Posted by: Addison – Aug 10, 2012
There’s a certain pride to calling a place home. It’s more than just the people you’ve met, or knowing the best spot to get fried oysters, or even those unique stories that come with a typical Friday night. Home caries a certain unspoken love. It’s the place where we’ve seen the good and the bad. The places we hang out and the people we spend time with become an integral part not just of our schedule, but our happiness. It gives an energy to the stories we share, with every chapter depicting a part of who we’ve been and who we’ll become.
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Michael Millions is a person that reminds us why we call Richmond our home. Born and raised in the capital city, Michael’s stories depict the reasons his hometown is a special place. He can recall a time when the Broad Street that hosted a riot over a basketball game just a year ago was once ridden with abandoned warehouses and crack addicts. Michael can remember the first time he tried to roll a joint out of phonebook paper, after a neighbor on Southside gave him a Golden Grahams box full of the potent. It’s not just the content of his stories that make them special; Michael has a rare eye for intricate detail, allowing him to create perfect descriptions.
As a lyricist, Michael lays down his words with precision, staying authentic to the music at hand. In his years spent at the now-defunct Donland Studio off of Grace Street, he sometimes took hours just to perfect one line. After years of trials and tribulations with labels, Michael has recently decided to take the independent route and let his creativity roam freely. His most recent release, Michael, features the perfect combination of soulful beats and passionate lyrics, relaying the feeling that you’re in the presence of a polished artist. Michael Millions is ready to explain to the world why he calls Richmond home.
Tell me a little bit about how music became your main career.
I went to Norfolk State. I lived that student life for a while... I was a Mass Comm major: Journalism and Broadcast. I was into photography, video, and broadcast radio. I didn’t want to pursue the radio portion, but I liked the film. I was always doing music. During that time, I was also in one of the biggest studios out here. Right beside Strange Matter, there’s that parking lot, then the next building, The Brownstone. We had owned the top two floors. We were there for four or five years.
What happened with that?
It’s a story I could probably write better in a book. Management, fuckery, you know what I mean? So, we fizzled that label. That’s when I went independent. At the time, it was one of the biggest independent labels in Richmond. Once we dissolved that situation, all the artist went indie, probably around the end of ‘09. But that’s when I released my first tape, Ashes and Samples. I dropped that [on] 4/20/2010.
What were some of your projects that came out of that studio?
Actually, none of the material that I worked on in that studio was released. I learned a lot from that though, and I still remain semi-relevant in that community. But like I said, once when I went indie, that’s when things really took off. I don’t have to wait for them to tell me they’re not releasing my shit. Now, if I’m done with a project, I’m putting it out and letting Richmond have it.
How did you feel about working with The SHHO on the release of Michael?
To have The SHHO back you, for an artist here [in Richmond], is a rite of passage. That’s how influential they’ve become. They needed the project done in two weeks in order to really push it. So the first week I bullshited, [then the] second week, I went out in the studio and did it all. We put it together, put the package together, and handed it over. The cover is The Tortoise and The Snake (The Black Tortoise, aka Xuan Wu). It’s a Chinese symbol. It represents longevity. Their creative director actually picked it. [He] felt that when he was listening to the music, it was what fit. It was dope, because we had worked on several different covers. We were like, “Damn, this isn’t it, this isn’t it.” Finally, we were like, “This is the mind fuck right here.” It’s like, coke on the table, and the imprint of the tortoise and the snake. It just had multiple meanings.
How would you describe the musical aspect of the project?
It’s cold weather, vicious music. It’s Hip-Hop, it’s everything. But then, you have to step back and realize this is a kid from Richmond. An artist from Virginia shouldn’t rap like this.
Why do you say that with artists like Clipse, Timbaland, etc. being from here?
Well, it’s just the industry’s perception of Virginia being a Southern state and they think that should reflect our music. They don’t understand that we really fall more under the scope of East Coast.
I think the thing that separates Virginia from other states is our lack of a central city the state is based around. But I guess you could say Richmond is attempting to become that.
I think it was the central city at one point. But musically, it could be. Like you said, there are a lot of dope artists here, a lot of dope artists emerging here, but were almost in the middle of nowhere. We don’t have a really big scene. We don’t have a beat, we just have the government and Civil War shit. So, there’s no real reason for the outside people [to] come in, but when they do through school and things like that, they never leave. It’s diverse, and it’s changing a lot. In 2000, you would have never hung out on Broad Street. When I was younger, as a kid, that’s where we used to see all the older hustlers. The shit we used to write raps about then [took] place there. A lot of the people that live there now don’t even realize it used to be like that. It used to be crazy. People used to die on the regular and now it’s really chill.
Do you like the change the city/VCU has imposed?
Oh yeah. There was a point when I graduated High School that I didn’t know if I would ever come back to Richmond. I didn’t think I was going to be able to live here, but it changed, and I love the fact that VCU has taken over.
Really? A lot of Richmond natives don’t really like VCU’s presence.
They want it the way it used to be. There’s a lot of history here, they want to preserve the old. But like, fuck that past. You know, where black people and white people couldn’t sit down together, they want to preserve that old-ass history. That’s not historic. My daughter is in school, and I’m like, “What’s the point in even teaching kids that now?” We should teach them something else. It’s not important anymore. I understand why they do it, but if you get rid of it and remove it, you don’t have to talk about it. And if you don’t talk about something, it can die. We don’t need to remember that history; it’s what keeps from building the city up. That’s why I like VCU--they want to rebuild that history. They want us to remember things like going to the Final Four.
You were coming up in an era when Richmond hip-hop was all Southern Crunk music. Talk to me a little about that.
Back then, you had artists like me, Nickelus F, Radio Blitz, Illascorcese--a lot of different artists that all had that East Coast sound. But what was getting the most attention was that down South type of music. It was taking over, at one point. I’m a fan of music in general. I’m a fan of down South music, but authentic down South music. UGK, Outkast--even Master P, when he first came out, and how authentic his music was. But that Southern crazy shit, just party, negative overtones. Hip-hop has always had a negative edge to it, but with some of that down South music, it had nothing positive. I didn’t like it. But I held on tight, and thankfully it turned back around.
Music like that doesn’t stay prominent for very long.
Yeah, because there’s only so much of that you can make. Like, there’s only so much boy band music you can make--Backstreet Boys, N’SYNC, 98 Degrees. It’s trendy, it works, but it doesn’t last. You would never listen to a 98 Degrees album anymore.
There are certain artists than can come out with hits, but when it comes down to it, a lot of it has to do with authenticity.
And that’s why I rhyme. It’s keeping the integrity in music, making sure music can stand up over time. Make a hit? I can write those. But my music, it has to live up to a certain level and have a lot of integrity behind it.
Describe the impact you want to make with your music.
All I’m trying to do is tell my story, the experiences I’ve had. If I had to describe my music, I think I have a real polished style. Smooth lyrics, proper placements of words. The way I choose what I say and how I say it. I’m like a mix between Nas and D’Angelo; maybe not the music aspect, but the mindset of creating without fear. It’s kind of like Steve Jobs with the iPod. He didn’t ask 100 people if they liked it. He was like, “I need this product to look and work like this. I don’t a need focus group.” That’s the same approach I try to take. I may write a record, record it, let some of my friends hear it in the studio. Ultimately, if I like it, I’ll release it, because I’m not afraid to create. And I’m influenced by so much, like Erykah Badu, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye... very soulful music that teaches you how to be soulful. It’s music you don’t just hear, you listen to. Listen to what an artist is doing with their voice to deliver emotion. What are the instruments saying to you? That’s where I’m at; just taking an emotional approach in seeing what the music is saying.
By Joseph Genest/ Photos By Chris Conway