Artist of the day: Mike Mass

Published June 26, 2014

Mike Mass is a 25-year-old hip-hop artist who is determined to put Tampa on the map.

His music recalls the swinging rhythms and lyrical positivity of classic early '90s hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and Nas. You can catch him most nights of the week all over the bay area, either performing or curating events.

Every last Sunday of the month, he hosts Wine and Rhythm at Crumb and Cork in downtown Tampa. This event showcases a variety of local artists and mediums: painters, graphic artists, tattoo artists, fashion designers, and a range of musical acts.

We sat down with him and he let us in on his ideas and philosophy.

How did you first become involved musically?

I was a spoken word poet from seventh grade through my sophomore year of high school. I honestly got tired of the cliché writing, and I also started doing beats early on in high school. I was primarily a poet the longest and a rapper on the side. I realized I was pretty good at the MC thing and I became obsessed with the lyricism aspect of it. Finally, now I'm starting to make more music, as opposed to being impressive lyrically.

How did you become interested in spoken word? That's not a common interest for an average seventh grader.

I got into it 'cause when I was young I used to write stories. I'm a writer; I'm just a writer. Spoken word was a challenge. Rhyme scheme, things like that. I love rhyme scheme, that s--- is awesome. I'm from the Bronx, (and) you have to be the best at something in New York, or you ain't s---. I was a good MC, but I wasn't the best out there. I was the best poet, though (laughs). I tried to be the best spoken word poet that I could be.

When you started to incorporate beats and music with your spoken word, what influenced you?

Definitely Nas. Nas is one of the reasons I started rapping. As far as hip-hop music, to this day, he still may be one of the only true poet MCs. The majority of his music is imagery. It's not necessarily a narrative. He'll spend eight to 12 bars on a verse just describing how something looks or feels. I thought that was awesome as s---.

I used to hate Jay Z when I was young. I grew older to understand why he's great. It's the way he uses words. That's what I learned in high school AP English. I learned about alliteration, consonance, assonance, iambic pentameter and things like that. I started to realize that that's really where the greatness of MCs came from. The same qualifications that make a great writer are the same things that make a great MC, lyrically. It's the incorporation of those literary elements and the knowledge of them. That goes all across the board to Q-Tip, Jay Z, Nas… Lupe Fiasco is my biggest influence.

Do you sample, or create all your own music and beats?

I sample. Mike Mass the producer is very much a hip-hop purist. When it comes to beats, my biggest influence, obviously, was A Tribe Called Quest. My favorite producer of all time is Pete Rock. Hands down, no contest, no competition. He knew how to make a drum pattern that you had no choice but to nod your head. That's what hip-hop had. There's a swing that's involved in hip-hop beats.

I'm getting down to the Tampa identity of hip hop, which is a combination of that old-school, jazzy soul vibe, and a southern bounce, like a UGK bounce. Tampa is a perfect place for the medium of what old school people want and that new-school bounce that young people want. We're trying to develop the identity of Tampa hip hop right now.

Is your music topical? If so what is your focus?

I would like to say it isn't, but it is. The primary objective of what I do as an artist musically is geared towards using the time I have the ears of the people who are listening to me, to educate them about something they would not have otherwise looked up or come across. It's a movement of knowledge. It's all about intelligence. It's all about teaching people to think for themselves and stop being force-fed things ranging all the way from political views all the way to religion. It's not just a display of lyrical creativity, but more so, I'm creating a concept that will make you think about it, that will make you talk about it, that will maybe even make you look something up, which is always my hope. Maybe you'll do some research; maybe you'll look something up. That's really the goal of what I do.

-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*