George: Alright, so I am excited to talk to Mr. Mike Ellison. A relatively new friend but
somebody who I feel like I have known for a while in some context. An entrepreneur, a musician, a fighter of, of all things good in arts and culture. Doing some great work in Detroit and nationwide. Mike, thanks so much for joining me and talking to Music2020 today. It’s really great of you.
Mike: Yeah my pleasure George. I appreciate it man.
George: Thank you. So a bunch of topics I want to get through today all related to what we are trying to with Music2020 and our mission really of trying to create a music business that is, has more winners than losers. I think that we can all agree that the music business right now isn’t working as well as it could be. I want to talk through some ideas that you might have and your history and how you got here but let’s just start with a short sort of bio from yourself, who you are, and how you got here and then what you are working on.
Mike: The cliff notes of my narrative, I was born in Ethiopia, I grew up in VIrginia a small town outside of DC called Reston. I was exposed to music and hip hop culture in Queens, New York where I spent a lot of time with family. Went the normal route went to the University of Virginia and studied communications, PR I went to Detroit and worked in the field of sports marketing. But the artist itch never left me and the art and culture in Detroit transformed me into an artist. And you know I’ve been able to express myself in the field of music. Several genres within music, stage, theater, film and television, poetry, spoken word, and what I would consider community outreach model.
George: Yeah, I love it and one the of the things I’ve gotten to know you a little bit that I so admire about your work. It seems that, and I think this is maybe a key point for musicians generally and it comes up with a lot of the people with whom we speak. You don’t seem at all encumbered by the sort of traditional boundaries or barriers with respect to what the definition of a musician or artist should be. You know I know that your background is poetry. As you said you’ve got expertise in advertising and marketing you do all these stuff in the community talk a little bit about how or why that might be important. Obviously you can only talk about yourself. How should artists be viewing the definition of art so that they can sort of expand out and get compensated more fairly and all the things we want.
Mike: Well I think you know I think the standard model of the music industry for call it the.
Mike: Kind of let us all to believe that it was one path,and one mold and these are the steps you must do and this is what you should do and this is how you should do it.
Mike: And I think so it limited our thinking in terms of what we could embody as artists in totality. I think it also limited our skill set right because the notion was that
hey it’s hard enough to just be a great singer or a great musician. So just dedicate yourself to that and let other people worry about the other things.
Mike: And that worked for a handful of people. But in the long run, as you know, the less educated you are about the other things, you’re gonna lose in the long run. And I don’t think it’s reasonable though, to think that all of us can master all of the things that are necessary to bring your art to market. And so I think for me, it was really a matter of necessity. You know, the so called industry was not really interested in what I was doing. I have some thoughts about that, as some new things come to light about some nefarious aspects of the music industry in the proliferation of gangster rap in replace of conscience content…
George: Hey so, so I’ve got to stop you I mean I want to hear those thoughts. You know and I am sure you’re leading leading up to them. I just don’t want to, I at least want to put a dog ear on that thought. I’m dying to hear those thoughts. You know.
Mike: Absolutely, absolutely I’ll definitely come back to it. I’ll just say that for me it was a matter of necessity of interest. I’m motivated by purpose and environment. I need a purpose that is bigger than my ego, because for me, I don’t think ego is enough to sustain you through some of the crap you face to be an artist. And then my environment I’m influenced by my environment. Because I grew up in a very small town, certain things were limited. I knew what I aspired to but it wasn’t authentic. And the more life experience I got in environments, like being in Queens and then ultimately being in Detroit, and then traveling the country and then going to places like Ethiopia is when I think you know, fully matured as an artist is which I’m still doing. Going back to your point I think you know there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that this is not to disparage any particular group or brand, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the proliferation of gangster music in the early to mid-90s and from then on was intentional and the effort to neutralize groups like Public Enemy and other conscious artists that were influencing millions around the globe was deliberate. And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that and there’s a number of artists who lived it, who can talk about it. You can see the interviews on YouTube. When you look at how that coincides with mass incarceration, the business model of private prisons; the private prison industry as a profit motive behind incarceration where you have publicly traded companies. And then when you look at what was the music promoting? Murder, misogyny, materialism…you know what I mean.
George: So, I think I do. It’s a deep and profound statement that is awkward for a middle aged white dude to sort of comment on right, to be blunt.
George: I gave a speech not long ago and one of the highlights of my career, life whatever, was Chuck D tweeted giving me a shoutout on Twitter about it because I referenced Public Enemy about in that speech….
Mike: You referenced a lot of my heroes in that speech, by the way.
George: That’s kind of you. Well they’re my heroes too. Maybe what you’re saying sort of related to, what we’re trying to do here is like…I don’t know how to quite frame this, but the institutions or the institutionalization of the music industry by the sort of corporations or what have you, or had a very, very chilling negative effect on the output of creativity and has led us to this place (and I’m making something up so tell me where I am wrong) led us to this place of…let me pause. I teach ethics. I believe that anything that has been built on an unethical firmament ultimately crumbles. So you could go back to the United States of America and our great original sin in which I think is one of your phrases that I am stealing from you of racism and track how that’s led us to so many of our issues now. Are you essentially saying something similar about music that these institutions have led us to this place where the music business currently for most people is in such a sense of disarray? or am I just reducing it to something stupid?
Mike: Well, no I mean I think you’re dead on actually.
Mike: Here’s what I say I mean, I want I’ll add a caveat out to say you know I don’t claim to be an expert about anything but I do try to look at things in a very simple terms right. So the music industry as you know, is known for following models right.
George: Yes, yes.
Mike: They follow a model for success. This is what, you know if you’re going in this genre, this look works and you do these kinds of things and these publicity stunts and this marketing approach and then if it’s successful they kind of repeat it, right?
Mike: So if we’re going to use Public Enemy as an example here’s a group that was going platinum with little to no radio play.
Mike: Right, so they’re already successful and they’re not getting radio play. Why didn’t we see, okay where is today’s modern Public Enemy?
George: I don’t know. Where is today’s modern Public Enemy? I don’t know.
Mike: Okay, so let’s look at Rakim.
George: Is it Talib Kweli? I don’t know?
Mike: Well here’s what I’m saying though. Alright, okay let’s look at Rakim.
George: Rakim, the best.
Mike: Rakim is regarded as one of the all time greats, period.
Mike:Never cursed. Never said the n word.
Mike: Until maybe on the song in the Juice soundtrack.
Mike: Okay, regarded as one of the best ever, never cursed, never said the n word, didn’t fill is raps about killing people who look like him.
Mike: Where’s today’s Rakim?
George: I don’t know? Where is Eric B?
Mike: It’s, it’s not there so, so I mean I can go further.
George: Where is today’s KRS One right?
Mike: Well that’s what i’m saying…like, in other genres like, right, like the legends are embraced. The Beatles and people like that, they can sale out arenas but then the people who pioneered this art form. You can go further back, right? Look at The Message with Grand Master Flash, The Furious Five they were dealing with the struggles of urban living, but not in terms of shooting every nigger on the block.
Mike: Where is that? You can go further. Look at like you know Lauren Hill the Miseducation Lauren Hill. So did, did the music industry try to recreate Lauren Hill? Instead of Lauren Hill we get ultra sexual overt lyrics from females and again I’m knocking any particular artist.
George: No, no I get it.
Mike: But I’m just saying like you know there are models for success that promote consciousness and self love and you don’t hear it. You don’t see it.
George: So, so let me take this in a slightly different direction even though I am having to fight all my better instincts because I, I could talk about this forever but it also sort…
Mike: Yeah we could get side tracked.
George: No, but it make me so profoundly sad that it’s hard for me not to just sort of get emotional talking about it. Let me, let me pull it into a direction of, of obfuscation because one of, one of our tenants here is that we need redefine sort of radio and streaming services and their relationships as business partners. And I’ve long held a theory and maybe this, maybe this links to what you’re saying? That, that record labels, publishers, the institutions have leveraged their knowledge, I use a fancy term called information asymmetry. We know more about something then you do and we’re going to leverage that in order to benefit ourselves, right?
George: So, I mean there is a path that says we let, sign this, sign this paper artist and we will, but don’t look at it. Sign it, right? In there, You know and maybe that ties into this institutional because what you’re sort of saying and I don’t want to use this word but there was a conscience concerted effort to sort of silence the voices of a particular type right?
George: Okay and, and good ahead.
Mike: Well and even some of the artist that you mentioned Talib Kweli, Mos Def, KRS One…
Mike: Again I mean they had already proven their proficiency they don’t, you don’t see them in popular media. They didn’t get the push that other artists get. And again I am sure there are people on the inside who can counter what I am saying. And maybe they have insight as to why certain artists rise and why certain artists don’t. But again I go back to very simple things right and I’ll try to be art fullest to not to be offensive so that if people only catch snippets of this they won’t miss it.
George: Yeah, yeah right.
Mike: What other group of people do you know are rewarded and encouraged to sing about killing themselves? I mean like bitch ass niggers just like saying hello in hip hop. Okay so if you had an Asian artist have you ever heard them say “I don’t care what you think but I will chop that blank”? Right you know, I don’t hear you know, I mean I have Jewish friends and artists and you will never hear them use disparaging terms that folks use in racial contexts about Jews in their music and then on top of that about killing a fellow Jew in that way. I don’t hear any other group, you can down to any and by the way I don’t buy into the notion of race. I don’t like using terms race, class, creed I think those are all divisive terms. But what other group of people do you know rap about killing themselves, disparaging their women, shootin’ up the block, I don’t care I’ll even kill my own mother blah, blah, blah. Who else does that?
George: I know that’s sort of a rhetorical question but I don’t have an answer to that you know.
Mike: I mean, I mean I don’t, I’m sure you know there is seven billion people on the planet. So somewhere, somebody said you know, hey I’ll do this to you but, but for the most part it, it has never happened in history before and it hasn’t happened in history since where you have a group of talented people and even the most intelligent and gifted among us still have to lace their albums with the prerequisite number of n words and b words and, you know, gun toting or what have you.
George: So, so I’m with and I’m sorry to interrupt but so what, what if I’m tracking this right and I think I am. You know there’s an input to a system right and then the system gets a hold of it and dictates how to optimize that input for a desired output. Right?
George: One of our key tenants is, at Music2020 is disintermediation. Pulling that middle person, whether it’s label, publisher out because you said something so profoundly important…Public Enemy became platinum selling with little to no radio play, right? Press actually was sort of important I believe in their rise. But it was really somehow, even back in the eighties, pre-internet fans found this. And they sort of found it, it’s close to direct from Public Enemy to the fan with as few sort of intermediaries as possible. I believe deeply that we need to get back to or get to that place where Mike Ellison releases music and it doesn’t have to go through all these you know chopped up, these intermediaries whether it’s labels, publishers, radio whatever for me George fan to not only find it but also to compensate you fairly for the music and not have it get gummed up by all the people trying to tell you what to do. Is that at all…
Mike: I think that’s accurate but I also think that the same, the same marketing push that you get for a major artist who’s making party records you’ve never seen for so called conscience artist.
George: I see, I see.
Mike: That’s what I’m saying. Even in the hey day of hip hop you never saw any of the artist that we’ve referenced get the kind of push that let’s say even the Tupac right. Right now Tupac was very conscience right, but he had to give you thug life first in order to slide in some other messages.
George: Yes, yes.
Mike: So that you could get it. But nobody who just says look I’m not going to give you any genocidal content. I’m going to give you all conscience. Have we ever seen that artist pushed and promoted? I think now you’re seeing more of it with like artist like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
George: Yes, yes.
Mike: I mean there’s, there’s some kind of balance there. And again I never, I don’t want to sound like one of those independent grassroots artists who’s throwing stones at anybody who’s achieved popularity. I think, I think they all work extremely hard, they all make sacrifices. Everybody’s entitled to tell their truth. I’m just saying give me balance. Right, like,
George: I hear you but, but I guess what I’m saying is it, is that trend for lack of a better word you used the genocidal phrase. Is that because that is what the audience is demanding or is that because the institutions have conditioned us to believe that’s what we want? We’ve marketed it that way. And is there a way, another one of our tenants, is there a more egalitarian playing field? I don’t want to hear music that is negative in nature the misogynistic, I just don’t want to hear it. Right?
Mike: I think the latter is which is, what you said.
George: Which is?
Mike: That we’ve created this appetite. It’s like you know as a parent right? I have a three year old.
Mike: If I take him to eat fast food seven days out of the week, he is going to start to crave it.
George: That’s right.
Mike: Right now he eats pretty healthy. So I think it’s a combination of, I mean that stuff is appealing too, right? You know the way the beats there’s a science to it and, and the way the guys present themselves it’s very appealing to a young mind. So you’re going to develop that appetite. But I go back to your, one of your heroes and mine Chuck D, he always just said balance.
Mike: Just give me some balance. So to your point I think it’s just a combination in sense that we know there is a machine that can make people famous and help make people popular that at least expose. It doesn’t guarantee success but it does give mass exposure. So a combination of that mass exposure which makes upcoming artists emulate their heros, right? And then the opportunity, as you said, to kind of remove the barrier between artist and fans could have a very, for lack of a better term, balancing effect on the content that we’re getting.
George: Right and….
Mike: You know what I mean?
George: That goes back to things like payola and others. I’ve lived that, man you’ve probably have too. There’s, there’s no confusion or disagreement of the fact that when certain institutions decide that, this is the song, they’re going to find a way to keep banging that song, through payola, until the customer eventually goes “Yeah, I guess that is the song.” Right, I mean…
George: And that, and that may be okay if it was done with transparency where the customer knows that the song is bing paid for ect. But what I really want is a more egalitarian world where you, Mike, can put together your songs, your playlist, be given a platform. You should have your own streaming service. There should be the Mike Ellison streaming service that I can log into. No, you laugh but I mean and there should be a George Howard one too. There should be one for my daughter. It should be…look this is what I am listening to, and I’ve got my network of friends, called a social network if you will. Check it out. And then, there should be some way to compensate and lock those pieces together.
Mike: That’s right.
George: And, and you know people far smarter than I am…Andy Weissman, a venture capitalist, says there shouldn’t be five streaming services there should be five thousand, right? The only way that happens is through a technology like a distributed sort of block chain type technology ect. But, at it’s root I do think it comes back to your point of this machine is filtering and dictating and determining what comes out the other end and market it in a way and how do we strike that balance? So tell me specifically, and I don’t want to talk, I want you to talk. Tell me how, or at least get to how, or what you’re doing to get there, and what we can do as an entity, as a business, institution, music business to get there?
Mike: Okay, well I think you know, you made some excellent points. I can only speak for me. The first thing I can say is that I’m a fan first and I really feel like I am a fan who became a musician by default and, you know, music for me became a way to serve. And to do some public good. And so I’ve embraced that part of it. And so what I’ve done is just find ways to take music and messaging directly to the people and value whether I have ten, a thousand, a hundred in that audience. And I’ve worked very hard to do that effectively. And, you know, I’m very proud of those efforts. I think that people with resources and relationships can just do better by bringing artists who do public good to the forefront.
George: So give, you’re so humble Mike I mean, I know some of the things that you’ve done. Can you talk about a particular project that you’ve done that exemplifies this? Do you mind? Or is that putting you on the spot?
Mike: No I don’t mind.
Mike: I don’t mind. Like, for example I had written some poems about the tobacco industry, disproportionate advertising and there was no profit motive, it was just me as a poet. I was invited to a poetry slam last minute because somebody canceled. And then as I arrived someone shared with me that they had a tobacco sponsor on site. They said, “Look, you know, we’ll pay you double, just don’t do that poem that you do about the tobacco industry, please.”, and that was the one and only poem I did that night. And I fell out of favor with those folks, but…
George: I love that.
Mike: It landed on a CD that I did. It made it to some folks…long story short, I was invited to perform at a conference for the American Cancer Society. I had just come off of a voting registration tour with the NAACP where I was doing public relations work where we were using tours buses going into cities making a ruckus registering voters and getting press. So, basically you know I went to the American Cancer Society and said, “Hey, we can duplicate that model and use music as a tool to raise awareness around cancer and fundraising and tobacco, the dangers of tobacco. We can supplement that with earned media impressions.” (which was a deliverable for them) “We can also create some community coalitions. We can introduce you to organizations in various cities that are working to empower youth.” And so from that we developed what was, what became the AFROFLOW tour and that ran nationally for five years, total seven years the last two were a little more regional. But basically where I used music in my performance as a platform to do community outreach and community engagement and that was very successful. I partnered with the GM Foundation and the Music Hall Center for Performing Arts in Detroit to address bullying and teen suicide through live performance, dance, and musicianship. You know the corny approach of don’t be a bully be a buddy. You know that doesn’t work with teens.
George: Just say no Mike.
Mike: Right. So we came a little more hard edge and hard hitting.
Mike: I’ve partnered with institutions like Museum of African American History to do productions. I’ve had a chance to work with more on the consulting side with the New York Knicks and help take what was their Read to Achieve Program, which was the NBA’s flagship program, where they would just go to school, read Dr. Seuss, and go home. A friend of mine, who is no longer with the Knicks, said you know what can we do different? As fate would have it I was taping for HBO Def Poetry. She came and saw it love it and we built on that idea partnered with some community folks and grew that to a ten, eleven year program. That resulted in students you know getting four year scholarships to an accredited universities all across the country. I mean, you know, so
George: You’re not just talking the talk, you are walking the walk. And that’s why I sort of prompted you to do that. Like, I know that, but you know, your viewpoints are so defined and strong and clear but what’s so impressive is you’re actually taking it out into the world and doing it, right? And it goes back to my initial point of this is the job of the artist today. Like if we…
Mike: It is.
George: Yeah, and maybe it’s always been the job of the artist.
Mike: And it’s not easy.
George: It’s not easy. So talk about that. I mean how, what is, what is a better, easier sort of music business look like over the next, you know, four years as we approach two thousand twenty?
Mike: You know what, I don’t know George. I think you’re, in that regards, you’re a smarter man than I am because…
Mike: I mean like, you know, for example all of those projects that I have mentioned to you and I could go on to others require a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice and multiple skill sets and I can’t expect every artist to have that. I mean I was fortunate. I went to a school like the University of Virginia. You know, I had good parents, I had great siblings. I had opportunities that some of my peers, particularly young African Americans don’t have. So I can’t say to somebody who lives on Detroit’s east side, who is aspiring but suffering through poor schools and under funded textbooks say, “Hey, you should do it like this. And, and you know like, like…”
George: That’s right. I don’t mean to laugh it’s just so crazy right. I mean it’s just…
Mike: Right, like one of Tupac’s best lines I think that he said, “They say my ghetto’s instrumental is detrimental to kids as if they can’t see the misery in which they live”. So you know, to my earlier point I’m not knocking so called gangster rap or stuff that has a lot of violence and negativity. You can only talk about your environment and what you see.
Mike: But I’m saying that I, I can’t now proselytize to other folks and say, “Look at the route I went. You should do this to.” At the same time there are artists who don’t want to work hard they think they should just be able to sit home write a rap and then just be famous next month. And it’s not going to happen like that. I don’t think, you know I mean look, just because if you and I say we want to start a business tomorrow, just because we want to do it doesn’t mean the universe owes us a certain amount of success.
Mike: And just because somebody wants to be an artist and make songs doesn’t mean that they should be guaranteed success, but I do think that they should be given a fair shot.
Mike: I do think that the material, if it’s conscious and opens peoples’ minds, should not be blocked by nefarious intentions. That I feel very strongly about. I also believe that you know, you look at people who have wealth, relationships, resources, and platforms and they say they want to improve the world and they say they want to give our youth a chance but then what do they feed them? You know not just literally food but what do they feed them musically? You know, I had a life changing experience in Detroit a couple years ago the drummer I work with closely a guy named Chi Ahmad Roz, an incredible percussionist, he took me, you know he said come on man you got to come to this Stephen Marley concert. You know Stephen was doing a free concert in Detroit and I had other plans but he’s like, “No you have to be here for this.” And it was existential man, like the vibe was beautiful. Strangers were hugging. People didn’t want to leave. It was so positive. And I said to myself you know, if they really wanted to see a change in the youth behavior in our cities they’d play Reggae music. They’d play Stephen Marley. They wouldn’t just play murder, murder, murder, murder. You know what I mean?
George: Yeah One Love, One Love.
Mike: If they say, if they say they want young girls, particularly African American girls, to feel good about themselves and embrace their beauty, right? If they don’t have long, light straight hair and light skin, then they should be feeding them Laura Mvula, who my son loves by the way. You know but, but like here is a beautiful woman who embraces who she is and what she is in full totality. And you can see the value and virtue in it. And people with wealth and resources and relationships could say, “Yes let’s give young girl’s that.” You know man, I could go on. Meklit Hadero I mean.
George: I know but you, you again, you speak the speak and you do the do, right? And so I sit here and I listen to you and, as I keep saying, you know, and you said it too. You used the word, but a more egalitarian playing field. What’s so cool about what you’re doing is you’re doing that. Like you’re setting up these dynamics, and events in real time with stakeholders and showing them that this is possible. Which is so much bigger and deeper and more profound than people sort of standing there and just talking the talk. Anybody can do that.
Mike: Well you do have to do it. I mean, I’ll say you know the the team of folks I’ve worked with in Detroit like the past five years we’ve had a line for opening night for Concert of Colors.
Mike: And what, what we’ve worked to do is not just make it a Mike Ellison Show but to make it a production with essential theme and to have an array of artists, established artists and brand new artists. So, like on one show and you’ll see, you’ll see the breadth of who we are in terms of genre, right? Like a blues man like Robert Jones, an incredible singer like Stephanie Christiane. Then we had two artists who are one technically blind, another visually impaired, but they had a story to tell and then we wrapped a brand around them add context and tell a story through that. We addressed the history of Black Wall Street. I don’t know if folks were familiar with that but we addressed that through music, and skit and kinda an incredible actor named Justin Crutchfield. So, to your point, I just try to work with the stage and the arena I’m given and try to share my platform with other artists and expose them to other people so that it may help them. If nothing else they learn more about their own craft and how to perform but I’ve also tried to do it on a small scale and then present it to people who can help me scale it up.
George: Right. Right,right, right, right.
Mike: That has been challenging.
Mike: We were successful with the American Cancer Society doing that. The New York Knicks program we scaled up. But, you know like for example I have a production called Hard Enough To Smile that deals with the reality and history of race in America and it starts with Noam Chomsky.
George: Yeah. Man do I love Noam Chomsky.
Mike: Right. Right, but guess what you know…
George: Not everybody does.
Mike: That, that, well, well that kind of thing is hard to scale up because…
George: Story of my life, man. Let’s start with Noam.
Mike: Right, corporate sponsors don’t want any part of that. When you take the clips from Noam Chomsky that says, “For a major part of the population of African Americans it’s worse off than apartheid”, nobody wants to associate with that.
Mike: They don’t want to tell that truth. You know what they, they want to say what is the latest you know booty shaking song that was gonna help me sell more cars.
George: But Mike you and I both know, because we both been doing it in various, various ways you’re work is so much more important than mine that’s it’s almost not even fair to equate it.
Mike: I don’t know about that, George. You’ve got some victories under you belt.
George: I don’t mean to be, what is it, self deprecating, but we both know that anytime, whether it’s a race innovation, culture innovation, or a technological one it’s these little tiny incremental steps.
Mike: That’s what it is.
George: At first and for a long time you feel like you are screaming out into a vacuum and then over time things start to happen and…
Mike: They do.
Mike: I would, I would, I mean look, I mean as it relates to race we’re seeing now, because of technology, that a lot of rappers were telling the truth.
George: No kidding.
Mike: About people getting shot and brutalized by the police right. You know I just so when you back to and say so what can we as this community do? I think the innovators and the people who have wealth, resources and relationships can say boldly we’re gonna to take on the tough issues and we’re gonna be truthful about it. You know I would like for us to be able to have the same open discourse that we can have about dealing with Holocaust. Which I’ve used in my production dealing with bullying and going further than that and saying we just saw a thing today Germany voted to call the, the war crimes committed against the Armenian people genocide. And that has backlash for them calling it what it was. The Armenian people been fighting since the Armenian genocide for the world to just acknowledge it happened. You know and I’m not even saying it’s just, it’s only African Americans but I just gotta get to the point where, look we got one planet, one globe we’re all connected. I know it sounds cliche but we have deal with truth as it is. And, and, and there is, there is what’s the word I’m looking for? There is a common dominator in it people being wrong, and injustices being perpetuated and our inability to address them and confront them honestly. And I’m not saying that every song should be We Are The World and Kum Ba Yah. We all like edge, we all like you know there is violence, there is sexuality give me the whole gamut and the balance. But I would just like to see the folks who have those, that wealth, and resources get behind people who are out there bringing some balance to the table. And I don’t just mean myself. I mean, I could rattle off to you a dozen Detroit artists of whom I’m a fan and whom I had to earn their respect for the right to call myself a Detroit based artist.
George: Hey and I want to talk to them and I wanna get more people that you think believe the things that you and I so clearly do about, broadly speaking, you know the world, narrowly speaking music business and the art and people that believe we got to get some of these institutions out we got to create more egalitarian playing fields. So bring them on. The only way that I think we get there is to talk to more people and make this more vocal. And get people like yourself the platforms to get the voice out there. Not that you need any help because you’re moving mountains on your own, but the more we bond together the faster it happens, right?
Mike: Yeah, no listen, I definitely need help. And oh, boy there is an alarm going off. But we all need help. But no, I hear you and I think, you know, and I don’t mean to talk in such generic terms because…
George: You’re not.
Mike: I mean, I think you have developed some incredible business models. And I think you know like, one of my favorite business start leaders, Seth Godin, talks about is that we have to collaborate because I’m not as proficient at what you do.
Mike: You know.
George: Build a tribe.
Mike: And then I’m not as proficient as my percussionist.
George: Right, right, right, right.
Mike: You know, as much as I would love to be able to express myself through the djembe [drum], or congas the way he does. If I start doing that then other areas of my artistry will falter. So, you know I think it’s as you said about you know with this platform you all are developing. It is a conversation about the producers and the fans and figuring out ways to just to be, to be fair, and to reward people. But just because we want to do it doesn’t mean that the universe owes us a certain amount of success.
George: No, I don’t think the universe owes me anything. I mean, you know, one of my pet peeves is when people post something on social media about how either they found their car keys, or they had a child born, or they won the lottery, and they do #blessed. And it’s like, “You know who’s not blessed?”…Like the kid that’s dying of aids. Like, you know, that’s cool and I don’t mean to disparage anybody’s faith or whatever, but like I’m not sure which universe it is that owes anybody. You know I mean you know don’t get me started on that but..
Mike: No I gotcha.
Mike: I struggle with that though right because like my travels to Ethiopia I mean the thing that I want your audience to know by way is that you know Ethiopia is presented as the poster child for poverty, when it should be recognized as the cornerstone of civilization, number one. And also that there is tremendous growth and success happening in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. There are people that I know that live better than you and I. At the same time, some of the organizations that I work with and supported are doing the most good. And so that brings you face to face with abject poverty. I’m talking about abject, painful, palpable, poverty.
Mike: And to be quite honest with you it’s something I struggle with, right? Because there are luxuries of living in America that I’ve grown accustomed, almost addicted to, right?
Mike: That I like and that I love. And then at the same time you come to know and love people who are suffering and then there’s this balance. I’m not Warren Buffett, and so there’s that balance. Of, how much good can I do without depressing myself twenty four seven? And then, how good am I to anybody if I’m always depressed? And then, how much happiness do I owe myself and then people who sacrifice for me to be happy and my children? I’m not saying I have a definitive answer. It’s tough, right? And I can’t, I feel like you feel as well. We say blessed about things that are just you know…
George: I kind of prefer to call it luck.
Mike:Yeah, but you know it’s like this George, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know.
George: That is true.
Mike: Like, I remember coming from one of my trips and being in an area where water was very scarce and, you know, I saw these kids, well if I’m being honest, you know like I got upset because I was in this hotel and then something happened and my hot water heater wasn’t working and I had to, I had to survive a cold shower.
George: Right, right, right, right.
Mike: And then I look out my window and these kids are playing with a dirty pail of water washing each other and they maybe six or seven having a blast. And I felt ashamed of who I was. Okay and then I went to other areas where people have to decide what to do with that water. Do I cook with it, clean with it, or do I wash with it? And then after that trip I come back to Reston, Virginia and I am going to the movies with my nieces and some family and a beautiful summer day and off in the distance I see kids playing in the water fountain. And all I could think to myself was that we’re so wealthy we can play with a life resource. We use water and chemicals to make our grass in front of our homes look beautiful so that there more marketable so that we can earn money. We think it’s a good idea to put chemicals into the ground to make the square footage in front of our home look nice. And then we sit out there with hoses and sprinklers for that. I’m not saying we should put an end to that system but you can’t. I struggle with those.
George: It causes cognitive dissonance. It causes tremendous cognitive dissonance.
Mike: That’s it.
George: And, and it’s it’s fundamentally a distribution problem. How can we have water fountains here, and a scarcity of water in another country. We have enough. We just can’t get it in the right people’s hands.
Mike: Well, I wonder if we can?
George: Well no I hope we can. I mean that’s what we are all tilting at, right?
Mike: Well what I mean is I wonder if it’s a matter of whether we can or whether we choose not to.
George: Choose not to.
Mike: That is a larger discussion there but I think that going back to one of your original points is that as artist we, I just think we need to broaden, broaden our minds in terms of all the ways that we can be creative. Create with and for other people. You know what I mean?
George: I do.
Mike: And so the model that the music industry has created is great. It’s produced great art but it also narrows a person. To say I have to be a brand.
Mike: Not a man.
Mike: And, and if, if, if coming out as Mike E with AfroFlow works then I got to stick to that now. So that means I have to dress a certain way, I got to talk a certain way, I got to make certain music. I cannot explore other genres of music that have inspired me.
Mike: And there is a formula to this whole thing. And that’s what we have kinda been conditioned to see. And then we see when artists want to stretch out of that only a handful can truly be successful doing that. You know?
George: I do. Mike I mean I could talk to you all day and you make think in ways that I just I am embarrassed that I haven’t thought of before. Your work is so important. Your art is so important. And I just, my respect for you is off the charts. Thank you so much for this.
Mike: Oh, man I appreciate it. And you know hey maybe we could collaborate and get some of these artists that I am talking about together and, and tour the world and be ambassadors for this balance we’re looking for.
George: I would, nothing would make me happier. Thank you again.
Mike: Alright, let’s do it.