The story of Mic Skills, likely Houston's hardest-working underground rapper, begins with a collection of Transformers. His popular Mission Control showcase and debut album behind him, Mic's honest, autobiographical rhymes owe largely to a rare Optimus Prime action figure.
Chatter caught up with Mic — set to release the follow-up to his Defiant debut — to discuss vintage '80s toys, his beginnings as an artist and a run-in with Kanye.
Chatter: You worked at Dave's World, that vintage toy store, for six years. How did you wind up there?
Mic Skills: For the longest time, I collected Transformers. In high school, I'd go to garage sales, malls and flea markets — anywhere to find toys. One day I got the phone book and called Dave's World to find an Optimus Prime action figure. And he had it all. Little by little, like once a month, I would trek out there with my saved-up allowance and get what I could. Before you knew it, I was working there.
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That was a huge part of my life. I look at it like Transformers got me to Dave's World. And Dave's World got me to downtown and the scene. I met so may people who came through there. I met BBC and so many artists, promoters and DJs through there. It was definitely my stomping ground, my jumpoff point.
C: Tell us a little about your encounter with Kanye West.
MS: At Dave's World in 2004 when the Super Bowl came to Houston, I actually met Kanye West. He came into the store and bought a whole bunch of Star Wars figures. When he walked in, I was like: "I should tell this guy I rap." But I didn't feel like I had anything worthy of presenting at that time, so I didn't tell him.
And that was the whole mind-set I was in then. I knew I had to make better music, so when I was ready to present it, people would perceive it better than just, "Hey, I rap."
Chatter: You described your early performances as "humbling." Did that have an effect on your music?
MS: It was the motivation I needed. I had to stop and look in the mirror and realize that I was so much further from where I needed to be. But I was willing to work. And it took going to the open mikes, freestyling and going to after-parties.
I just got in the mode where I'd go to shows and the after parties, and I didn't care if the show was over and there were three people left; I would ask the DJ, "Hey, throw in a beat and I'll rap." I think the more and more I got out and rapped, the better I got.
Chatter: When does the new album drop?
MS: I'm shooting for spring of 2011. It's a continuation of Defiant. It picks up where it left off, but bridges the gap on everything that's happened since.
Recent Houston Press cover star Trae tha Truth will be the special guest at next month's Houston Press Music Awards showcase, Saturday, August 7, at several Washington Avenue venues. Trae, whose all-day concert/fundraiser Trae Day is this Thursday, July 22, in the Northwest Mall parking lot (9600 Hempstead Rd.), will perform at 6:15 p.m. on the Bud Light Stage at Washington and Silver St., joining Matt & Kim, Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights and 2010 HPMA nominees the Zydeco Dots, Runaway Sun and the Sideshow Tramps. Voting is now open; the ballot is in this issue on page 49 and online at polls.houstonpress.com/polls/hou/mas2010/. Nominees Satin Hooks, D.R.U.M. and DJ Kyle Berg perform at this Thursday's HPMA preview party at House of Blues. Doors at 6:30 p.m.; no cover.
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1. M.I.A., MAYA
2. Nachtmystium, Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. 2
3. Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (LP)
4. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today
5. The Energy, The Energy's First Album
6. Jeff Mangum, Live at Jittery Joe's (LP)
7. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening
8. Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (LP reissue)
9. Wolf Parade, Expo 86
10. Daniel Higgs, Say God
1. Forever Jones, "He Wants It All"
2. The Art of Noise, "Moments In Love"
3. Walter Hawkins, "Marvelous"
4. Marvin Sapp, "The Best In Me"
5. Bishop Paul S. Morton, "Be Blessed"
6. Yusef Lateef, "Nubian Lady"
7. Eric Leone, "Cruisin'"
8. Roy Ayers, "Searching"
9. Tyrone Davis, "Turn Back the Hands of Time"
10. The Crusaders, "Put It Where You Want It"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)
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