a night to remember and we hope to have them back in SoCal soon!

Check out a few photos from the event below, courtesy of @jennicamaephoto.

Stooki_Bassmnt_@jennicamaephoto_JennicaAbrams2016-3.JPG

Stooki_Bassmnt_@jennicamaephoto_JennicaAbrams2016-52.JPG

Show Recap // Hide & Go Freak December 2016

[All photos by Mikey Avila]

Topping off a fleshed out year of performances from the likes of ROM, Deffie, and Gravez, as well as local talents including AbJoSemaj, and PRVDNT, Hide & Go Freak returned earlier this month with a bang. From San Diego’s own Don BLu, Coastal, and JR Jarris to Brooklyn’s finest Tha Yellow R Kel, the night was filled with good energy and top-notch sound selection.

We’re excited to watch H&GF continue to grow in the coming months as one of San Diego’s leading monthly events, with plans to venture out along the West Coast. Stay tuned for more details on January’s H&GF and peep the photo/video recap from Mikey Avila below.

dsc02826
Don B
dsc02952
Tha Yellow R Kel & Lu
dsc03067
Coastal
dsc03263
JR Jarris

Show Recap // Relive Trapo’s Shade Trees Live in Brooklyn

On December 5th, Wisconsin’s Trapo came to Brooklyn’s Rough Trade to perform his recently released Shade Trees. Trapo commanded the stage during the more rap centric tracks “Riot” and “Stop Me,” bounced through the more soulful “Oceans” and slowed it down for tracks like  “Love Is…” and “Meeting Mariah.”  The 18 year-old confidently showed off his versatility as if he’s been doing this for years.

image

After finishing Shade Trees, Trapo wrapped his set up with “She Moved On” and “Chicago” from his SHE EP, which dropped earlier this year.

View the rest of the photos here and follow me on Instagram for more.

Show Recap // Hide & Go Freak October 2016

[All photos by Mikey Avila]

Over the past summer, local DJ and producer JR Jarris has continued to grow Hide & Go Freak. His event takes place on the second Friday of each month at The Hideout and has featured local talents AbJoLuPRVDNT, and Semaj, as well as LakimJoe KayROM, and Deffie.

I recently had the great pleasure of indulging in plenty of Pharell classics and summertime anthems at the October edition of H&GF. Check out a few photos from the night below, courtesy of local photographer Mikey Avila.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

JR opened the night with a few throwbacks before handing the stage to Vii, who came through with “Norf Norf” and Coastal‘s edit of the NxWorries hit, “Suede.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Returning for his second performance at H&GF, Deffie delivered a high-energy set.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

OriJanus, who JR named as one of his favorite producers, kept the momentum going throughout the night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, Huh What and Where producer Gravez and JR closed the night with their edits and originals. H&GF is one of leading showcases allowing the music and creative scene in San Diego to continue to grow—we can’t wait to see who’ll be at the next one!

Be sure to catch JR performing at the House of Blues Block Party on October 29 and stay tuned for info on the next H&GF.

Show Recap // Danny Brown, Maxo Kream & Zelooperz

With Atrocity Exhibition dropping next week, Danny Brown has embarked on The Exhibition tour. On September 17th, the Detroit native brought the experience to Clifton Park, New York with Maxo Kream and Zelooperz.

image

Fellow Detroit rapper and Bruiser Brigade member Zelooperz opened the show. He spent about half of his high-energy set in the crowd, performing songs like “Elevators” and “ISBD.”

image

Houston rapper Maxo Kream took the stage to fans chanting his name and opened his set with “Thirteen,” the opening track from his 2015 mixtape, Maxo 187. From the moment he stepped foot on the stage to the very end, Maxo never slowed down his energy, aside from taking a minute to smoke a blunt from a fan.

image

Danny Brown kicked off his set with songs from his XXX mixtape before moving into the more high energy bangers from his 2013 album Old, including “Handstand” and “Smokin & Drinkin.” Brown concluded the night with a few songs from Atrocity Exhibition, including singles “When it Rain” and “Pneumonia.”

The North American tour continues throughout November, so be sure to check it out when it hits your city! Grab your pre-order of Atrocity Exhibition via iTunes, due September 30.

Peep the full photo album here, and check out more of my photos on Twitter and Instagram.

image

 

Show Recap // Post Malone, Jazz Cartier & Larry June at The Observatory North Park

Earlier this week, Post Malone kicked off The Hollywood Dreams tour at the Observatory North Park in San Diego. Along for the ride are FKi 1stLarry June and Jazz Cartier, who each held their own throughout the show.

larry-june-001
(Left to Right) Kawasaki, P-Lo, Larry June

After 1st hyped up the crowd with a few summer singles, Larry started the night with his DJ, Kawasaki. Running through his discography and often hopping into the crowd to share his energy, the duo made sure the Bay was well represented with Larry’s signature “Yee hee!” and “Good job, Larry!” adlibs. HBK’s own P-Lo was also in the building, taking the stage towards the end of his set.

jazz-cartier-002
4th Pyramid (Left), Jazz Cartier (Right)

Next up was W&V alumni Jazz Cartier, backed by his DJ 4th Pyramid. Bringing to life tracks from his most recent project, Hotel Paranoia, alongside recent singles “Just In Case” and “Lil Wayne,” the Prince of Toronto captivated the audience with ease. Jacuzzi’s remarkable stage presence carried throughout his first performance in San Diego, topped off with his signature blend crowd surfing/walking to “Dead Or Alive.”

post-malone-001
Post Malone (Left), Fki 1st (Right)

To finish off the night, Post Malone took the stage with a teaser of “White Iverson,” segueing into to crowd favorites “Too Young” and “Go Flex.” Posty filled his set with several tracks from his August 26 mixtape before bringing Larry back on-stage to perform their “Never Understand” collab. With the crowd singing every word, the positive spirit kicked off his first official headlining tour in style.

Show Recap // Alex Wiley at Knitting Factory Brooklyn

[Written and photos by Patrick Duncan]

On August 4th, 2016, Chicago native Alex Wiley brought his self-dubbed “Lamborghini butter sauce flow” to Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory. Wiley’s set primarily featured songs from his most recent mixtape, Tangerine Dream, with the occasional fan favorite thrown in the mix.

alex-wiley-003

Wiley opened his set with the high energy banger “Red Pill” and quickly went on to the smoother cuts like “Untitled 3” and “Games,” showing his versatility. Wiley took a quick break to move back to his DJ Burnin Giraph to play a some synths to set up his most popular song, “Vibrations.”

alex-wiley-002

He continued on with his newer songs, playing “Fire” and “INEEDTHAT,” as the heavy echoed vocals carried the melodies the diverse artist layers onto his tracks. Before performing his closing song “Heaven’s Gate,” Wiley announced that he is currently trying to work out a tour with fellow Chicago artists Kembe X and Supa Bwe.

alex-wiley-001

Check out the full set of photos here, and follow Patrick on Twitter and Instagram.

Show Recap // Pigeons & Planes No Ceilings July 22

[Written and photos by Patrick Duncan, additional writing by Andy Tran]

On July 22nd, 2016, Pigeons and Planes along with Staple Pigeon brought their No Ceilings showcase back to New York at Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right. The line up featured Khary, Trapo, Jimi Tents and Kamaiyah.

no ceilings

Brooklyn-based Khary, who has recently garnered lots of attention from his Intern Aquarium mixtape, opened the show. The self-proclaimed Captain Yellow Coat brought his bouncy songs to life by frequently jumping into the crowd to dance with fans and to pick up the energy, making the already smaller venue that much more intimate. He continued to keep the crowd involved instructing them to sing the lines “she said she was down for that” for his spin on a love song, “2AM Thirst Ballad.”

no ceilings-10

“My name is Khary. I think I’m a rapper,” he often joked between songs. His banter felt like short stand up comedy bits. Khary wrapped up his set amongst fans in the crowd and quickly stated how he had to go to work and couldn’t hang out for much longer. It still didn’t stop him from talking to fans and taking pictures on his way out.

no ceilings-31

Up next was Madison, Wisconsin’s Trapo, who’s captured attention with his wonderful mix of neo-soul and rap. This was his first time playing in New York, but the confidence and energy he brought to the stage made it feel like he’s done it hundreds of times. The wunderkind performed a powerful acapella version of his song “Tree,” alongside his more soulful tracks like “Chicago” and “She Moved On.”

no ceilings-32

Trapo also performed some tracks from his upcoming album Shade Trees, which if the songs are any indication, should be incredible and really propel him to the star he’s quickly becoming.

no ceilings-50

Fresh off tour with Justin Bieber, Brooklyn’s own Jimi Tents quickly commanded the stage. From the moment he started to the second he stopped, Tents did not let the energy come down, bringing out friends and fellow rappers Jay IDK and Justin Rose to raise it even higher.

no ceilings-48

Tents also performed a powerful new song, which touched on police brutality and the perception of black youth and culture as a whole. He ended his set on a high note with the anthem “Landslide”. As the entire crowd sang the chorus right back at him, you could feel how genuine and positive the up and comer was.

kamaiyah-001.jpg

To close out the night, Oakland’s own Kamaiyah took the stage. The blossoming star recently grabbed the attention of the industry with her breakout mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto, and was all smiles at her first sold-out headlining show in NYC. You might recognize her from her viral hit with YG and Drake, “Why You Always Hatin?,” which was featured on Still Brazy. Needless to say, Pigeons & Planes’ latest No Ceilings event was a major success.

Check out the full set of photos here, and follow Patrick on Twitter and Instagram.