Will See is in full boxing mode. He's fighting the perception of being an older cat in the rap game, and he's battling to show he's more than just a conscious rapper.
"My first album was my entrance into activism culture," he says. "This album will be my entrance into hip-hop culture."
Born William Copeland, See first stepped into hip-hop by participating in ciphers at college campuses and listening to local heavyweights Athletic Mic League, One Be Lo, Black Milk, and Guilty Simpson.
In 2000, he launched his musical career writing rhymes and poems. "I was in three different groups at the same time," he says. There was a hip-hop duo with MC Escher (named after the artist), the R&B-flavored group Bar Sugar, and the melodic soul group the Long Hair Collective.
"We went five years strong," See says about LHC. "The sound was amped up, kind of like a Digable Planets with a little bit of folk."
At the same time, See began delving into social activism.
"I started a peace group after 9/11 when people wanted to go to war," he says.
Over the years See, now 36, has facilitated educational dialogues at the Grace Lee Boggs center, worked with Detroit Summer, and helped organize dozens of Detroiters to assist with the U.S. Social Forum. Much of his civic work was punctuated with spoken word or hip-hop. Being involved in the community not only led to personal fulfillment, but it also increased his bookings. "I wanted to do things, I wanted to say things, and I wanted to relate to the things that were going on," he says. "The stuff I was putting out there was really resonating with people."
By 2005, See had withdrawn from the hip-hop and spoken-word scene, and channeled his creativity into more literary styles of poetry, publishing two chapbooks. "There were certain emotional things I wanted to tap into, but I couldn't find a space within hip-hop to do that," he says. "I felt there was an honesty you could get on the page."
By 2012, See was married, became a father, and was feeling the itch to pick up the mic again. The years of studying poetry had matured him lyrically. "I felt that my music could speak to our generation and also connect up with younger people," he says. "So, yeah, there was the hunger coming back, but also a feeling that I was being called back."
See possesses an indefinable mystique. He's armed with a bachelor's in biology and a master's in philosophy, but he doesn't let those things define him. His dreads, thick beard, and square glasses gives him the appearance of an urban intellectual, but he has the youthful demeanor and passion of a 21-year-old unsigned hype.
In 2013 See dropped his first solo album, The Basics. "It was like a Public Enemy with a little Nas, a lot of these songs were intended to be used in movements," he says.
The album spoke to Detroit's emergency manager situation, water woes, and civil unrest. With his upcoming mixtape, SOL SWGGR, See is mixing the message with high-octane rhymes.
"On this one I just wanted to flow, but the consciousness is still there," he says. A version of the mixtape was released in September, but the official project will debut later this month with two bonus tracks. See has two more projects planned, but really wants to see the rest of the Detroit hip-hop community keep moving forward.
"We gotta bump up the business here," he says. "The music is good, but bumping up the business will take things from dozens to hundreds, and hundreds to thousands."