August 19, 2010

Dead Things, Mikey - An Interview with Time

(Reposted from Colorado Music Buzz, August Edition)

Due to the many rappers and reviewers raving about him, I had heard of Time long before I met Chris Steele, the man behind the rhymes. He has an unassuming, laid-back demeanor, a little more introverted than one might expect. Yet when he takes the stage, his biting delivery and ruthlessly witty lines cut through the audience. Moreover, many of his raps are laid over classical melodies, creating a disorienting juxtaposition.

Steele began rapping as a kid growing up in North Denver. While performing around town, he met Dirty Lab founders, AwareNess and Precise Virtuoso. At age 16, he released Meditation of Thought (2002), followed two years later by Litterature. In 2006, he and AwareNess (performing as the duo, Calm.) released Anti-Smiles, which was dubbed “intellectual Hip-Hop album of the year,” by Hip-Hop Linguistics. In 2007, Time released the internationally lauded Fantastic Reality, leading one reviewer to declare him “the future of independent Hip-Hop.”

His latest release, last year’s Naked Dinner, is laden with guest rappers, such as Sole, C-Rayz Walz, and fellow Dirty Lab members, Extra Kool and Damon JeVon. “I’ve been incorporating all kinds of new styles as well as composing more of my music,” says Steele. “My content has been a little more political lately, because I’ve been awakened on the level of form. I’ve been trying to educate people through music, make them question everything, dance, and eventually wake up.”

After its release, Time and AwareNess toured Europe with Ancient Mith: “[He] had toured Europe before and graciously offered to take us with him on tour. It was a great experience; people love music out there. It was crazy to meet people [in France] who knew our lyrics that we recorded in Park Hill. We performed on a stage in Saint-Antoine that had a shrine of dead animals on it. DEAD THINGS, MIKEY, DEAD THINGS.”

This year, Time began releasing a series of Hydra EPs, that he says are “more of a journal entry each month,” offering them up as free downloads. “My music has always been ‘buy one, get 1,000 free,’ so I made it official. It’s been a personal challenge for me … I want fans and new fans to benefit from my work. Everyone is broke right now, so 2010 is the year people can get free music from me.” The EPs deal with heavy topics, “such as Haiti, [activist] Howard Zinn passing away, BP… the topics keep going back to the working-class struggle, city drama and war, for some reason.”

Over the years, his albums have maintained a general vibe of surrealism, speculation, paranoia, and distrust. “I like surrealism because it is an escape,” he says. “It’s like doing drugs without all the depression afterwards. Politics seem to be like fantasy. Everyone thinks they know what’s going on because the news tells them. That’s where paranoia and speculation comes in. I got a lot of that from William S. Burroughs. He writes about hopeless industrial cities where everyone is screwed, I relate to that. Dali is a big inspiration too.”

These witty and symbolically rich writings have inspired fans in unlikely places. A teacher at Littleton High School, Thom Uhl, teaches a course on the albums of Time and Calm. The curriculum focuses on the symbolism, metaphors, and allegories found within his lyrics. They focus on tracks, such as “Universal Battle,” “Hungreed,” “Molly Tha Superhero,” “Treat Me Like a Villain” … they recently incorporated some Naked Dinner tracks like “Naked Brunch” and “Portobello Cloud.”

It won’t be hard to keep an eye on Time in the coming months. In addition to Weird Fest in New York and tour plans including Japan, he is working on new collaborations with Extra Kool, Damon JeVon, and Calm. He will also continue releasing a new Hydra EP each month, while working on a new full-length solo album (to be produced by Doctype). Lastly, check out your local bookstore, because he is releasing a novel this year called “Nothing on the Rocks.”

If You Like: Andre 3000, Flobots, Mos Def, Extra Kool

LIVE: August 12 / Bar Standard / With Hypnautic and Black Pegasus

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