I’ve been listening to rap music for sooo long, and I have so many thousands of songs ingrained in my mind, that it’s impossible for me to make a definitive Top 10 MC list. Sure, I love a lot of the same MCs that you’d expect to see on any typical Top 10 list, but in my opinion, no one has been consistent 100% of the time. So instead of boring you with yet another Top 10 list (there are literally thousands of them on the internets), I thought that I would focus on a personal favorite of mine who has been #1 in my book for many years. And for a lot of you out there, this might be the first time that you’re reading or hearing anything about this MC: Mikah 9
Mikah 9 is from South Central LA, a member of the Freestyle Fellowship (as well as Project Blowed and Haiku D’Etat), and has been in the game since the late 80s. Dude has lived a crazy life. Little known fact–Mikah 9 ghost wrote the lyrics to the Rappinstine song “Scream“, which appeared on the original “NWA & The Posse” compilation back in 1987. Also, Eazy-E was interested in signing the Freestyle Fellowship back in 1989~1991, but an agreement was never settled upon. Mikah 9 has said in interviews that Eazy-E would often play songs for him from artists that he was working on to get Mikah 9’s opinion on them (like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, for example…)
When Eazy-E signed Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in 1993, and then they blew up in 1994-1995, rumors started flying around that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony stole the sing-song/fast rap style from the Freestyle Fellowship (and others in the LA underground hip hop scene)… that Eazy-E exposed the Cleveland-based Bone Thugs-n-Harmony to the style of rapping that underground MCs in LA had been doing for years. And on the flipside, there were some who were saying that Twista’s “Mr. Tung Twista“, or Jaz & Jay-Z’s “The Originators“, came out first and therefore influenced Freestyle Fellowship. But Mikah 9 stands firm in saying that the Freestyle Fellowship were “flipping those styles long before” any of that other stuff came out. But hey, whatever, it’s 2010, can can we all just get along?
When most people think of South Central LA in the early 90s, they probably think of NWA, the movie Boyz ‘N The Hood, the LA riots, the Bloods vs. Crips gang wars, etc. I can think of those same things too, but nowadays I tend to think more about the hip hop renaissance that was happening in South Central LA at places like the Good Life Cafe (where Mikah 9 and the Freestyle Fellowship gained legendary status):
It’s perplexing to think of the two extremes occurring in South Central LA at the same time, but they did. You had all of that insane gang shiit going on in the community, and you had groups like NWA that were rapping about things that most black people only thought about or said behind closed doors, in barber shops, etc. (And in this way, hip hop was going through a different sort of renaissance with gangsta rap… but on a totally different level from what was occurring at the Good Life Cafe):
As Beezy has mentioned before in our podcasts–I wasn’t into a lot of the gangsta rap stuff during this time. I was mostly into stuff like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders Of The New School, Main Source, Organized Konfusion, Gang Starr, etc. And living in mid-Michigan, I didn’t get hip to the Freestyle Fellowship until 1993, when their second album “Innercity Griots” was released. It wasn’t until many years later that I would find out about their first 1991 album “To Whom It May Concern“, or hear about what had been going down at the Good Life Cafe since 1989.
Ever since the mid 90s, I have always felt that there has been a general regression and dumbing-down of MCing. The level of lyrical artistry, complexity, and creativity that was once so prevalent at places like the Good Life Cafe (and other various spots in Oakland, San Francisco, etc.), has not existed in hip hop for a very, very long time. And I really, really miss it…
Every time a new “flavor of the month” MC is introduced to the rap world and/or is touted as the “next best thing”, I can’t help but (in my mind) put him/her up against and compare them to where the underground west coast MCs were 20 years ago (from an artistic and developmental standpoint). I find myself constantly asking, “OK, is this better or worse than what has already been done? Is this MC doing anything new or different, or are they any more advanced, than what has already been done?” And I feel that 99% of the time the answer is “no”, and that new MCs couldn’t hold a candle to the ones from the LA hip hop renaissance period. So what I would like to do now is play you some examples from the person who I think best personifies what I’m trying to get across here…
Oh man, where to begin…? I guess I’ll start with the most recent thing that I’ve heard from Mikah 9 that completely blew my wig off*. It’s The Glitch Mob remix of a 2004 Haiku D’Etat song, and I feel like this is the perfect beat for this song. This is a perfect example of the right MC paired up with the right producer. Please note that I edited the remix down so that you only hear Mikah 9’s verse:
Haiku D’Etat “Mike, Aaron & Eddie (Boreta Remix)”
Haiku D’Etat consists of Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, and Mikah 9, and are still recording and performing together as a group. The “Mike” in the song refers to Mikah 9, the “Aaron” refers to Abstract Rude, and the “Eddie” refers to Aceyalone of the Freestyle Fellowship. While scouring the internets for this post, I came across the OG version of this song from the mid/late 80s!! It’s called “Mike, Eric & Eddie”, and instead of Abstract Rude, it features Spoon Of Iodine. This particular three-man team called themselves the MC Aces back then. Here’s the full length version of the song:
MC Aces “Mike, Eric & Eddie”
One thing about most of the “good” MCs at the Good Life Cafe was that they were also unbelievably dope freestylers. Here’s Mikah 9 freestylin’ at a Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party back in 1990, with Cut Chemist on the decks. (FYI, members of the U.N.I.T.Y. Committee & members of the group Rebels Of Rhythm would later team up to form Jurassic 5):
Mikah 9 “Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Freestyle (Pt. 1)”
Mikah 9 “Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Freestyle (Pt. 2)”
Mikah 9 “Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Freestyle (Pt. 3)”
In 1991, Freestyle Fellowship independently released their first album “To Whom It May Concern”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to this album until many years later , but it still had a strong impact on me regardless. In the album’s intro, Mikah 9 recites their mission statement and succinctly breaks down what makes their style of rapping so unique:
“…Acknowledging rap as an artform, we break the rules and set new standards in the vocal arena by experimenting in tonal and harmonic changes, and sporadic pitch changes and deliveries. We’ll stir your emotions and take rap music to its threshold of enlightenment…”
There were two solo songs by Mikah 9 on “To Whom It May Concern”, and I feel that they were way ahead of their time: “7th Seal” and “5 O’Clock Follies”. For example, the song “5 O’Clock Follies” had some very blunt, provocative political stuff in it (especially for 1991):
Freestyle Fellowship “5 O’Clock Follies”
About the next song, “7th Seal”, Ellay Khule once commented on how it, “blew everybody’s mind for at least 2 years straight. People studied that shiit backwards and forwards–even we don’t know all those words. That made everybody say…’I gotta get a tape out’ or ‘I can’t rap like so-and-so no more…I can’t be in the 80s, now we movin’ to the 90s.’ That totally [transformed] our musical thought.”
Freestyle Fellowship “7th Seal”
Mike Nardone has a show on KXLU 88.9FM called “We Came From Beyond“, and it is LA’s longest running hip hop radio show. The Freestyle Fellowship was in heavy rotation on Mike Nardone’s playlist back in the early 90s, and they would often show up at the station. Here is a freestyle from Mikah 9 during one of their visits back in 1992:
Mikah 9 “We Came From Beyond Freestyle (Live On KXLU 88.9FM) (Pt. 1)”
In 1993, Freestyle Fellowship released their second album “Innercity Griots”, this time on a major label. They mostly had solo joints on their first album, but on this second album, they rapped more as a group or tight unit (i.e., trading verses, rapping altogether at once, etc.). Because of this, I decided to edit the next four songs down to just Mikah 9’s parts. The first song “Ummm…” was a b-side bonus track on the “Bullies Of The Block” 12″ single (which was the first single off of the “Innercity Griots” album):
Freestyle Fellowship “Ummm….”
Freestyle Fellowship “Way Cool”
Freestyle Fellowship “Danger”
Freestyle Fellowship “Shammys”
The next song “Park Bench People” was on the same “Innercity Griots” album, and it became an Acid Jazz classic (recently covered by Jose James). It was sort of strange hearing this song on the album, because it was a straight up Roy Ayers-type track and didn’t really fit in with all of the other raw rap stuff. Plus, the song was really good, too! Little did I know at the time, but Freestyle Fellowship had hooked up with local LA musicians (both old school cats and younger guys) to incorporate live instrumentation on some of their songs and to play with them at various gigs around the city. And oh yeah, by the way, that’s Mikah 9 singing on this song!!
Freestyle Fellowship “Park Bench People”
Here’s a Freestyle Fellowship promo video from 1993. These guys were doing poetry stuff long before slams became in vogue and all of the wannabe pro-black headwraps jumped on the bandwagon, and long before whack MCs started telling their DJs to “stop the music” so that crowds would be forced to listen to every damn word that they have to say. For the Freestyle Fellowship and others at the Good Life Cafe, kickin’ shiit acapella was just another mean/way for them to express themselves creatively, and not be bound to a 4/4 beat structure or typical rhyming pattern:
Here is Mikah 9 doing a song live at the Good Life Cafe in 1993. The more and more that I listened to Mikah 9 over the years, the more natural that it became for me to hear him blend singing and rapping interchangeably:
Mikah 9 “Let’s Fly (Live At The Good Life Cafe)”
In 1995, Aceyalone released a solo album called “All Balls Don’t Bounce”. Mikah 9 appeared on the song “Knownots” and killed it once again with yet another totally different flow/style. The song is edited down to just his verse:
Aceyalone featuring Abstract Rude & Mikah 9 “Knownots”
The next five songs were recorded between 1995-1999. And as you can tell by the sound quality, they were probably 4-track cassette tape demos, but I still think that they’re super dope!
Mikah 9 “Sand To The Beach” (1996)
Mikah 9 “Fruit Don’t Fall” (1998)
Mikah 9 “What You See Is What You Get (199?)”
Mikah 9 “It’s All Love (OG Version) (1995)”
Mikah 9 “Untitled (1995)”
The next song was taken from Mikah 9’s first solo album called “It’s All Love” from 1999:
Mikah 9 “American Nightmare”
And here’s an awesome live version of “American Nightmare” from 2000. It was recorded at an Anticon party (of all places…)
Mikah 9 “American Nightmare (Live At Rico’s Loft)”
I just love this next song from 2001. It’s a one-take exercise called “Free Energy” and it demonstrates his vocal range and freestyle jazz-scat skills:
Mikah 9 “Free Energy (Scat Version)”
The next three songs were released in 2009 on Mikah 9’s solo album “1969”.
Mikah 9 “Inner Knowing”
Mikah 9 featuring Aceyalone “Options”
Mikah 9 “Soul Beat”
A little bit later in 2009, Rhymesayers released an Abstract Rude album called “Rejuvenation”, and there was a song called “Thynk Eye Can” on it with Aceyalone and Mikah 9. And again, I edited it down to just Mikah 9’s verse:
Abstract Rude featuring Aceyalone & Mikah 9 “Thynk Eye Can (Haiku D’Etat Mix)”
This is by no means a complete discography of Mikah 9. While the songs that I have selected for this post are spread out pretty far in some places, he has consistently been putting in work.
Like so many other MCs, Mikah 9 always seems to do his best work when teamed up with a good producer. When Mikah 9 is doing his thing over a really dope beat, he’s absolutely amazing… Unfortunately, however, Mikah 9 has had his fair share of “boring” songs and garbage-ass beats over the years. But regardless, I still feel that he is the best MC out there (on soooo many levels).
There are some people who dismiss Mikah 9’s style/flow/delivery as “just a gimmick”. I have never agreed with these people… I believe that Mikah 9’s style/flow/delivery is decades beyond 99% of all of the other MCs out there. I know that it’s a bold statement to make, but if that isn’t apparent to you by now (after listening to all of these examples that I’ve provided for you), then you and I have nothing else to say on this matter. It’s a dead issue. It’s like saying jazz musicians who improvise with complex notes/scales, and transcend their playing to that next level, are “gimmicky”… Jazz musicians can have the same sheet of music in front of them, but what they do with those notes and how they play the piece is what separates the amateurs from the jazz masters. And the same goes for MCs… you put the same sheet of lyrics in front of them, and you should expect new jacks to (at the very least) stay on beat and maybe put a little heart in what they’re saying. But in the hands of someone like Mikah 9, you should expect them to be able to do a hundred different variations of those same lyrics.
There are also those who have complained that “all he does is talk nonsensical gibberish”, or that he “never really says anything”. Again, I do not agree with these people at all… Clearly, they’re not trying to listen to a single word that he says. Their ability to comprehend is being overshadowed/overpowered by how he says his lyrics. To the average layman, his lyrical content goes right over their head because they can’t hear past his fast, complex, and unorthodox delivery. Sure, Mikah 9 is guilty of saying gibberish words/phrases from time to time just for the sake how it sounds, or for the syncopation, or for the chopping… But if you really pay attention to what he is saying, or read some of his transcribed lyrics, then you will see that he actually says some pretty profound things. Sometimes very street, ghetto things. Sometimes very blunt, political things. And other times very clever, poetical things. But anyway… I digress.
So whoomp there it is… The #1 MC on my list is Mikah 9. Thanks for reading/listening!!!
*Beezy’s note: Kevin actually does wear a wig.