Fresh isn’t his middle name, but it is his last! Mikey Fresh (a.k.a Michael J. Yi), a connoisseur of hip-hop culture, takes time from his hectic schedule to talk to us about his hard work ethic and passion for everything hip-hip.
What do you do? And how did you get your nickname, “Mikey Fresh”?
I’m a full time music journalist. Currently, I work as the online music editor for VIBE Magazine (VIBE.com). I also hold a position as producer/content manager for Miss Info‘s blog MissInfo.TV. Believe it or not, I got my nickname from a college friend. I was like a walking billboard for a Jay-Z music video back then. Oh Lord.
When and how did you get interested in hip-hop?
I got really interested in hip-hop when I was in the 5th grade. Music videos on MTV and skateboard videos from the mid to late 90s were a big influence on me. It just felt right to me, when a lot of other things didn’t.
You work with Miss Info, who was recently ranked as a Media Power Bachelorette. How is it working with one of the most influential women in the hip-hop industry?
Honestly, I just feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Info. I started interning for her about 3 years ago, and in that time I’ve learned so much about the music industry and been privy to so much invaluable advice I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay her back. But it’s been both an incredible challenge and priceless experience filled with incredible memories already.
Through all of your well-written pieces pertaining to hip hop and rap, it is evident you clearly have a lot of heart for the game. Besides writing, do you do anything else with the genre? (i.e. write lyrics, produce, etc.)
I’m not involved in creating music but I would definitely like to give a shot at A&R-ing, writing television/movies and different aspects of entertainment. But right now aside from just writing; producing (web video), photography and videography are things I dabble in thanks to the blogworld.
You’ve interviewed many high-profile artists in the past like DMX, Drake and Nelly, among others. Who has been the most memorable interviewee?
I would say DMX and that was pretty recent actually. He was still in jail at the time and really had a lot to get off his chest. You could hear the pain and struggle inside him. Almost like there was 2 men: Earl and DMX.
Check out Mikey’s interview with DMX here.
Tyler, the Creator recently won the VMA for ‘Best New Artist’ with his darker style of rapping, superstars Kanye West and Jay-Z put out a well-received album sampling older music, and Lil’ Wayne clearly is still at the top of his game selling more than one million copies of his newest album in one week. Where do you see rap going with all these different unique styles of rap battling it out for the top spot?
Well in terms of sales, music charts and in in terms of units sold, it’ll remain in a similar state as it is in now. Artists like Kanye and Wayne will be able to sell millions and the rest will be happy to push a few hundred thousand. But really I think sales are meaning less and less a main factor when you want gauge a rapper’s talent and value. The top spot is open to anyone from the veteran to the rookie these days. All you need is good music and the ability to perform. And if you can’t put on a live show people want to see, music will always be just a “passion” for you.
Currently, Korean presence in the mainstream American hip-hop and rap scene is virtually non-existent. What aspects of hip hop and rap popular in Korea do you believe hinder a smooth transition to the American audience? Do you see any Korean Americans breaking out in the near future?
If you are talking about artists from Korea like Se7en and the Wonder Girls, who have attempted to crossover, it still feels like a language issue and an issue of authenticity. I hope I don’t sound too harsh, but to my ears none of the groups who tried to make it here sounded “American” enough. American people want to hear American music that sounds 100% American. I definitely think Korean artists are talented enough but they just need to be a bit more assimilated with American culture. I sound crazy but drop the Wonder Girls off at the Jersey Shore house for a summer and then they’ll be ready to take over America. Asian Americans are all over behind the scenes and even in front of the camera just below the mainstream in hip-hop right now, so it’s just a matter of time. Far East Movement having huge mainstream hits with “Girls On The Dance Floor” and “Like A G6” is great look for Asian-Americans in hip-hop and will help continue to kick in the door for more to follow.
Finally, besides hard work, what steps did you take to get to where you are today? And any advice for those interested in going into journalism and/or the music industry?
You really have to be proactive and willing to do what the “normal” intern isn’t. Don’t be normal, be the kid your superiors want to talk about… in a good way. I worked for free for years before making any real money. As an intern at The Source I was willing to interview anyone and take on as many tasks as possible. I’d take buses into Jersey and hit 3 boroughs in 1 day to get the job done. I think I knew early on that it would take years and something extra to establish myself in the music industry so I was willing to start from the very bottom. You might have a 9-5 internship but honestly this is a career path that doesn’t ever let up. There are opportunities everywhere especially in New York but if you don’t put in the extra effort to pursue them the next kid will. You should know from the jump the music industry is 90% smoke and mirrors but from my personal experience thus far, the successful people in this business embody hard work, integrity and relentless drive.
Also, if you’re headed to see Kollaboration NY 6 next Thursday (Sept. 29), don’t be surprised to see Mikey, as he will be one of the judges this year!
[Photos: Mikey Fresh's Facebook]