It might not be an exaggeration to say that 26-year-old Detroit native Sheefy McFly is rewriting the rules on what it means to not only be a rapper, but what it means to be an artist and musician in the city.
You probably don't adopt the incredible name "Sheefy McFly" without having an equally incredible upbringing. Born Tashif Turner, Mcfly knew he wanted to be an artist for as long as he could remember. "Growing up, all I did was watch cartoons with my dad," he says. "They always made me laugh. And as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be an artist. There weren't any other options."
At a young age, he knew he could draw, so he attended the Detroit School of Arts with hopes of being becoming either a cartoonist or an editorial illustrator. "When I was little, I would just draw cartoons," he says. "But when I went to high school, I started focusing more on still life and developing my own style and shit."
Then where does the music fit into all of this? "I've been listening to and making music as long as I've been drawing," he says. His father heavily influenced McFly's early listening. A music collector himself, he would take McFly to record stores every Tuesday where they would pick records by artists like Al Green, Michael Jackson, and Prince.
The Detroit rap scene inspired him to start writing and producing his own music. While he was attending the Detroit School of Arts, he released his first self-produced mixtape. "I had no idea what I was doing," he says. "But I knew it was something I wanted to keep on doing."
After high school, McFly attended the College of Creative Studies. "CCS taught me a lot about what it means to be an artist," he says. "There weren't enough hours in the day to finish everything I was working on over there. But I figured, why am I paying so much money to be an artist in Detroit when I already considered myself an artist in Detroit." He dropped out after a couple semesters, and fully committed his time to exploring different mediums.
Since his first mixtape, McFly has released no fewer than 20 self-produced albums, spanning different genres. McFly is mostly known for his rap game, but he dabbles in house music, electronic, and he was even in a punk rock band (Sheefy McFly and the Delorean) that recorded three albums. When asked about genre and the types of music he likes to produce, he said he doesn't prefer one to another. The music just happens. "I don't even try to define myself in a genre right now," he says. "It's more about creating, how can I say, sound as a different meaning."
McFly felt like his career moved forward when he started living and producing work in the Red Bull House of Art in Detroit's Eastern Market — the neighborhood he resides in. Described as an incubator for artists, McFly began to explore his own artistry and aesthetic while at the House of Art. They had a gallery open where four of his pieces were purchased, and it was the first time he realized that art and music don't have to be separate — they can coexist with each other and influence each other.
After the Red Bull House of Art, McFly started producing his own showcases where he and other Detroit musicians and rappers could come to collaborate and perform. He created a showcase called "The Air Up There," describing it as his generation's own Hip Hop Shop. Other native Detroit performers like Danny Brown and DeJ Loaf would swing by to collaborate. The showcase has been going on for about seven years. McFly says he feels like he has influenced the Detroit rap scene more than it has influenced him.
He's now interested in going beyond making music and hosting showcases. There is a Detroit DIY scene that he's clearly at the center of and which is markedly different from other well-known ones of the recent past, whether London or Olympia. "Detroit is for sure coming back," McFly says. "I'm not even sure if Detroit ever went away, but I can definitely see rebuilding and replanning in different neighborhoods and I think it's a good thing. If it's bringing more people down to the city then why not. I've watched these neighborhoods go from nothing to having new businesses opening their doors, so it's good for everyone."
As for the future, McFly is hopeful. His first vinyl release is imminent, on Black Mahogani, the label that also released Moodymann's records, among others. Then, of course there is more new music, both as Sheefy McFly and his electronic alias Edward Elecktro. "I want to create a brand," he says. "Yes, I make music and make my own art. But designing clothes, having a record label, pressing vinyl is where I want to be. For now, it's waking up, drawing, selling prints, and making new beats. It's a new kind of hustling."
McFly hosts his underground hip-hop event "The Air Up There," where eight rappers compete for a grand prize. The event takes place Thursday, Jan. 14 at Bob's Classic Kicks. Doors at 9 p.m.; 4717 Woodward Ave., Detroit; $10.