Artist/Band: Seez Mics
Hometown: Kensington, Maryland
Latest Album/Release: “With” via Crushkill Recordings, February 2017
Influences: Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, Sage Francis, Freestyle Fellowship
TrunkSpace: How would you describe your music?
is a mirror
I’m a very reflective person, so the image of an unwavering reflection revealing perspectives and details that may initially go unnoticed or deemed unimportant fits what I’m trying to get across.
TrunkSpace: You cut your teeth freestyling in the DC area. What was your very first freestyle experience? Did you have to psyche yourself up to take the stage or were you itching to take the mic?
Mics: I went to high school with Deep of the 2 Hungry Brothers and he was the person who introduced me to freestyling, so my first experience must have been with him in his dorm room in 1997. I don’t remember anything specific from that experience beyond feeling like I’d been introduced to the perfect outlet for my personality, but I have many fond memories of my early freestyling adventures. One such memory was in the late 90s when I battled a handful of other MCs in front of a huge crowd during a Lyricist Lounge event at the famous nightclub Nation in DC. There were a few mics among the MCs, so I used both mine and the one I grabbed from another MC to tell him, “You’ve got a fat face, just another rodent finishing last place in this rat race” long before it was common to do the now cliché move of grabbing someone else’s mic or rhyme “last place” with “rat race.”
In my early days I needed no more incentive to “seez” the mic than an opportunity to rap. I now have far more responsibilities and thus less free time to take advantage of such opportunities, but still don’t hesitate to get loose when they present themselves.
TrunkSpace: As you look back over all of your battles, what is the one that is the most memorable to you and why has it stuck with you?
Mics: I put my battles in two categories: Scribble Jam and all the other battles. Scribble Jam gets its own category because of the notoriety it afforded participants. Unfortunately, I never had my A-game going at SJ and didn’t win, but my battle with Rhymefest was regarded by many as a close call and is the one most people bring up when my battle history is being discussed. To be perfectly honest, my SJ experiences taught me that I wasn’t the world’s best battle MC and therefore I should focus on being the world’s best Seez Mics.
Personally, my most memorable battle took place in the early ‘00s in DC. There was a weekly event called Tru School and it brought out the most talented MCs from the DMV, so the battles were always intense and challenging. One week in particular, I got in the zone and beat a few MCs who were at the top of the food chain during that time period. I was absolutely flawless, came completely off the head, and honestly believe I could have beaten any MC on the planet that night. I had a few experiences like that as time went on, but that was the first battle during which I was locked in beyond error.
TrunkSpace: What is your approach to freestyling and has the approach changed from your early days to where you are today?
Mics: Freestyling requires a certain mindset that becomes easier to attain the more you do it. The mindset is very primal and survivalist, but also requires a level of conscious direction… I’m just now realizing it may be the most evolved thing a human can do! I may have just freestyled the key to mankind’s existence.
But back to your question: I don’t have as many opportunities to freestyle now as when I was younger, so my approach is now more cautious while I wait for that mindset to settle whereas a younger me was freestyling all the time and could readily snap into the necessary headspace.
Depending on how much notice I have that an opportunity to freestyle is going to happen, I’ll chamber a few lines based on what’s happening in the environment and sprinkle them in to get comfortable. Eventually, the goal is to go completely extemporaneous and zone out so as to be as “in the moment” as possible.
TrunkSpace: When you’re freestyling, do you ever surprise yourself and go, “Damn, that was a great line,” only to forget it when all is said and done? It must be easy to get caught up in the moment.
Mics: I’ve actually always been pretty disciplined about remembering my highlights from freestyles. In fact, some of my best punchlines/hooks/concepts were born during freestyle sessions so I make an effort to write down anything noteworthy as soon as possible after freestyling it. I’ve also always felt that writing rhymes is technically freestyling, and the more I write, the better I freestyle.
I co-host a podcast called Chrome Bills (available on iTunes and SoundCloud, please subscribe then share with your friends and enemies) and we freestyle a lot, which is great because it’s being recorded and I’ll eventually hear it again even if I do forget something worth remembering.
TrunkSpace: What was the process like for you transitioning from freestyling to taking your art into a recording studio? Did it take some getting used to?
Mics: It’s never been an issue for me, but I’ve definitely noticed how some MCs are incredible off the top and mediocre-to-terrible in the studio. I think that’s because some MCs are not comfortable with the restraints of having to practice a verse to the point where it becomes second-nature and perhaps even boring to them. There’s an inherent rush to being in the moment that dissipates the more you try to replicate that moment, and that rush alone may be the only thing that motivates some MCs.
I think the best freestyles are the result of your brain and spirit simply reacting every element of the moment, and not allowing fear or doubt or distractions of any kind to impede the flow. The trick with bringing that same energy to delivering a prepared rhyme, at least to me, is to have the rhyme memorized cold both in terms of content and delivery so none of the variables inherent to recording in a studio prevent the flow from having that same sense of freedom as when you first thought of it. Sure, Pro Tools may crash for the billionth time or the engineer might spill coffee on the mixing board, but at least the verse is stashed in your brain.
This question comes at an interesting time for me; I’ve spent almost two decades resisting purchasing gear to demo songs at home because I am very impatient and resistant to change, but I recently got an iPad and the Garageband app that comes with it is so simple that I no longer have an excuse. I’m in the process of making a new album and have spent the last few weeks demoing songs I wrote awhile ago, so it’s almost like I’m freestyling when demoing a line that is faintly familiar. There’s been several moments of “I should enunciate the word this way” or “slow the cadence here to accentuate the flow” during this demo process that I often only experience when freestyling. I’ve demoed material in the past, but never to this degree and I expect this new album to reflect that.
TrunkSpace: We’d have to imagine that there’s so much energy and excitement involved in freestyling and it must be difficult to translate that energy to the studio. How do you channel that vibe when you’re away from a stage and can’t feed off of a crowd?
Mics: For better or worse, I spend a lot of time in my head. The difference between being alone in my basement demoing a song and performing that song in front of an audience is really only what’s happening to me physically, such as the adrenaline rush. I do breathing exercises before going onstage to account for how my body will react physically to being in front of people, but mentally I have no problem bringing the same intensity when I’m alone.
I don’t mean this answer to minimize the impact of performing in front of people. It’s certainly important to recognize the moment and react if something happens that can bond you with the audience beyond the music. Maybe don’t respond to every heckler, but going after the one guy with the bad comb over who keeps spilling his drink on everyone might help you build a rapport with the crowd.
Also, every artist is an overly sensitive narcissist who believes the world will bend over backwards to consume what they’ve created. So even if I’m alone, I still sense the presence of the interested eyes and ears that will eventually have the grand fortune of being engulfed by my genius. I am impossible.
TrunkSpace: Do you try to say something with every song that you write or do you have tracks where you’re just letting the words marry up with the beat and the ultimately take on a life of their own?
Mics: In the same way that freestyling requires a certain mindset, writing requires its own way of thinking and nuances. For example, if I haven’t written in awhile but I have a beat that grabs me and a concept I’d like to explore, there’s always this roadblock of impatience with the writing process that I have to first recognize and then work my way through. If I’ve been writing a lot, the lyrics will often easily flow out of me so I try to at least piece together the standard 16 bar verse once or twice a week just to keep the writing muscles loose.
For the same reason I think all MCs should at least practice freestyling, I’ll wait for the beat to tell me what to do and then start doing it instead of imposing my will on a beat that isn’t the right fit. That may happen upon my first listen, or that may take a few days of just letting the beat play on repeat. Some beats want a heavy-handed concept with dense lyrics, some want a light-hearted concept and lyrics that allow the beat to do the heavy lifting. I pride myself on meshing the vibe of my words with the vibe of the beat, not just doing impressive raps over the most impressive beat I can find. No shade towards anyone who approaches it that way, but I did that so many times that it became boring to me as a writer.
My last full length project “Cruel Fuel” is the only album I’ve made that wiped my conceptual slate clean when I was done writing it. I think that’s because each of the beats have a visceral, tangible concept of their own that provided me with a road map to follow, not to mention that as entirely beat-box based they were extreme alternatives to the typical sample based rap beats I’ve worked with and therefore drew extremely alternative concepts from me as a writer. I’m not sure I’d have been able to make “Cruel Fuel” if I pigeonholed my writing process, so it propelled me to remain open minded about how I approach writing.
TrunkSpace: It’s often said that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That being said, what do you hope the destination is for you? Where would you like to see the journey take you?
Mics: I’ve stopped hoping to make this a career because I never made enough money to quit my day job. I’m now married, my wife’s pregnant, and we recently bought our first home so I can’t financially justify going on tour for weeks at a time only to return with ketchup packets and 11 new Twitter followers. I spent my 20s and part of my 30s doing that, and while it was fun and even sometimes lucrative, I no longer have the desire or ability to make the necessary sacrifices for this to be my sole source of income.
So with that chapter over, I’d like to be able to do all of the parts of making music that don’t involve leaving my home for more than a day or two at a time. I’d strongly consider hitting the road if the money is worth it, but I’d have to check with the boss first.
TrunkSpace: As you look over your journey thus far, what has been the musical highlight?
Mics: I’ll go to my grave feeling like “Cruel Fuel” is the most artistically interesting thing I’ve ever made. Maybe not the most accessible or enjoyable, but the most interesting.
While it’s immature on my part to revel in validation from the artists who I’ve looked up to like Atmosphere and Sage Francis, there have been a few pats-on-the-back that are now memories I’ll always cherish. I grew up in suburban Maryland, so playing venues like the 930 Club in DC or the Ottobar in Baltimore were bucket list shows. My favorite shows were the 3 years in a row that a rotating cast of groups led by me sold out the Strathmore Mansion in Rockville. The validation of being able to sell out a great venue in my backyard was… well, validating. I need to improve my vocabulary.
Besides what I’ve actually created and who has told me they liked it, getting to tour with Eyedea & Abilities has definitely been the highlight. Their live show was the most impressive performance I’ve ever seen, and getting to see them do variations of a few different sets was indescribable as a fan let alone as an artist. I also really valued developing a friendship with Eyedea before he passed and consider Abilities a homey, plus all the other wonderful people I met through Eyedea.
TrunkSpace: What do you hope your legacy is as an artist?
Mics: I would like anyone who comes across my art to think to themselves, “I can’t believe this volume and variety of quality material all came from one person.”
TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from Seez Mics in the second half of 2017 and beyond?
Mics: I have joined the Strange Famous Records SFdigi label and they will release my album “Live Long Enough To Learn” either later in 2017 or in 2018. In the meantime, spend all of your disposable income on my merch and check out the Chrome Bills podcast, which I co-host with DJ Steve Bills and K-Cromozone.