• 30Jan

    Higher Power: Brooklyn Bodega Interviews Mikkey Halsted

    BrooklynBodega.com recently sat down with Chicago rapper, Mikkey Halsted, to talk about his impressive debut album, The Dark Room, his stint with Kanye West, struggles with Cash Money Records, and why if it all went down any other way, he wouldn’t be the MC he is now.

    BB: Although The Dark Room is your first debut solo album, you’ve been on the rap scene for some time, how did your rap career begin?

    MH: I was introduced to Hip-Hop at an early age, but growing up in a family full of basketball players, I focused on being a ball player. I wanted to be like Rod Strickland. For kids our age, Chicago at that time was just ball players and gang bangers, we didn’t know any cats who could eat off rap alone so I didn’t take it serious until Common got on. He was off 87th street and we all knew him or knew someone who knew him. Common’s success motivated me to take rap seriously. This was like around ’94 when Nas dropped Illmatic and Common dropped Resurrection. Twilight Tone and No I.D. were the pioneers of Chicago beats; they started that movement before I was on the scene. I started to develop a reputation battling and freestyling but my sister, Miss Criss and brother, Rico actually wrote raps. In 1998, my sister, Miss Criss, signed a deal with a Hip-Hop label started by Ramsey Lewis. At that time, Kanye West was producing her and she used to brag about my skills to Kanye, who didn’t believe her until he heard me freestyle. ‘Ye was like “Whoa, your sister wasn’t lying.” Next thing I know, Kanye and I had a 12 song demo and shit got crazy quick. I started getting calls from labels consistently.

    BB: Kanye eluded to losing you as an artist on “Last Call”, off the The College Dropout album, how did that happen and are you both still cool?

    MH: Firstly, Kanye is my man; we used to record at his mom’s crib in Hazel Crest, just outside Chicago. The situation came about when Cash Money got my demo and went crazy over it. At that time, “Bling Bling” was everywhere and all though I wasn’t really feeling their music then, all I knew was that everything they did went platinum. By protocol, they flew Kanye down to New Orleans to meet with Baby and discuss a deal. ‘Ye was also being courted by Roc-a-fella but the deal was only for Kanye. Cash Money wanted to buy Kanye’s music, sign me as an artist and put the whole team on; my sister, GLC, Rhymefest, and the Go-Getters and all. Kanye wasn’t feeling the deal, so I neither was I. Then Cash Money called and offered to sign my sister, Miss Criss and me. I felt pressure because of that and my family’s finances got real tight at that time so the family was looking at me like “Be the savior”. So I signed with Cash Money. That’s when all hell broke loose with Cash Money. I didn’t think that my relationship with Kanye suffered because of that but I guess he felt a certain way about it after I heard “Last Call”. I love Kanye to this day though, because without him, I wouldn’t be grinding nearly as hard — I wouldn’t be the Mikkey Halsted I am today. [Kanye] put faith in me in the beginning, so I’ll always pay homage to him.

    BB: How did your Cash Money experience change your views of the industry?

    MH: As soon as I signed with Cash Money, everything changed, [CM] wanted to re-do Kanye’s beats and keep me as a ghostwriter. They tried to give me a real rape job deal for my publishing rights and got mad when I wouldn’t sign it. Cats kept telling me to chill [and] just put an album out but eventually I realized that wasn’t going to happen. I was helping them but Baby wanted to change my whole style, wanted me to rock Reebok soldiers and shit. I wasn’t with that shit so my album never came out. Being the stand up nigga that I am, I tried to stick it out but sent my sister home to Chicago because Baby wanted us to change, get tattoos and shit. I said, “Fuck you, I ain’t getting no tats”. I put in work with them niggas though; I recorded over seventy songs before I bounced.

    BB: Was there ever tension between you and Lil’ Wayne?

    MH: Lil’ Wayne, that’s my brother. The rapport we had on the road can’t be replaced. I’ve always been a champion of Lil Wayne, before it was cool to be a Wayne fan. I would tell people he’s the future; he’s a student of the game, a backpacker at heart. Wayne is a Hip-Hop connoisseur. I was happy to see him start making mixtapes but Baby didn’t like mixtapes back then.

    BB: Which reminds me, the first time I ever heard you, was on your Uncrowned City mixtape, how did that come about?

    MH: Yeah, I did most of that while I was on Cash Money, I’d come home to Chicago, frustrated and just get up with my team and my manager, Javin and we’d hit the studio, put in work and distribute out of trunks and on CDbaby.com. We were one of the first people to get it poppin’ off the Internet. That Uncrowned King CD tore Chicago up; we moved a lot of them joints.

    BB: One of my favorite tracks of yours is “Liquor Store” and it’s developed a bit of controversy on it’s own. Can you tell us how that record came about?

    MH: I finally got out my Cash Money deal and got with No I.D., who was actually my first manager before 4man Management. No I.D. told me to zoom in and focus on a specific story that affects us, and then I thought about the corner liquor stores that impact our communities. Another one of No I.D.’s artists, 1120, made the beat for “Liquor Store”. There was a store on 71st and Halsted in Chicago that inspired the song. A lot of shit happens in front of the liquor store, it’s the epicenter of a lot of communities but if we as Black people aren’t treated with respect by the people who retail in our communities, what message are we sending? I got a song called “Church” that holds a similar premise; Black man, do for self. If you ask me, my music is Gospel because everything I write has God in mind but on a street level. If you coat your message with lyrics that cats love, chopping it up, the people won’t struggle with it. If the point of Gospel is to reach the masses not in the Churches, then put the Gospel into something that will reach the masses. Follow me on twitter for a day, @mikkeyhalsted, and you’ll see what I mean by that spirituality. Most of these artists dumb the message down because it doesn’t sell to the masses but art is only as good as the people it can affect in a positive way. Violence and profanity are parts of our everyday lives, how can I not include that?

    BB: Where did you get the concept for The Dark Room?

    MH: Opportunity is what separates most MCs. Using a basketball analogy, everyone knows a ball player that’s better than some of the best professionals. Paul McPherson was one of the my favorite ball players to come out of the Chi and is every bit as nice as Dwayne Wade but the difference is how they handled their opportunities. Dwayne Wade gives McPherson his due and I feel like I’m not going to compromise, which is why I didn’t come out on Cash Money or Virgin. I’ve had plenty of deals on the table but few labels would understand the premise of The Dark Room. It’s a raw and uncut project. These are songs that I would not trust to a major label because in my experience, they don’t understand it. With production by No I.D., SC, The Legendary Traxter and Prolyfic, I wasn’t gonna compromise my rhymes on this one. Dark Room is a prelude to The Photo Album, a glossier perspective of the project. I couldn’t move on as an artist before doing The Dark Room, and I wasn’t about to let any of the majors [labels] comprise my vision for it.

    BB: Where do you see yourself in the scope of Hip-Hop as it exists right now?

    MH: Rap is a dirty game, the strong survive and the weak crumble. Everything to this point has been God’s plan. The next echelon for me is keep doing me and let things fall in place. I haven’t sacrificed who I am for what I love. Shouts out to Twista, Lupe, Bun B, Killer Mike and Crooked I for blessing my album. When my peers show love, I know I’m doing it right.

    Follow YanceY on Twitter @thickyricardo

Discussion No Responses

  1. January 31, 2011 at 10:33 am

    that nigga Dope! Goood Interview..

  2. January 31, 2011 at 10:55 am

    [...] “Brain Candy’s” first installment, “So Amzin” debuted last week. This week, the 07BHF Alums released “Pleadge Allegiance To The Dope” featuring BHF10 performer, Curren$y and Mikkey Halsted. [...]

  3. January 31, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Good interview. I think I might like this cat.