Interview: Mykestro

Mykestro is an emcee who is dedicated to the actual craft of emceeing. Mykestro, a versatile emcee, continues to lay out a rap manual by presenting passionate music that exudes a various range of emotions. This accomplished emcee presents quality music as opposed to putting out a lot of music (Quality over Quantity). This interview provides a detailed description of the West Coast, the philosophies behind his projects and his influences.

Could you provide a brief biography for those who are unfamiliar with you and your career?

Mykestro (pronounced Mic-Stro), South Central. I’ve been doing music publicly for about ten years now. I’ve worked with everybody who is somebody on the California music scene and I am best known for my skill and consistency and not who my brother is (I’m sure others will agree). My goal is to solidify my legacy by being myself and staying true to the craft as I see it. I’m highly touted amongst the best and hopefully you will agree after  listening to Adversity and Ambiance.

When did you discover the gift of rhyming and who were some of your influences growing up?

I used to rhyme in my neighborhood with some other kids. We saw Kris Kross and instantly thought that we could do what they were doing. I spent a lot of time watching videos and buying singles (tapes) when I was a kid. The NWA influence was by nature and I was exposed to a lot music since I am the youngest of five kids. My brother would play NWA while getting dressed for school, and my sister was in the next room playing New Edition. I got my love from Yo MTV Raps and Video Soul. I went to year around school so I was at home while others weren’t around. I watched a lot of television growing up and I listened to different stuff on my own accord. My dad was not too fond of me listening to music with cursing in it, but like most kids, l went against the grain. I had hand me down Eazy E tapes, Too Short, Whodini, America’s Most Wanted (Cube), I had Quik is Name, The Formula (DOC), and Warren G’s first album. I also had Kris Kross, then The Chronic, and Doggystyle. I was also exposed to music by A Tribe Called Quest, Monie in the Middle, MC Breed, Keith Murray, Biggie Smalls via Yo MTV Raps. Digital Underground was the 1st CD that I bought.

I used to go roller skating with the older kids in my hood and my ear wasn’t of the normal kid my age because I hung out with the older crowd. Later on down the line I gravitated towards the Kurupt’s, the Jay-Z’s, the Crooked I’s and the Andre 3000’s of the world. The Busta Rhymes, the Snoop Doog’s and Jada Kiss’s were my favorite type of emcees and I enjoyed the way that they worded things. Their influence played a role in the sound that you here from me today.

You just released a project called Adversity and Ambiance, how has the response been and what are you working on for the future?

The response from the Adversity and Ambiance project has been nothing short of satisfying. Unfortunately I did not have the resources to make it accessible in the places that mattered most. Those who have heard it have been touched and the response has been good. I’ve been working on trying to position myself to where I do not have to worry about reaching the consumer or the connoisseurs of good music. It’s hard being somewhat new and having to play bs games and kiss asses to get on certain sites or spend money that could go towards the needs of my kids. Getting my project seen on websites and blogs does not solidify an individual as good, it’s just progress.

As far as my upcoming projects, I am doing a lot of feature work and I am currently creating material for two different projects. I will not go into detail (only because people are always after the recipe that I use and they do not think that I take notice, so I move in silence and not broadcast future moves for various reasons) but you can rest assure that a blueprint was drafted, and while I worked on the Adversity and Ambiance project, which was step one in the building process., I am focused on executing and following through with my plans.

The Source recognized you as Unsigned Hype in 2007, a distinction that propelled you to the forefront of up and coming artists out of California. How have things changed since 2007?

I’ve grown a lot sonically as a artist since receiving the accolade. I’m not sure being recognized as Unsigned Hype placed me any higher on the list because I have always felt , along with others that know my musical capabilities, that I deserve to be mentioned in articles such as The Source. I feel that some publications overlook talent but artist who truly stand for something on the mic understand the politics involved. I do not want to sound as if I am owed anything, I am far from being ungrateful for the opportunity to be seen in a magazine and recognized with some of the greatest to ever pick up a mic (It is actually a blessing). I wish more journalists and music section writers would do their homework and really study the region before they select people for awards and recognitions (Thank you to Ryan Ford formerly of The Source Magazine) .When they do not do their homework the section tends to loose it’s value and credibility.

I know now that it is not based on how talented you are, but it is based on the politics involved. It is not longer based on the music, and I have to be okay with it to some extent. When I started doing music it did not appear to be a problem and if it was, it wasn’t as obvious as it is today. The last three years have been a learning experience along with some frustrations. Adversity and Ambiance is living proof that I will continue to beat the odds, as I always have.

Rodney Dangerfield famous moniker involved respect and how he does not get any enough respect. Do you think that you are the rhyming version of Rodney Dangerfield (in terms of not receiving the respect that you rightfully deserve)?

Lol, you know man respect is a word that is tossed around now a days and I am not sure how to take the word respect based on the context that is used. I think people are more willing to accept, then to respect. It’s hard for people to grasp what they do not understand. The concept of respect lies deeper than rap for me and I’m respected more for the man I am off the mic. Everyone who’s ever mattered musically to me have always given me the thumbs up and allowed me to use them as an outlet to display my own talents. Even if we do not do the same type of music, they respect who I am and what I stand for, regardless of our differences and that means more to me than being on YouTube smiling with a cat that doesn’t respect me, just playing the game and smiling for the cameras. I get the respect I give out. My opinion is strictly that, my opinion.

I am not afraid to express how I feel. I work hard at my craft so if I do not respect what you do musically it is because I work hard to be one of the best and at some point become the sole share holder of the #1 spot. I know what it takes to create music the way I do and to rhyme the way that I do , so when I give another artist props it is because I respect their craft, even if I do not know them as people. On record, they are above and beyond, so the familiar feeling of being out of the norm, resurfaces when I hear an artist that I feel is talented as myself or better and it encourages me to continue on my path, even though the game has taken a turn for the worst over the past few years. It doesn’t mean I’m going to bend, adjust maybe, but I will not conform to the bs forms of music that are on display these days because I have no respect for it.

The Internet allows people to seek music that is not available in their target area. How has the Internet helped you and how is Mykestro’s music received overseas?

The internet has helped in all the ways it has helped any other artist. It allows hands on relationships with the listener, which isn’t always cool, but I’ll keep a positive perspective and say that it has helped. I am able to reach people and get music to the ears of people I may never see or have the opportunity to display my talents in front of. As far as the overseas scene, I am not sure bro, they aren’t here obviously so if I haven’t been there in person, they only know what they see and hear of me online. So it’s up to the moderators online to paint the proper picture and allow opportunities for artists like myself who do not have the Leer jet to stand out and be heard and seen. I believe that pictures on a blog are not bad but they are not the best forms of promotion and marketing. I can safely say that I’ve never been called wack or had any site or person shit on my music and I am grateful for that. I am recognized for nothing but fresh music when I put shit out so hopefully they read the same interviews and write ups that i see and hopefully my rep is as solid overseas as it is in the States.

Listening to your mixtapes I notice that you are not afraid of sharing the spotlight and giving up and comers a chance to shine (Skills Still Appeal). What is the importance of the Skills Still Appeal features and were emcees willing to share the spotlight with you when you started out?

I do the Skills Still Appeal segments to display other talents outside of myself. As self centered as I may appear to be on record. I root for cats to win because I can’t carry the coast alone and i’m a fan first. As far as carrying the coast alone, i feel no one individual can. (no disrespect to anyone who feels they are capable) In this day and age of music you need a flurry. Especially when you are from the coast where others feel the skill based emcee is non existent. I did that series to show respect to some of the people I listen to locally and I feel that they have all the tools but they are missing the outlets, like myself. Knowing that feeling and having the opportunity to do something about it separates me from other emcees. I don’t have 10 million people following my every move, but when I speak people pay attention. So my goal is to use my following to further someone else. I don’t have any insecurities about my musical talents so I have no shame with displaying someone who I feel is as equally talented if not better than I am.

A key element missing on the West Coast is the unity and the ability to put someone on. A lot of people talk it and re-tweet it but I’m really about it. People stand me up and leave me hanging all the time (mainly up and comers), it ain’t really nothing to me. I’m completely capable of holding my own. The features aren’t for notoriety, I’m not attempting to ride anyone else’s wave of success. I’m doing my job as a fan of good music and dope rappers by attempting to collab with other artist that are or have the ability to be on my level. So I dedicated 50 bars or so to acknowledge those who are fighting the same fight that I am fighting by doing those segments. I’m sure everybody I’ve featured on any of my projects are grateful and actually humbled by my kind heard and willingness to let someone else have the shine on my record.

In regards to the second question about other cats showing the kinda love I show to other emcees, not really. A lot of cats are afraid of me stealing the spotlight or my verse being the topic of discussion on their material and I understand that it is apart of being the king of the jungle. Then you have people like Kurupt, Crooked I, Coniyac, Xzibit, Krondon, Sir Jinx, Supafly, Jellyroll and Battlecat (yes he is my brother, but he has a choice rather you choose to acknowledge that or not is your choice) that have shown me nothing but love and have done nothing outside of embracing me musically and blessing me without any cost or concern of where the material might go or be heard. The music I’ve done with Snoop or any of the artist in mention has been nothing short of me being myself. I didn’t have to pretend or change my style of music because of the arena I was stepping in. Snoop was the first artist to pay me for anything (The first record that I was on that could be purchased outside my ABB release). So there are shades of people that are willing to help the next man. Most of the non-helping handedness comes from others who claim to be unified but in reality we are all after the same position out west (Trying to be that guy). The respect I gain by being the person I am will forever mean more than a million views on WSHH.

I believe that your genuine attentiveness to the craft (lyrics) highlights one of your main strengths (You’re a walking collection of quotables). You have an innate ability to understand timing, rhyme schemes, and delivery (as it relates to the art of emceeing). Describe a typical Mykestro writing session.

It varies, I can write on the spot sometimes I write on the road while driving utilizing the Blackberry/Sidekick. For me it is all based on the music. I let the music take me there. The more inspirational the music is, the less I have to concentrate on the rap. Some raps come out fast while some songs take hours or even days to write. It is not because I couldn’t get it out, it is just a mood for me and I have to deal with a lot of things going on outside of rap so I am not always focused on writing. Sometimes I go park my car and sit there and write because it provides a different setting. I play instrumentals in my car or I’ll drag the mp3’s to my phone. Once I am sold on the music I usually remember the cadence of it and I don’t need the music to write anymore. That’s only once I know the music thoroughly and then it is all in the ambiance for me. I like to feel good about myself when I am writing and I am in good spirits and that allows the best material to come out. My music is a reflection of how I feel inside, therapeutic to some extent. Until you figure out that many can’t correspond with your train of thought, then “dumbing it down”  notion occurs and that is an entirely different interview. If you can’t relate, I’m sorry to say it’s just not for you…Blessings.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

No I don’t, but I do believe there is a such as forcing raps out. I do my best not to force raps and that may lead to turning down producers and artists who ask me to feature because the music is not on my level. I have graduated from the concept of rapping on everything that comes my way. Rap is fun but it also constitutes as hard labor and if I have to rack my brain composing material then it is not conducive to the creation of a song. I am not afraid of a challenge in form or fashion but I understand what will bring the best performance or writing out of me. Sometimes I make due but those may be songs for other people who do not have access to the level of production that I do. I understand being in those shoes, i adjust and still try my best to put my foot in the verse for the sake of my own credibility.

What qualities should a good emcee have? Name some emcees that keep your attention when they are rhyming.

I won’t go into detail about what qualities an emcee should have in his or her arsenal because it would be unfair to measure that against what’s currently available for the listening public. Crooked I, Jay-Z, Eminem, Common, Busta Rhymes, Elzhi, Bad Lucc, Lady G, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3k, Horseshoe Gang, Slaughterhouse, Lupe Fiasco, Jadakiss, Rick Ross, Ill Camille, Cuban K. Soze, Kanye West, Drake, and Cassidy are some emcees that manage to keep my attention.

I am aware that you have worked with a lot of artists and beat makers in your career. I would love to hear a collaboration between yourself and Detroit based emcee Elzhi because I feel that your styles compliment each other. What emcees and beat makers would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Any and all of the artists or people that I mentioned previously. I just spoke about El (above), I been listening to him since Welcome to Detroit. As far as production goes, I’d like to work with Pharell, Mr. Porter, Dj Khalil, Dj Quik, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Alchemist, Scoop Deville, Kanye West, Just Blaze, and Nottz. Those producers create some of the music that I am crazy about. Make no mistake with production from Battlecat, Jellyroll, THX, Seige, 1500 or Nothing, the homie Fresh Sinatra (10th Planet) and Amp, I’m prepared to shut down any opposing project. I love the musical genius of my supporting cast and extra beats from any of the above would be flat out unfair.

Another strength that you possess is your versatility. I noticed that your commercial tracks exhibit advanced emceeing skills. Do you believe that your music is universal and can your music be absorbed by hip hops fans who are obsessed with content that is hollow or dumbed down?

Only if they are open minded enough to read between the lines. I don’t feel like rap is for me, well at least the part where the gimmicks come in and it is no longer cool to be your self. I think my music is more universal than any other up-and-coming artist in California by light years, which can be a gift and a curse at times. People can’t grasp a train of thought they do not understand and most people are not open minded enough to think outside the box. People are sleeping with their eyes wide shut.

One of your mixtapes is called Quantity over Quality. Briefly describe the ideology behind the project?

During this time period people where releasing mix tapes with like 40 songs on them plus everybody had dropped like three tapes at this time. I’d rather drop one great project instead of putting out three decent projects. People like to appear as if they are “popping” or “buzzing” by having a lot of available product. My issue revolves around substance and how too much product could lead to reduced substance. Not many can put out quality music back to back at a high level.

Another one of your projects is called Emotion On My Sleeve. Briefly describe the ideology behind that project?

Sports, I love football and basketball and I love playing with my kids and enjoy family time. Every second with them is genuine and unconditional and that is not being offered in too many other places in life today. I’m all about having a good time i enjoy bowling, Speedzone, playing Madden, Call of Duty, watching Rob & Big, the Boondocks, House, and watching a reality show or two. I love to laugh and for the most part I am a home body due to working swing shift hours. I step out occasionally when the time allows.

For years the West Coast took a back seat to other regions in terms of notoriety and emceeing. Now emcees such as yourself, Crooked I, Bishop Lamont, Pacific Division, Diz Gibran, Glasses Malone, and others have restored the prominence of California Hip-Hip. How does it feel to be enshrined as one of the torch bearers for “The New West”?

It feels great (although I have a difference in opinion of what the New West means)! If you are referring to what was once spearheaded by Crooked I, Bishop Lamont, myself, Glasses, Problem, and a couple of others, great. But at some point the title took a turn into left field and it became more cliche based on people who aren’t on versus those who cemented and created stepping stones for a lane that did not appear to become available until we created it. Being mentioned amongst those that are making a name for themselves against the odds is a great compliment. There is room for everybody to shine. I pray that we all get the opportunity and take full advantage of the time window and not let the selfishness hold us back another ten years.

Could you describe the difference between the Old West and the New West?

I dont believe that either exist. The vets are still here and putting out more material than any of the new comers (excluding Crooked I, he’s got more material than 2Pac). It should not be a difference between the older/newer outside of age, era and the changing of the stereotypes that the West has been branded with. It’s going to take the OG’s to go on the record, visually on the radio, on the web and say hey I had my time but this is what’s going on right now and people will follow suite. Then the conversation of the OG’s not embracing the new cats won’t exist. Once again, you can’t expect people to vouch for what they do not understand.

People only rally for what they can relate to, which is an understandable trait, but it can also be a hindrance because it keeps us at the same point for a lengthy period of time. When something or someone chooses to limit the growth and disconcern themselves with the perception of us as a whole, then those that differ from that image tend to have to fend for themselves and in turn, becomes defensive, people on the outside do not know you exist when you are not what everyone (outside of the West Coast) categorizes as West Coast. It is a touchy subject because if you do not follow the on going stereotype, the odds are stacked against you. I’m West Coast but I am also Worldwide. I do not consider myself New West or Old West because I got love from the vets and the new cats alike.

Any final shoutouts?

Shout out to all my supporters, my family and friends. All the journalists, music critics, and consumers who aren’t afraid to scratch below the surface and realize who’s who musically and are doing their part to empower each other and knock “The West Coast is blackballed” walls down. Shouts out to anybody who stands for something and everyone who has taken time out of their day to listen to my music, to search my name and find out exactly who I am and what it is that I do, I thank you. I will continue to keep it 100 with y’all on and off the record. If you don’t have Adversity and Ambiance, you need to familiarize yourself by downloading it here.

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Words by: Praverb
More info: Mykestro