Hired Gun
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Hired Gun

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"Brooklyn Props interview with Hired gun"

see link - Brooklyn Props


"Urb Next 100"

see link - Urb


"Hits and Pieces Review @ IheartDilla"


I met Hired Gun a few years ago and quickly learned that he’s been a staple on the freestyle circuit and the New York rap scene for years. HG is a dynamic performer and a huge champion of the underground scene. Hailing from New Jersey and based in Brooklyn, the hip hop educator and lyricist has released several albums both as a solo artist and with his group, Third Party alongside Rabbi Darkside and Farbeon. He founded Fresh Roots Music and has toured the globe extensively from Europe to South America and Africa. His first album, The People’s Verses was released the same year to critical acclaim. It was recognized by multiple taste makers with various cuts and music videos from the album getting exposure and being selected for year end awards. In 2010 he and Rabbi Darkside gathered international artists from France and Brazil and released another critically acclaimed project, Skillz to Take Brazil.

Hired Gun’s latest project the Hits and Pieces EP is a collection of lost tracks compiled during and after the creation of The People’s Verses. Each EP will feature a different producer who worked on debut record. The first in the series features Ice Nine, the producer of Dan Freeman. ”Hits” captures the mood and energy in between The People’s Verses and the upcoming project, NiceGuysFinish. For the mixing and mastering, HG called on Nasa, owner of Uncommon Records & Nasa Labs. Nasa’s resume is thorough, having worked on projects with some of hip hops greatest heroes including Aesop Rock, Mr Lif, and El-P. Of the record, Nasa says “It’s some underground hip-hop for the b-boy mind, it really covers a lot of aspects behind being a rapper from Hired Gun’s perspective.”

All six tracks on the record stand alone, capturing their individual moods and subject matter while remaining cohesive as a collection. Ice Nine’s production shines the brightest on the head nodders, Swing Set and The Pressure. Nasa and I agreed that the beastly bass synth line on The Pressure is a standout. “(It) knocks, I made sure to have that rip apart speaker cones.” he says. His other favorite track, Human Story,’’ gives a nod to The World is Yours from NaS’ classic, Illmatic. The beat feels nostalgic and emotive which is the perfect canvas for the “live your worth” theme of the song.
The most heartfelt track, Real Love takes the listener on a musical journey. The jazzy intro with its edgy piano stutter sets the tone of the second person, each verse contains its own story of love lost. Hired Gun ties it all togetehr with a subtly catchy hook.

The EP then shifts gears entirely and throws in a party joint. With a middle eastern flavored sample, The Temptress, introduces guest two guest spitters, freestyle battle champ Tranquill and Philly emcee Jake Lefco. Both guests compliment Hired Gun, their rhyme schemes offbeat like Bebop greats for the hip hop generation. The subject matter is light hearted, and the track is short and to the point. Unlike most hip hop party joints, the rhymes are sexy but not crude, and there’s no intercessory hook that makes so many others like it unlistenable.

The Life, featuring Chicago’s Quazaar is the perfect closing song. It sums up Hired Gun’s life as a traveling rap artist, outlining the sacrifices he makes and the toll it takes on his relationships. It’s backed by Ice Nine’s signature raw drum sound and Quazaar is a perfect ally to HG, sharing in his struggle and love for the art.

Hits and Pieces is a faithful representation of what Hired Gun has to offer as lyricist. Though there aren’t many risks taken on the album, there don’t have to be: the main purpose of the record is to create anticipation for his next full length project, NiceGuysFinish, and it more than gets the job done. The album showcases Hired gun’s status as a seasoned pro with a consistently solid body of work. What’s more, the chemistry between emcee and producer is undeniable, and they’ve locked into a sound that is natural, easy to digest and, most importantly, tough as hell.
- IheartDilla


"A Random Moment with Hired Gun"

We totally dated ourselves when we realized we knew each other since the heydays of Myspace. Yes, that Myspace. Since then we've been connected through the music and poetry circles and the occasional hot button race issue. At the Ace Hotel, on a Saturday afternoon we discovered we were neighbors in Brooklyn, kindred in the artist lifestyle.

~ ~ ~

My name is Mikal Amin Lee AKA The Hired Gun, Fresh Roots Music, Nomadic Wax, Urban Word. I am a Hip Hop MC, artist, writer, cultural critic and arts educator. I’ve been based in New York City now for the last 13 years—born and raised in New Jersey—been reppin’ Brooklyn since 2000, officially. Unofficially, I’ve been reppin’ Brooklyn since Big Daddy Kane in 19- [muffles his voice] I’m not gonna say when cause I look very young.


As an MC and artist, what is the message behind your music?

My influences have been people like Chuck D, KRS-One, Brother Jay, The Native Tongues, Freestyle Fellowship and regardless of the political message or the artistic message, the thing that I took from them and what I try to carry on is I want you to think. I want you to ask questions. That’s what my music is—it’s to inspire thought, it’s to provoke thought—what’s going on with you, what’s going on with the community around you, what’s going on with the world around you, why are things the way they are, where do you fit in all of that. So that’s really what my music’s about regardless of what the topic or the concept or the theme is ... I’m not afraid to say I love Black people, so I try to celebrate us as much as possible in my music and I try to show a different angle because I’m not what this country or what people think are stereotypical of us so I try to represent that as well in my music.



I read somewhere that when working with your students, you want to teach them the “spirituality of the freestyle”. Explain that.

Well, when I began making music or began writing in my teens and trying to understand the whole art, freestyle was something that was shown to me or what I knew to be improvisational, free association, stream of consciousness; basically being able to take the environment around you and create stories from it, create images, something cohesive, something coherent but something that was truthful because it was the reality you were experiencing. That’s what I try to have them do, to tap into the things that they know and who they are and tap into all of the experiences they are having or had and then create from there because in the freestyle that’s ultimately what it’s about.

Those are the things I learned from my own experience because I was one of those kids. I grew up on the East Coast so I always listened to people like Supernatural and KRS-One on the radio, which I thought were freestyles for real but it wasn’t later until I experienced people from the West Coast—people like Freestyle Fellowship with P.E.A.C.E or Aceyalone or Mikah 9—it wasn’t until I really experienced them and did a little bit more of my own hip hop research that I realized a lot of the freestyles that I heard from the East Coast were not necessarily freestyles but the West Coast was really where people were really like, “ok, I didn’t write this down anywhere, this is right now, I’m at the barbeque right now…”




What’s your favorite word and why?

My favorite word … Wow, I gotta think about that for a second … Free. Because that’s what I would like to be, that’s what I hope we could all be. I’ve said this before, I feel if everybody in the world could do what they love and were truly moving in a place to do what they love the world would probably not have as much violence, pain, suffering.

Aight, 30 seconds, one verse, a freestyle using your favorite word…

OK, it’s time to play
as I slay the track on the microphone
When I get melee
As you can see
This place it isn’t free
We have to look at a menu to buy and what we can see
So see
I’m about free
Not about the price I’m about the spirit and the mind
This is what I do when I combine the words to find the time to design something out of the mind or off the brain
Understand
If you’re saying that we’re all not free and we’re in somebody else’s lane
I’mma make my own
With a little poem
And rock off the beat but there is not one
But what I own is myself
The self is true, and that’s what I do for you and you and you
This is the crew it’s Fresh Roots
Music
And this is what we do
If you can see in the place to be and I see my homegirl that is Genesis B
She’s a waitress at the Ace it’s crazy
I’m in this place
I might have to say somethin’
Maybe get a taste
‘Cause we might get something free
as you can see
‘Cause hey when you know someone
you can go to someone
and get something for really nothin’
buggin’
And this is what I’m lovin’
Maybe I get something free a coffee or a muffin

[laughter]
Wow, Genesis works here, that’s funny, she’s an MC.

This is a very artistic hotel. I would work here.

Yeah, that’s crazy.




What power do your students hold?

The biggest thing why I love working with young people so much is that there’s an honesty and an optimism that experience tends to erode; the belief that everything is possible, that anything is possible, it’s inspiring just to be around that energy in and of itself. I just love that. The power that young people hold is really that, that honesty. They don’t really bullshit. I really feel like it’s something you learn, I feel like it’s a survival tactic especially in a place like New York where there’s so many people vying for things you find these ways to be strategic and tricky—it’s not always so straight up like, “yo, this is what I think” “this is what I think about you”. I had run into another artist friend of mine, we were talking about how you try to get things like funding for a particular project you might have to deal with someone that’s a complete asshole, you can’t tell them they’re an asshole. But young people if they don’t feel something, they don’t vibe with something, they just not vibing with it. They’re not gonna pretend, and I love that and I appreciate that and I wanna hold on to what little bits of that that I have left with me. That’s been the most powerful thing that I feel that they hold and I’ve been able to be in the presence of.

Would that be your advice to them, to newcomers, to hold on to that?

Absolutely and also that dreams are real but they’re work. You can dream about something but you actually have to go in and do it. And it can happen. It can happen if you stay true to it and stay true to yourself you can make anything that you want happen.


When you’re not listening to Hip Hop, what style of music are you listening to?

Oh man, you got time? I listen to so much. My first influences music-wise were Paul Simon, Huey Lewis and the News, like rock stuff. So I listened to a lot rock, a lot of electronica, I’m a big fan of drum and bass, house music, I love dancing to house. So I run the gamut. But also I love classic music. One of my favorite labels of all time is Stax Records -- so funk, soul music. I love stuff off the Impulse label for jazz, so mostly, a lot of Black music, pretty much everything that falls under that category or genre -- jazz, funk, rock, electronic music, all of it. All of those things find their way into what I’m doing sonically with my music as well.


Do you cook?

Yes, but I don’t like to.

When you’re creating at home do you prefer to sing in the shower or while you’re cooking?

You know what, I probably freestyle everywhere. When I do cook I typically have music on so I listen to music and I cook to the rhythm of whatever I’m listening to which is usually jazz. I have soundtracks. When I’m working out, I’m lifting weights, always rap music. If I’m cooking, it’s always jazz. If I’m writing, it’s jazz. Like if I’m writing a lesson plan, I listen to, on repeat, Bitches Brew, if I’m doing any type of academic, intellectual writing, or I’m preparing a speech, I put on Bitches Brew—it’s like a ritual. I put Bitches Brew on and I start writing.

Ok, but pick one, what’s your preference, singing in the shower or singing while you’re cooking?

Ummm… shower.




Your thoughts on the new Barclays Center—positive or negative?

Listen, wow, you know, and this hurts me doubly because I’m from New Jersey so I was a Nets fan growing up so on the one side it’s like ok so, I love Brooklyn, I will be buried in Brooklyn but I can’t front, I’m from Jersey so…

I was thinking gentrification…

But that’s what I’m saying it hurts me two ways. On the one hand, I’m like so ya’ll took my team, but at least Brooklyn took the team, but it’s the situation where again the people with money, the people with power, do for themselves and leave everybody outta the equation. So the Barclays to me isn’t anything positive for Brooklyn. I think 80,000 people lost their homes. I don’t know how many businesses. None of that’s being replaced.

The thing about Brooklyn is, to understand Brooklyn, Brooklyn’s flavor, its atmosphere; its personality was purposely anti-the city. “The City” is where you have skyscrapers, where you have to buy an 8 ounce cup of coffee for a buck-fifty, things are expensive, people aren’t friendly. That’s Manhattan, that’s what Manhattan does. Brooklyn is a family place, it’s community so to have the Barclays, and don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge sports fan, but what sense does it make to have a team where the average ticket price is probably gonna be like a hundred for a midsection seat? How do the people of Brooklyn benefit from that? I’m already seeing you have brothers and sisters running around, they got their Brooklyn Nets hats, they got their shirts and that’s cool and that’s great and there’s pride in that but meanwhile Jay-Z, Ratner, all these people, they’re making money so that you can have a little pride? I don’t feel that. If the community doesn’t get to benefit from a financial standpoint then you don’t really need to be there. We already have enough people leeching.

In the very early parts of the process back in like 2003, 2004, I was briefly helping the organization that was trying to save the Underground Railroad building on Duffield Street, so even the history is being erased. And for me, I lived in Park Slope for about 6 years so I saw firsthand the ripple effects because the zoning changed, people were getting kicked out, I almost got kicked outta my place. I had a landlord that wasn’t fixing anything purposely so they could get us out and jack the rent up because all on my street, on 16th Street, we had like 10 and 12-story high-rise buildings that prior to Barclays were illegal, you couldn’t even build those things there because of the personality of Brooklyn.




Can you rank the countries/cities you’ve visited?

Probably my favorite place to be, one and 1A is… it’s actually a 3-way race. It’s funny we’re talking about this now because my boy just asked me about this. If someone offered me a job in Berlin or Brazil, today, peace. Here’s my American passport, fuck your life, I’m out. ‘Cause that’s the myth we teach; America’s the only place where you have freedom, America is the only place where you have opportunity. It’s not true. And it took me traveling to understand that. We like to convince ourselves that we have the exclusive rights on living a life that you can create that’s your own that can be prosperous. Prosperity looks different in Brazil—prosperity is community, prosperity is family, real family, time with friends. Most people in New York, the quality of life, you spend most of your time working so that you can pay your little bit of rent, that’s most people, or you’re shucking and jiving folks out of their shit so that you can live comfortably. It doesn’t work that way.

So my triple is Berlin, Brazil and I loved being in Zimbabwe. After that, it goes to Czech [Republic] and then Paris last. It has some really cool people there that I love but as a city it reminds me too much of New York. It’s like New York without English. People are real rude, people are real cutthroaty but just in Paris. French people aren’t that way, it’s just Parisians seem to be that way.

Berlin is the shit. Berlin is dope. I like people that are direct. You don’t like my shit, tell me. Tell me why. I’ll accept that. If you don’t like it cool, you got a good reason then aight I’m not for you. But we don’t have that type of honesty, people aren’t honest enough to do that. I had the most interesting, intellectual discussions in Berlin. A really intelligent city and [they] love all types of art… and we talk about New York being the city that never sleeps? New York can not fuck with Berlin. It’s 8AM in the morning and they’re drinking beer and been in the club and it’s, “ok, this club’s closed so we’re gonna go eat breakfast and then we’re gonna go to this club.” They don’t play. Berlin is the truth. Berlin is real.


How do you deal with artist burnout? How do you prevent it?

You know, honestly, I don’t get burnt out as much by my art as I do by all of the things that I have to do so that I can do it. I will say that when I feel as if I’m becoming stagnant, I go back to my early principles of what I did to get to the point I’m at. What I mean by that is the little exercises in my writing. One of the things I used to do all the time when I was younger in this is I would get on the train and put on a beat and however long the train ride is, whether it’s 30 minutes, 40 minutes, I have to write a verse in that time. About anything, it doesn’t matter. Once you get to a certain point if you put out records, if you produce shows and tour, sometimes you get away from the little things that help you find new flows or help you get out some of your ideas so I’ll try to go back to some of the basic exercises that would spark things or just keep me sharp in terms of doing what I’m doing. [I] definitely try to read or listen to another style of music. I do that often when I feel like I’m rhyming about the same thing or [at the] same cadence. I’ll get another artist and really study them and get into what their sounds are like and cadences and stuff like that. That’s kinda what I do to keep myself fresh and lively but I feel like I never really do it enough. I love doing it. I can’t think of a time where I ever felt like I don’t wanna rap. That never happens.


What are your upcoming projects?

A lot of stuff has been going on. Right now, I just released 2 singles from the latest EP called The Devastating Masterpiece; it’s part 2 in a series. A few years ago, right after I released my solo album, The People’s Verses, I started working on tracks with some of the producers from that album and realized that I had enough for these smaller projects. So while I'm writing the next album, Nice Guys Finish, which is gonna be released Spring 2013 at this point, I'll release these EPs called Hits and Pieces, 6 track EPs with my producers from my first album and thematically it’s more about the sonnet of each producer, it’s like highlighting producers like Ice Nine, Mista Mayday from my crew ESP, Acee which is actually going to be the epilogue that explains my album called The Hard Ship. All of these are coming out. The first one’s been out since January. And the next one The Devastating Masterpiece, the 2 singles “Ghost of Ocean Ave” and “And For My Next Trick”, those are already out on soundcloud and just circulating on the internet. But the actual The Devastating Masterpiece will be in September.


Complete this statement: If my muse were an animal, it would be…

A panther.

Why?

I’ve always just felt like the panther’s my totem. Um, partly because I’m a big fan of the panther party, Black Panthers. My favorite superhero from the Marvel universe is Black Panther and it’s always been one of the totem animals of Africa so that’s just my connection to it.
- Ailekuewrites


Discography

Discography:(Abbreviated)

ESP-Big Bang Theory (2000): EP
ESP-Strange Forces (2001): EP
ESP-Maxi Single (2002)
3rd Party-Pressed for Time(2005):Full Length Album
3rd Party-Separation of Powers(2006):Full Length Album
Frequency Activism-Hip Hop in Strange Places (2007):Full Length Album
Fresh Roots Music-The People’s Verses (2008): Full Length Album
Say Word Ent.-Get up Stand up Tour Compilation (2009)
Say Word Ent./Fresh Roots Music-Skillz to Take Brazil (2010): Full Length Album
Fresh Roots Music-Where in the World is Gun? (2010): Compilation
Hits n Pieces (2011-2012) (3 EP series)
The Hard Ship (2012) (EP)
#NiceGuysFinish (2012): Full Length Album

Photos

Bio

Mikal Lee aka THE HIRED GUN is a Hip Hop/Spoken Word educator, artist and performer extraordinaire. A workshop facilitator/performer for the American based International Hip Hop label Nomadic Wax, and head of the independent imprint Fresh Roots Music, his music and workshops have a specific focus: Roots, Truth, and Culture. Born in New Jersey and raised on Black pride, middle class numbness, a steady diet of racism, and DJ Red Alert; Hired Gun is beats, rhymes, and life for the everyman woman and child. In 2008 he released “The People’s Verses” a critically acclaimed album recognized by such taste makers as Wake your Daughter up, Rhymehouse, Ohword, HipHopinformant and Hip Hop Linguistics with various cuts and music videos from the album getting exposure and being selected for year-end awards.

A year later he was selected as one of URB magazine's Next 100 (which included names such as Ascii, Asher Roth, SkyZoo and Drake among others) and recognized by 90.3 radio, The Voice of Harlem as 2009’s “Best New Artist on the Come up”. "HG" has appeared alongside legends, Rob Swift, Slick Rick, Camp Lo, Brother Ali, K’Naan, Qwazaar of Typical Cats, Fat Lip, J-Live, WordsWorth, Breezevahflowin and The Last Poets, in such famous venues as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Palais De Tokyo (Fr), The Lourve, Bowery Poetry Cafe, and the famed ARCA Theater in the Czech Republic. Since 2008 Hired Gun has toured extensively in Eastern Europe (Hip Hop Kemp 2009), Africa (Mashoko International Hip Hop and Spoken Word Festival in Zimbabwe) and South America (Hip Hop Comprimiso in Alvarado, Brazil). 2009, Hired Gun travel recorded the world’s first transnational bi-lingual hip hop documentary album, “Skillz to take Brazil” with Rabbi Darkside, DJ Zajazza and several Portugese rap artists while touring Southern Brazil. In 2012, Hired Gun has released two EP's "The Hits and Pieces" and later in 2012 will release a third EP, "The Hard Ship" which is a prologue to the upcoming full length album, "#niceguysfinish" due out in the fall of 2012.

As a teaching artist his career began in 2006 with Urban Art Beat. He currently serves as the Program
Director of Urban Word NYC, a non-profit organization dedicated to youth literacy and development
through the art of poetry. Mikal has given lectures on gentrification, the global hip-hop community,
the African diaspora, and issues concerning social justice at various institutions including Fordham
University, Marist College, the United States Institute of Peace, and Centenary College. He has also led
youth-oriented workshops on writing and performance in New York City, Massachusetts, Connecticut,
Zimbabwe, The Czech Republic and Virginia. As a cultural critic, he has spoken on panels at Connecticut College, Yale University, and various education think-tanks across the United States.