While the coronavirus has been calamitous for live music, it hasn’t yet proven to be a death knell for Lansing musicians. In the face of cancellations, postponements and many other proverbial monkey wrenches, soulful hip-hop artist Michael Austin, who performs under the name MikeyyAustin, is returning with his most ambitious recording project yet, a full-length LP dubbed “Greenhouse.”
“Greenhouse,” which features his largest array of producers to date, is a major leap forward for Austin. While his previous singles and mixtapes have received their fair share of critical praise, “Greenhouse” will likely garner an even stronger reaction from hip-hop heads. It’s a much more cohesive vision, both lyrically and sonically, that explores Austin’s soul and jazz rap influences further than anything he’s released before.
“The Midwest has a sound of its own. I think about Detroit’s Jay Dilla and who he was able to work with, whether it was Common or Erykah Badu. All of these artists that come from this soulful era of hip-hop, like Questlove and The Roots, are my biggest influences. There was a time when that was all I was listening to,” Austin said.
There’s only three tracks that feature guest rappers — Jahshua Smith, Jay Pitts and Miles Young — the vast majority of the album relies on Austin’s own strengths as a rapper and lyricist.
“After sitting on ‘The Seed Song’ for months, something kept telling me that I could hear Jahshua Smith on that one. I knew he would tell a story of ancestry and culture, and relate that to the idea of seeds and growth and development as an individual. I knew he would paint that picture,” Austin said.
Austin also explained that his contemporaries Jay Pitts and Miles Young share his bouncy cadence and lyrical style, and were therefore natural fits for guest verses on “Greenhouse.”
Austin got his start in music by playing a multitude of instruments for different events and concerts at the Lansing Church of God and Christ during his early teenage years. He and his older brother even had their own rap group, Dem Austin Boys.
“As far as instruments go, the keys were my first real love. I was self-taught; learning a bunch of stuff and taking lessons. That’s when the songwriting started,” Austin explained.
Another formative experience for Austin was his time spent at the Epicenter of Worship, where he would hang out with other musically-inclined teenagers. As Austin grew out of spending time with local church youth groups, he continued to hone his skills in his own makeshift bedroom studio. His efforts eventually snowballed into his first mixtape as MikeyyAustin, 2016’s “T I N T E D.”
His debut tape received a warm reception. Its listening party, which Austin booked with All of the Above Hip Hop Academy at The Cadillac Club, drew an audience of nearly 100 guests.
“Guys like Ozay Moore and Sareem Poems were there. They really took me under their wing. That’s where my musical journey as MikeyyAustin started,” he said.
Another major element of MikeyyAustin’s style that makes him stand out is his live backing band, The Soulcial Club, which comprises drummer Deon Gladney II, bassist Tyler Jensen and keyboardist Austin Tipton.
“I do a lot of shows with DJs, but I’m most at home with the band. Our chemistry is unparalleled. The energy of being onstage with a band will always be unmatched,” he said.
Austin said his original inspiration when he first started rapping was to create music that could sit alongside his favorite rappers and artists. With “Greenhouse,” he believes he’s finally accomplished that goal.
“The music I was trying to make back then, is the music I’m finally making now,” Austin said. “I knew ‘Midnight Stereo’ wasn’t a full representation of where I was as an artist. I made up in my mind that I wanted to do a full project that displays my growth and improvement as an artist.”
You can follow MikeyyAustin on Facebook at facebook.com/MikeyyAustinn. “Greenhouse” releases May 22 and will be available across streaming platforms.