Album Review: Mikkey Halsted – MMM (Money Makin’ Mikkey) Season

Posted: September 26, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 3rd Q 2012
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When Mikkey Halsted dropped Castro this summer it was a sign of serious preparation for the next level.  Backed by a couple of the biggest names in rap production (No ID & Young Chop), and one of rap’s most influential mixtape DJ’s (Don Cannon), Mikkey dropped a mixtape that showed his potential for mainstream success beyond the kind of “greatest that never made it” barbershop and blog fame he’s held in Chicago for many years now.  Castro wasn’t Mikkey’s deepest effort, but it combined depth with mainstream palatablility through a difficult balancing act, dropping enough witty similes to please the backpack contingent, enough depth to please the coffee shop open mic crowd, enough street imagery to please the hardcore rap fan, and enough gloss to please the labels and the pop crowd.  Ultimately Castro was successful, because it was cohesive, extremely well produced, and well executed on the mic.  That said, it wasn’t exactly the type of Chicago rap that labels are currently chomping at the bit to hawk to the masses.  Despite Mikkey’s assertion that he is “the common denominator between Chief Keef and Common,” the album came off more tinted with the wit, imagery, politics, and soundscapes of the latter in his prime than the cold and gritty callousness of the former.

In my interview with Mikkey about a month and a half ago, he referred to MMM Season as merely “another side of the same coin.”  With a teaser of “Chopper Music,” his collaboration with drill scene representatives Lil’ Durk and King Louie, and songs like his shades of “You’re All I Need to Get By” collaboration with Tia London, “I Got It,” and an anthem for his new financial perspective on the game, “Money Makin’ Mikkey” it was a little tough to judge the validity of Mikkey’s assessment of the work.  MMM Season seemed like it might have the makings of a cash grab.  And who could blame Halsted for making an attempt to finally cash in on half a dozen missed opportunities at fame and fortune.  The crossover for the sake of it strategy would make more than a little sense given the stable of industry vets that Mikkey has behind him and the fact that MMM Season was to be produced entirely by Multi-platinum producer The Legendary Traxster.  The question was, how would this all play out?  Would Mikkey set up two personalities that would duel for the listeners attention?  Would he set up a drill friendly alter ego and then try to make a project where he balanced the Castro style with the MMM style? Would it be something like a Chi-town version of K.R.I.T. where a third of the album would be dedicated to the strip clubs, a third to the drill kids, and a third to the pew sitting parishioners?   The answer, thankfully is much more simple than that, Money Making Mikkey is thankfully, still the same Halsted.  There’s no doubt that he’s spreading his wings a bit, showing his marketability to different aesthetics, and doing so over fantastic production, but he does it all within the lane that he’s developed for himself over time and artistically he stays true to the principles that have defined his career.

Despite the soulful No ID – along with Young Chop, Don Cannon and others – tailored vibe that dominated Castro, if anything it’s MMM Season that, at it’s best, showcases more of Mikkey’s artistic depth.  On “Butterfly Effect,” Mikkey examines the role that fate plays in our lives and their interconnections with some of the strongest rap verses penned this year:

“What if I’d never been born, imagine momma aborted me / would they still have married or was it all in support of me / dad would’ve probably took his offer overseas / and made a couple million, maybe played in the league / never lived with regrets, or had to slave on the train /never would’ve tried to numb all his pain with cocaine / probably still be alive, but what about my mother / maybe she’d stay in school or fall in love with a sucker / they wouldn’t have made my sister that introduced me to Yeezy who did my first demo that got to the ears of Weezy, maybe if they’d never found Chrissy and Mikkey / then Wayne would’ve never signed Drizzy and Nicki / life is a house of cards, snatch one from the bottom / and see how fast the ones from the top start falling / the unbreakable chain, everything is connected / and fate is the thread that holds everything together”  – Mikkey Halsted “Butterfly Effect

On “I Got It” Mikkey takes an unusual step for a rapper, penning a heartfelt dedication to his wife that manages to convince listeners to his love and dedication and still comes off without sounding forced or corny.  Honestly, despite many famous relationships and even marriages in the rap game, it’s hard to think of a song that manages to be as convincing and well crafted.  “Where Did The Love Go?” has Mikkey putting on his Jay-Z “Song Cry,” hat telling the story of a close friendship turned sour and a ride or die chick turned state’s evidence.  MMM Season is filled with skill, storytelling, and thought-provocation that have become the hallmark’s of Mikkey’s recorded career.

However, lest one get the impression that everything here is deeper fare, the album is very balanced and includes plenty of radio ready material, along with songs for the club and the yacht rap crowds.  Mikkey uses this project to further showcase his familiarity with fashion, beautiful women, and the finer things in life right along with the same rap skills that have garnered him respect from critics and fans for years now.  As always there’s a strong narrative influence in most of his verses combined with strong wit and an unrelenting flow.

The much-hypedChopper Music,” promised to be an interesting listen, given the title and the inclusion of two major drill scene representatives in Lil Durk and King Louie.  Mikkey uses his two verses on “Chopper Music,” to tell the story of a young man who gets stuck up and can’t take the disrespect, ultimately popping a pill and unleashing his rage and his assault rifle at his new found adversaries, unsuspecting bystanders be damned.  Durk’s verse details the violence and hell around him and the potential for drill music to provide an outlet and avenue out of the hood.  King L’s third verse seems to abandon any sense of the narratives crafted by Halsted and Durk other than to provide an unadulterated example of drill rap at it’s finest – imagery of a completely calloused inner city don handing out death sentences like management handing out pink slips after filing for bankruptcy.  As a track “Chopper Music,” might be the most uneven track on the album, as the guests and Mikkey are clearly coming from different perspectives on the topic, but it works because the asymmetry is complete and honest, with each artist is providing his own unique take on the topic, none of them relenting from their own style or perspective for the benefit of the others.

Roughly fifteen years ago there was a rise in the prominence of Chicago street music, one that brought the likes of Twista and Do or Die – among others – to mainstream notoriety.  Their soundscape was crafted by someone who was known for making hits with a variety of production techniques that at times modern rap critics might classify as drillish or trapish, even though those terms wouldn’t exist for over a decade.  While the Legendary Traxster has kept his hands in rap and R&B production over the years, continuing to support the likes of Twista and Do or Die, and crafting countless hits and earning dozens of production credits in prominent places, MMM Season is the first time he’s stepped into the studio with an artist to produce an entire full length project since 2003 (if you’ll excuse the single track Do or Die recruited Mr. Lee for).  It’s also the first time Traxster has worked this substantially with a new artist outside of his stable of constant collaborators for quite some time.  For those familiar with Traxster’s track record it’s not surprising that he moves so easily from a “drill” sound on “Chopper Music” to more pop chart friendly territory like “Getting To The Money,” “A Millie,” and “I Got It,” to more club ready tracks like “Get Low,” or even to more soulful sample-based territory on “Talk to Me” or “Where Did the Love Go.”  That said it’s still an accomplishment for a producer of Traxster’s stature to put together an album with such variety and crossover potential and allow an unsigned artist like Mikkey to give it away for free and hopefully use it as a springboard for his own success.

What the combination of Traxster’s range with Halsted’s range accomplishes here is, something that the likes of Chief Keef and the rest of the drill scene members have yet to prove they can produce, a full length album that touches on a wide variety of subject matter, and utilizes diversity in style and music to convey different moods and themes while maintaining an overall sense of cohesion.  More than just skill as a producer, the Legendary Traxster has well over a decade behind the mixing board and experience in crafting entire albums for artists, as well as experience crafting hits for some of the biggest names in the game.  While there is no doubt that 2012 has been a year in which the drill scene has produced a lot of quality rap music in a specific style and attracted a ton of attention for themselves – and Chicago as a whole – it’s also been a year in which Chicago artists with a deeper background in the artform, like Mikkey Halsted, The Legendary Traxster, No ID, and Tree have been party to some of the best long form projects of the year.  What this album proves for Mikkey more than any of his previous work, including Castro – which certainly was a step in this direction – is that Mikkey is comfortable being himself in any situation and could put out music on a major label – whether it’s alongside the G.O.O.D. music team, the Maybach music guys, the drill set, or anybody else – while still retaining both his personal standards and his standards of quality.  Ultimately the album stands as another testament to an amazing year for Chicago rap music.

Comments
  1. traxsterinc says:

    Reblogged this on TRAXSTER INC.

  2. Lori says:

    This is an amazing review!

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