“It’s kind of like moving a pile of bricks one brick at a time — you’ve just got to not stop,” said local hip-hop artist Mike L!Ve about persevering in the evolution of his career.
The North Carolina native spent seven years fronting a hip-hop band out of Raleigh before joining Asheville group Free the Optimus in 2014, eventually opening for names like Lupe Fiasco, Big Boi and Ghostface Killah. He got his foot in Charleston’s door only to have 2020 slam it shut. He kept whatever momentum he could by doing cameos in other musicians’ shows at various venues.
“I’ve been performing live for 15 years, and there I was, only able to express myself via one to two verses periodically a couple times a month,” he said. “In the end, it was a blessing that kept my name relevant and people liked what they heard.” He went on to headline his first sold out show at Tobin’s Market last September.
Today, Mike L!Ve is gearing up for his first LP release show with a live band at The Pour House on Feb. 25 in celebration of his new self-produced album, The Greene Tape.
“I was lucky enough to meet talented people established in the scene, and they took it upon themselves to gift me opportunities,” he said. “With that, I’m trying my best to establish myself. I’ve got a line on the album, ‘I’m a starving artist trying to eat just so I can feed the homies.’ I feel like if I get a chance to spread my wings enough, it will elevate me to a platform where I can reach down and bring others up.”
The new record infuses gritty elements into the classic, sample-heavy format heard in 1990s hip-hop to convey an overall darkness and distortion.
The album release show will be a blend of live-meets-sampled material, with Mike L!Ve backed by a trio of drums, bass and keys to fill out the skeleton of original Greene Tape audio, saturating the experience with several guest performers such as John Shields of Little Stranger, vocalist LaFaye, and hip-hop artists Sxvxnt and Slim S.O.U.L.
The Greene Tape nods to Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s debut studio album, commonly referred to as The Purple Tape. It captures the duality of the-artist-versus-the-individual, featuring Mike L!Ve’s alter ego, Who’s Like God, a masked-up, gloved-up version of the rapper who can be seen in the music video for his new track, “Gathering Dust.”
Clothing is essential to his music, and the hoodie fashion concept he launched with previous albums has continued to take on a life of its own in both the form and content of The Greene Tape, which opens with the track, “Throw Up Your Hood,” and ends with, “Remove Your Hood.”
The vocal simulation in the opening song introduces Mike L!Ve’s pivotal concept of “drape yourself in audio” to escape distractions and soak in the lyricism.
“There are certain parts of life where you’ve got to just throw your hoodie up,” he said. “This album is hoodie music. It’s made to go for a walk in the city on a cloudy ass day and be in your own vibe and your own world.”
And, of course, there’s an official Greene Tape hoodie available with a green cassette tape in the pocket.
Mike L!Ve’s aesthetic is a testament of his attention to not only the beauty of hip-hop, but the impact that it can create with a conscious message.
“More things in life are pulling us apart than ever before,” he said. “I think it’s important to step away from all that shit. When you’re just at a show having one-on-one, heart-to-heart intimate moments, you can really be in ‘the now.’ If you died two weeks from now, would you be pissed at how you lived your last two weeks? I’m treating this show as if it’s about to be my last show. You can do that with every moment in life too.”
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