You can't buy an all-over Nascar t-shirt with a picture of Chief Keef talking into a fat stack of Benjamins like it's a cellphone, but you might see one on Sir Michael Rocks as he rolls through Kendall.
The Chicago-bred rapper made the shirt himself, and he did actually sell a few through his apparel site, Exotic Gourmet. Unfortunately, Chief Keef is no longer available, but you can get shirts covered in video game controllers, old Nickelodeon cartoon logos, or one with Ekans and baseball bats.
Some people might find his style a bit odd, but Sir Michael Rocks doesn't care anymore.
"I'm very hands on with everything that involves me, from t-shirts and clothing designs to flyers, album artwork, my photos, my videos," he says. "I came to the realization over the past couple of mixtapes that I've made that I always get the best response when I do what I want to do."
He applied that same reasoning and mix-and-match nostalgia to his debut solo album, Banco, just released through his label 6 Cell Phones. It's 15 tracks of energetic jams, goofy skits, Nintendo samples, and hot lines. It's also got some seriously dope features from Twista, Too $hort, Trinidad James, Mac Miller, and more.
As one half of The Cool Kids, he's had a steady fan base since the late 2000s, and he's released a bunch of mixtapes on his own, but with Banco, he's reintroducing himself to the world.
"With this album, I was just fulfilling my purpose," he says, "fulfilling my own personal purpose of why I'm making music, what I do it for, which is to help people feel good about being who they are, being themselves, to make that cool again. To make it cool to be comfortable being yourself no matter what you do, what you're into, no matter how weird people think it is or how stupid people think it is, enjoy yourself, be you and bask in that."
He wasn't always so confident, but the process of making this album was a real journey, both emotionally and physically. He started Banco in Chicago, moved to L.A. for about a year, and ultimately finished recording in his new home in Miami.
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"I was getting ready to move into a new place in L.A.," he says, "I was just thinking to myself and I was on twitter (looking at) all the people that I'm talking to, and I was like 'yo, I don't even really talk to a lot of people in LA. Everybody I talk to is my friends that live in Miami.'"
Robb Bank$ and Pouya appear on the track "Kill Switch," and he's featured on "Shepherd" by Denzel Curry & Nell. The videos for Banco tracks "Memo" and "Fuck SeaWorld" were filmed in the Everglades and the Miami Seaquarium respectively. Already the move is paying off.
"Go to where you want to be, where you're going to make the best music," he says. "I can do what I'm doing anywhere I want to be. All I'm doing is putting shit up on the Internet. As long as I have Wi-Fi, I'm pretty sure I can just do that."
Growing up, Michael wanted to be a zoologist. Now that he's a rapper, his puts his love for animals in his music, even if his ideas about animal captivity have done a total 180. He said relocating to our tropical paradise has been great for him artistically.
"I'm spending a lot more time outside here," he says. "I'm not gonna make a song like Pitbull anytime soon. I won't be doing any Rick Ross type songs. The influences are coming from my surroundings, from nature, the beach, things that I'm seeing visually, my friends."
He admits that, in the past, he's tried too hard to capture the vibe of other rappers with addictive styles.
"I'm a good rapper so I can rap any way I want to rap and it's going to sound good but I didn't get that satisfaction from it," he says. "That's not really my idea all the way, and I didn't feel right."
Even in L.A., he felt himself being pushed toward certain radio-friendly beats and rhymes before a lack of enthusiasm for the project earned him more creative control.
"I was like' fuck it man, I'll just do what I wanna do, make my own thing from my ideas from scratch and just put those out," he says. "I was scared because I was like 'yo, people are going to think it's stupid, somebody's going to think it's lame or weird. Somebody's going to think it's not hip hop, it ain't regular.' I had that thought always going through my mind, but I just pushed through."
Having worked so hard to find himself, it's important that he not get too involved in the sounds other people are making.
"Especially in music, everybody is really influenced by what everybody else is doing and if something is cool now, everybody does that," he says. "We miss out on a lot of great music because some people are scared to be themselves, because they don't want to be picked on, they don't want to be stupid, they don't want to look foolish."
Banco isn't too serious, but it's smart. It's a party record that dares to get a little introspective, but mostly it's a fun-loving record from a fun-loving dude flexing his muscles.
"I really made a point to do everything myself, artwork, music. I even messed around with some beats on this album," he says. "I think it really turned out well and gave people a better picture of me, a better idea of what I think about all day and what goes through my head."
He's heading to L.A. soon to film the video for "Intro," one of his favorite songs on the release. He's also gearing up for the tour, breaking it up into regional sections and treating each leg to its own stage production and setlists, keeping things interesting for both himself and his fans. Of course, he'll be leading the way on all that as well. Maybe you'll see some Pokemon or dinosaurs on stage, or maybe he'll sell some "free the whales" shirts. Whatever he's feeling, you know?
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"Respect nature, respect the animals. Let's not forget what we are and what we've come from. Be yourself, enjoy where you are, what you have, and who's with you," he says. "I was just hoping that maybe with this album I inspired somebody to do something crazy that they just wanted to do, and I think I might have hit the mark."
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