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Interview: Michael Millions

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Michael Millions is a man of many things in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. A man. Father. Rapper. Engineer. A positive influence. Michael Millions has been rapping for over a decade now and has seen the evolution of Richmond unfold before his very eyes. In the past, he was a Norfolk State University graduate with a background in Mass Communications before working in the IT field. Eventually, he would pursue music full time and his studio at his house became a hub for artists to create content. His laptop alone has many terabytes of projects from artists he worked with on regional and national levels.

Michael Millions' influence on the community can't be just displayed through his mural near Mama J's in the historically black district of Jackson Ward. It's how he inspires people to move onward and upward as if life is a spiral staircase. His goal of "9 Million" isn't monetary but it's ensuring that how he always treats others with a heart of gold. His last album Hard To Be King received recognition from XXL Magazine in 2018 and the leading single Sirens appeared on Revolt TV.

The mural was done by @nilsrva . The mural can be found between Mama J's and Good Peeples studio in Richmond, Virginia

Jay: You’re affiliated with the Association of Great Minds, AGM for short. Who are some of the members and what were some of your favorite things that the collective created?

Michael: For the most part, it's a friends' circle. Me, Radio B, Nickelus F, my brother Namebrand, Monsee’ (a video director based out in LA that worked with the likes of Arianna Grande), Frank, Cole Hicks, Easalio, just a host of people. It’s really our peers. No different than any peer group. We just called ourselves AGM from there. One of the things that I enjoy us creating is different ways to elevate others by doing things like RVA Rap Elite created by Radio B to help elevate emceeing. The Flag On The Moon event. It’s a positive event sharing a stage with peers that have been working throughout the year or had some sorta impact. AGM, we are just here. We're not really a company. Just really the homies. Bring awareness to things we're interested in.

Jay: You included your daughter Maliah in past records such as Number 12 from the Beautiful project. Do you see your daughter going into music like how you did?

Michael: I don’t know. I think she’s a super creative kid so she never really played with toys or too much stuff. Always create her fun or things she's doing. Always getting into something she created. Even when it’s music, she plays the guitar, sings, and rap a little bit but you know, as a parent I try to nurture what she’s into at the moment. It could be video games or braiding hair as she does now. She’s really artsy. She could get into it. She knows she got the resources if she wants to experiment in any way with music. It would be super cool but you never know.

She grew up in the studio. I watch old interviews of musicians and they talk about their kids and stuff and they interview the kid and the kid has the perspective of growing up seeing this person that person because their parent was doing stuff. That's my daughter's perspective. She has seen some greatest rappers and musicians in this area even knows. Even not just in the area but around the country. I worked with a lot of people in my actual studio. She has some artists from my studio go upward to where they’re at now. All she sees are creators and artists. It could be anyone who walks through the door and it could be someone who sings, rap, DJ, producer, sculptor, clothing designer, whatever. Everything she sees is an example of people creating their own fun. I have no idea what that reinforcement is or what that impact will be going for least experience it.

Jay: When you released your last project Hard To Be King, there was this huge story around how you needed two D’Angelo samples to be cleared for release. It started with an interview with Alex Black discussing the Brown Sugar album and it led up to a phone call with D'Angelo himself to get verbal clearance. And it didn’t cost you a dime. When DJ Booth asked you if you expected the samples to get cleared, you said “I do right by people. I'm just a generally good person and so magical good things happen back to me.”

Anyone who has ever met you can say that about you. Coming up in the former US murder capital, how did you manage to keep that attitude within your interactions with people?

Michael: My life really keeps me in that attitude. Started music at a young age and it showed me good favor at a young age. You know when you find something passionate early about like ten and at the moment you get into it and it shows you nothing but good by doing it. You don’t know how and I honestly don’t know how. I had people tell me "I did this and I did that" and I’m like, "Nah bro, I kept writing music and things happened." Sometimes people ask if I had a plan. I do kind of, but I plan for the unexpected magical shit to happen. I wake up every day expecting magical shit to happen. I anticipate wild text messages, emails, phone calls, and unexpected interactions that'll fall into something else.

Like the D'Angelo thing. I was chilling in the crib, some dots got connected and I got the phone call. I don’t question those things. Why and how isn’t important. I take it as "Oh shit. That shit just happened to me." and things like that can happen to other people too. I knew what I wanted to be and I just don’t know exactly what that looked like but I am who I thought I was going to be even when I was young. There’s a phrase I'm thinking of and it's "Who I became is who I thought I might’ve been growing up.

Jay: Let’s talk about the new album. You performed some new and old music at Flag On The Moon 6 including a song with Troy (FKA JrDaRappr). Will it still fall under how you normally construct your music to work for live performance? The reason I asked is that I noticed your sounds align with jazz themes such as strong usage of string and wind instrumentation and a lack of bass.

Michael: Originally, I got into making albums and putting them out in a regular fashion. At live shows, I would pay attention to what everybody was bringing and what it sounded like, I realized nobody’s music fully represented where we were from. I wanted to be a proud representative of the music we were made from. Richmond got a certain energy and feel about it. I credit that of course to D'Angelo because that was our biggest representation of what Richmond, Virginia sounded like in that time frame. He looked like us. He wore what we were wearing and looked just like a nigga from the southside. Those sounds were all over the world. To me, that was the sound where I was from outside of Mad Skillz. Even though his sound didn’t sound like Richmond and it sounded more so from New York. To better say it, the raps were but the music wasn’t it so there was a disconnect to applying that sound. Once I applied the sound Richmond was responsible for, everything went up from there.

You can see our sounds by digging into the jazz scene, hardcore, and rock scene. There’s a band named Plunky and Oneness. I love that unification aspect of calling the band name oneness. And as I grew and understand more autonomy how I created how I wanted to create and more of where I’m from, that’s instantly going to change and impact the music.

My last record was achieving that feeling without the band, picking the right percussion and making sure Namebrand picks the right samples. We kept a certain degree of feels and a lot of the lo-fi. I love it but it’s too lo-fi for the things I want to represent. It's not my brand of music. Richmond music got the brand of music I represent. I'm not an experimental artist. I don’t experiment publicly with my music. You'll hear me do it at a good level. I usually get down for deep dives and flesh out a bunch of ideas in a week. I love taking my time with developing a new album like this upcoming one. I learned a lot from working on the last album and releasing and working on releasing it after the last album. You gotta write that shit out. It takes time to flush those ideas because shit keeps happening. It’s kinda fucked up now. I got over a hundred songs now. I can’t because I’m always in creative mode at the moment. It’s hip-hop you know.

Jay: The art of sampling was always interesting to me. There are different arguments for the love and hate of it. Some see it as giving new life to an original record that shouldn't be forgotten. Others think sampling is a lazy way to produce a beat and say its stealing from the original creator.

Michael: Processing music is beautiful. Finding what you need through the journey is a part of the game. You’ll fall in love with the process. I see both sides but some people can see sampling as a shortcut of the process. The crazy thing about taking shortcuts is that the shortcut can still be a long way. If you don’t know where you going. What if you get lost after the shortcut, does it matter then? Think of the words people use as the actual term of a "shortcut" Do you want a shortcut of the money? I don’t want the shortcut of anything. When you think and process it why would you want to shortcut yourself.

Jay: One phrase I always live by is that it's easier to obtain something than it is to sustain it. It's like winning the NBA Finals one season and trying to stay on top the next season after over a hundred games to just win the chip again. It can apply to music and how one can make a record but have to keep that momentum going.

Michael: You have to broaden your journey to help sustain things in you to go far. I talk about stamina a lot. I see artists fizzle out at any level because they don’t have the stamina for the life they’re asking for. The to get there so fast to get to the other thing. I saw it with artists where they work for six months on an album, drop the album then drop a t-shirt and promote that more than the album they sold for six months. It's as if they don't know what they really want. I look at them crazy like, "yo, you wanted this? You just want to do what looks busy." What I do want to continue to happen is my journey to have a lot of magic involved like "Holy shit, Wow." I hope everybody shit is like that.

Jay: It's been documented that Nas is one of your all-time favorite rappers along with Black Thought. In 2019, you performed with Nas on stage at The National in Richmond. How do you feel about it now?

Michael: A dream come true. I don't even say shit like that. I don’t think about it really. Now I can say it as "there was a time in history there was a show at the national with two people performing for the show: Michael Millions and Nas. It’s wild. It's magical. A privilege. At that point, beyond my wildest imagination fosho fosho. Now ever since then, my imagination actually enhanced. Anything is possible when you really really think about it. I stepped away from planning a particular way. Now I just imagine, visualize and walk into the thing I want to do next.

Jay: What makes Richmond so special?

Michael: Here is my analogy for Richmond. Richmond is like a crockpot your grandma had. There are a bunch of crockpots out here. LA, Chicago, Houston, New York, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans Memphis, and the Midwest. We got these crackpots where one minute pass, someone lifts the crockpot on New York. Two minutes pass and someone lifts the crockpot on Atlanta. Three minutes go by, LA. Richmond is the crockpot that has been simmering all night long for eight hours. So when you lift the top off, all the flavors have matured and they're so tasteful, robust, flavorful, and beautiful.

People come to Richmond, don’t know anything about Richmond, and end up learning a lot about the city during their visit. They learn the food and art and music are good here. We're one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Some people finding dreams to come to Richmond. Housing is expensive as shit here nowadays because of how many people are moving down here and staying here. It's a reason for it all whether it's the arts, food, music, or hella job opportunities for professionals so when you factor all these things in, we just got the best taste in food shit, when we give the plates out the world, they love it. Our crockpot is always hitting. We have been offering shit for a long time. Very soon, the world is going to get hit and they'll want to come and stay in Richmond.

Jay: Who are some indie artists that you would like to shout out?

Michael: That list is long. There are so many artists I'm proud of and working with. I don’t want to shout out one or two people. It’s so many people even like yourself I'm proud of. I see where you came from in Southside and where you're at now. I got your book now. It’s a lot of good work that everyone is doing. I don’t even wanna create the who’s who and what's what. We got to do a better job of amplifying everyone’s good work in the region. I can tell you ever since I was a part of the music scene, I always have seen good work coming out of this region forever. As long as we can amplify it, multiply it we'll be fine. If you know me and I know you, I'm proud of you.

You can follow Michael Millions on all social media @MichaelMillions and watch his visual for Sirens below.

Written by: Jay Guevara @justinhisprime on all social media.

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