When Mic Capes is happy to see you, you know it.
When I wandered into a dimly lit bar for a Resistance show on September 27th, Capes’ midnight face lit up the room like a disco ball. “Look who’s here!”
It’s kind of funny. When Capes (real name Michael Caples) greets you, he doesn’t jump up to give you a hug, or high five or shake your hand. He just sits back, gives a nod, flashes his million-kilowatt smile and says, “Hey.” And that’s it. That’s his, “Welcome to the club.” You’re in. That’s your cue to grab a drink, pull up a chair and join one of his famously deep and personal conversations. You’ve been chosen. You are officially a friend of Mic Capes.
“I don’t need to talk to you every day. I don’t really do that… I’m not good at keeping up with people,” Capes tells me later. “But if we’re friends, we’re friends.”
That’s the warmth and authenticity you come to expect from this guy. But really, it’s the only thing you can expect from this guy. Past the big smile and honest conversation, Capes will surprise you every time you talk to him. At 24, he immediately seems young and old, all at once. He asks a million and one questions of everyone; he shares information about everything he’s read up on, but he expects you to hold up your end of the deal too. In two or three conversations, Capes and I have had in-depth conversations on everything from my childhood to lyricism. He’ll sit behind his desk at work, query a co-worker about their knowledge of astrology and spontaneously produce a book on the topic. A few minutes later, he’s asking about the origins of my atheism and sharing his rationale for theism. Next thing you know, he’s joking with elementary kids about drinking too much soda. All this from the man whose album covers everything from his experiences with drugs and poverty to the motivation he relies on from his partner.
Which brings me to the album.
Listening to the opening track on “Rise and Grind”, Capes’ freshman offering, is appropriately, like watching a sunrise. “Wake Up,” features the soulful but somehow still ethereal vocals of Felicia Taylor, and Capes invites you into a fantastically experiential musical moment. It’s a song about going in hard on your dreams, but it still feels a little sleepy, almost magical, and hopeful beyond explanation. It’s so well produced, so well thought-out, so thorough, that the track does what most tracks fail to do—take you away. “Wake Up” sweeps you up from your every day, to a dream where anyone can make it, and hope and hard work will open every door. When a hip hop artist can artfully and cohesively stray into Rogers and Hammerstein territory without ever invoking visions of the VonTrapp family, it’s safe to say this kid is going to be here for a while. He really gets how this music thing works. The only problem is, while the rest of the album is an exhibition of talent, clever lyricism, experimental musicianship, and insightful commentary, the cohesive and thorough craftsmanship you are treated to in “Wake Up” drops off immediately. “The Mission” and “Concrete Dreams” continue the sleepy feel of “Rise and Grind,” and carry on the optimism and determination of the title track, but fail to develop sonically. “Growing Pains” has moments of lyrical awkwardness, but is musically expressive.
The thing is, if Rise and Grind hadn’t opened with “Wake Up,” I would have been perfectly happy with the rest of the album. It’s good. Really, really good. It’s an album worth listening to at least twice. Probably more. “Love, Love,” “All Day Err Day” and others have ended up on my regular playlist. It’s just, once you’ve gotten a hint of his inspired craftsmanship, it’s hard to accept anything else. Intrigued by the artist who made an album that I love and hate at the same time, I decided to sit down with Capes and pick his brain.
When I listen to Rise and Grind, beginning to end, the first thing that comes to mind is, “this album isn’t finished.” It’s just not. Fortunately, Capes agrees. When I ask him why the attention to detail is missing from the rest of the album, he’s defensive at first and then admits, “I was rushed.”
“The guy was going out of town. I had no idea when he’d be back… So we had to just get in the studio and do it.”
Horrified as I was by the idea that a truly epic album was ruined by a cross-country flight, I managed to recover enough to get out a few questions about his motivation as a creative. I ask if he would consider himself a “conscious” rapper. He says no.
And you can tell. In his music and in person, Mic Capes is about asking questions and finding answers, for himself and for his audience.
“I’m a person that cares about people genuinely.” He explains, “As far as my music, I want to heal people. Make them feel like they’re not the only ones.”
For Capes, music is not an end in and of itself. He doesn’t feel like success is success unless he can help other people. So while he wants to make a living doing this, he insists that other things are more important. “Morals above money. Values, principals that I live by. The integrity part of it.”
He says that even though one of his goals for the next year is to make a profit from his music, he wants his music to be accessible, and he wants to keep giving it away. He likes the idea of giving people the option to pay for tracks. He also wants to do more community performances. His other goals include performing at high schools and jails.
And the musical issues on “Rise and Grind” that drive me crazy? Capes tells me that it’s not going to be an issue next time. He’s got big plans for his future music. He likes small venues, because he wants to be able to share stories, and talk about the song; something he admits he hasn’t done well in the past. But eventually he wants to do “some live shows, with a band, and singers and stuff.” He even wants to do an album with live instrumentation. The music really matters to this kid, and it’s not just the sound, or the beats, or the flow. “I want to add to the atmosphere. I want people to have a real musical experience.”
So, in the end, “Rise and Grind” is the story about how a young, jaw-droppingly talented rapper got screwed out of what could have been a truly epic debut album. Fortunately, though, it’s not really a sad story. It’s disappointing to say the least. No artist wants to put out work that isn’t ready. But this isn’t some kid off the street with a nice flow. This is Mic Capes. And finished or unfinished, “Rise and Grind” is more than enough to prove to people that this emcee isn’t going anywhere. The best thing about Capes’ is his commitment to music. No matter what Capes’ tells you, he is NOT a rapper. Capes’ is an artist. With the rare ability to take you to another world in one minute or less, he already knows how to create an aural experience for his listener. Will his next offering be better? Inarguably. With his infectious smile, serious questions, and willingness to learn from everyone and everything, this 24-year-old can only improve his craft. Next time around, I can only imagine where Capes will take us.
I ask him what he wants people to know about him. “I’m fucking cool.”
And he’s right.