Whether he's penning poems, typing essays, or dropping bars, Chace Morris, aka Mic Write, is Detroit's most impressive wordsmith. We caught up with the Cold Men Young alum to catch up on his solo career (particularly his newest project, Onus Chain, released in November on Shadow Firm) and to talk about the state of Detroit hip-hop.
Metro Times: You're known as a "rapper's rapper," getting respect from other artists. At the same time, you've received a lot of institutional recognition. You've been awarded Kresge's Alain Locke award as well as a Knight Foundation arts grant. I don't think any emcee in the city has that kind of resume. What elements of poetry and literature do you implement in your lyricism?
Mic Write: Yeah, it's crazy. I think one thing I've been bringing over most from poetry into the music is unexpected flips of language. What I mean is, I love poems that lull me into something seemingly familiar, only to completely left turn off the known road. It re-dresses very common emotions and ideas in fresh colors and stirs them all back to the surface. And joints like "Chilluminati," "Pledge of Allegiance," and the first verse of "The Rapsure" are the best examples of those leaps connecting into newness that excites me.
MT: I still hear spaces in your music where you are more spoken word than rapper. Does this happen intentionally or does it just come out like that?
Write: I think it naturally comes out like that. My first "spoken word" pieces were just raps I slowed down and tried to make fit tone-wise, so honesty there's always been a connection there. And more and more I'm trying to knock down the walls between them all to experiment with how they all coexist. See what insanities come out of it.
MT: How have you grown as an emcee since your first solo project, Morris Code?
Write: I know my voice and direction way more. I am way more comfortable in my own skin navigating the structure of a song, what I'm trying to say, and what/how I want to affect with my music. My partner Sherina has also been integral in understanding the hard work that has to go hand in hand with what's created beyond the record. For maybe the first time, I feel like I see angles to really activate change in the things I write about, like creative ways to counterpunch these things beyond the music. It's been a long, insane journey, and there's still a ways to go.
MT: Let's jump in to your newest project, Onus Chain. This was a very aggressive political album. When did you decide this was the kind of project you wanted to create?
Write: Onus Chain was a collision of very fated atoms, fam. Felt like absolute manifesting. Last year, Sherina and me began exploring what each of our new national anthems would be after being completely over America for all the most obvious reasons (I chose Big Sean, "Blessings," and then she waited and ultimately chose Beyonce's "Formation" this year). These were some of our first joint experiments with "nation-building." Those conversations led to "Chilluminati" and "Pledge of Allegiance" but even then I still didn't really see a whole project. Then, Oren and Ben [of Cass Corridor Films] and Garret from Assemble came with all this fire to bring these songs to life visually and giving it a real platform to make more of a statement beyond SoundCloud. True testament to what can come from belief in the work beyond self and what different perspectives with a common goal can explode into.
MT: On track 1, "H.U.D.S." you dove right into police brutality. What motivated you to start the project out this way?
Write: It was anger and helplessness and fear — all the precise point this work started. I remember not having any answers to what was next at the time. I just knew that the names were endless, the trauma was endless, and I was questioning the effectiveness of all the songs and the writing I was doing in response to it. I was depressed and having periodic anxiety attacks. On the surface it was about the police brutality, but for me it was more the flailing and uncertainty in those around me and in my own coping. Starting there instantly puts me back into why I even started the path that ended up creating Onus Chain. I couldn't have gotten to the rest of it without starting to unpack all the emotions in "H.U.D.S."
MT: In "Wait/Weight" you touched on a white teacher accusing you of plagiarism. Was that true? Tell me a little about it.
Write: Hell yeah, completely true. Name will remain anonymous since I think he still works up in my alma mater, but he called me into his classroom during my lunch period to ask me pointed questions about my "motivations" behind some of the lines in the essay before dismissing me and taking it to the principal. I felt hella disrespected, but didn't see it for the prejudice and racism it was until unpacking it with my family. And from there became more sensitive to the different ways that oppression, that psychology will come for my head.
MT: The track "blak/joi/" really stands out. You seem to go into some of the beautiful aspects of black culture, some of the challenging aspects, but you also highlight the negative forces that keep blacks from growing. What was the inspiration for this?
Write: Because we are still here. Because every effort to set us back and bottom us out has been made, every jig has been risen against us, and we're still all in their face with it. Because through all this violence and tragedy and injustice, we drop records and styles and ideas even more black and defiant.
I had been chewing on this idea I had kept hearing earlier in the year: "joy as revolt/revolution." I sat with that and really wanted to know what that meant to me and mines. It is vital to keep all these lives this country's racist psychology keep taking from us. But it's also essential to take inventory of the beauty built amidst the ugly. Joy is a second sun, an energy source, and we have to protect that at all costs.
MT: How do you feel about the current state of Detroit hip-hop? Where do you see it going?
Write: I could go on forever, fam. Talent-wise, I don't know if Detroit has been more dense and diverse. And quiet as it's kept we've killed it this year. Danny Brown and Black Milk are givens and setting standards, but I also encourage anyone reading this to go check out names GDMRW, Red Pill, Nolan the Ninja, Noveliss, Ilajide, Yakuza Moon, Mike Melinoe, and Jaye Prime. Then go deeper!
We're all being very deliberate in how we want to push our sound and flip the game on our own terms. And more of the world is waking up to it. I look at the boom that Atlanta and Chicago are going through right now and it's inspiring. I especially love the wealth of artists killing it from the Chi. I know our scene deserves those looks. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that's never been Detroit's bag. We've always shook the game and set the norms on fire in our own unique way. Detroit is the grimier, counterculture cousin of all this and I think we're finally mastering how to weaponize that instead of chasing the same opportunities. The craft and talent have been here, stays here, and never leaves. We're a city of god-sharp swords — the next step seems to building more hubs for us to nurture the business side of this fresh growth.
MT: What do you have planned for 2017?
Write: First? Touring Onus Chain. Got some creative ideas behind it. Also, I want to bring back my Kresge ArtX project "You're Coming With Me," which tackled the gentrification and erasure in Detroit. Finally, I want to solidify what it truly means to be part of the nation I deserve, starting with myself and my home.