Mic Sol and A.C.E. O.N.E. have performed as a hip-hop duo in Indy for years. This week will see the release of their first collaborative album, The Light. After hundreds of shows, the two MCs write with the audience in mind, and each song's energy easily translates to a live setting.
Mic produced the majority of the tracks. "The way I handpicked the beats for this album, I only went with stuff I know will pop live," Mic explains. "That's part of the whole light concept.Stepping on stage, reaching for the light and changing your attitude, being more positive."
That positive vibe doesn't necessarily come with a moral message, and lyrics can be simultaneously crass and uplifting. Songs have a celebratory, party vibe laced with beats and rhymes, with trunk rattling beats and thick, Seventies soul samples diced up to a fine mix. Mic Sol and A.C.E. O.N.E. know that if they're having fun, most likely the crowd will be too.
SP Star, who engineered the project and drops a few 16's, elaborates. "People who come out negative rapping, gangster rapping or whatever, they don't last. It's the people who've been positive who are still around. It gives us the legs, the longevity. It keeps people wanting to listen. We've got a positive outlook on life."
"When Mic first gave me the album music, I was just like, damn, we just did the live show," A.C.E. O.N.E. says. "I can definitely see it coming from the fact that we have done a ridiculous amount of shows. We try to spark some movement."
Beats were often tested live before they ever had solid lyrics in order to gauge crowd response.
In 2005, Mic was in the midst of recording his first solo album, Flowgun, a dense attack of multi-syllabic rhyme schemes. He hustled the album to anyone in the local rap scene who would give a listen. After the future collaborators shared a bill, Mic began inviting Ace on stage to spit verses during his songs, cutting out a verse or two to let Ace drop one of his own in its place.
A.C.E. on call
Perhaps A.C.E. developed his husky growl as a defensive mechanism. The kids on Dearborn Street were tough.
"I remember one time I had my arms held behind my back, and this dude was going to have his little sister mess me up with a roller skate," A.C.E. recalls. "Her and her three brothers, and they were all dwarfish. One time they chased me into my own house with a butcher knife. It was a wild childhood, but I loved every minute of it."
A.C.E. works with four other music groups, so time to finish the album was scarce.
"Honestly, I think it's so cool how A.C.E. does all this stuff because he's out there all the time, even when I can't be," Mic says. "He's on stage almost every night."
So when does A.C.E. have a chance to write lyrics?
"I'll be at work, and I have to just stop and find something to write on real quick," A.C.E. details. "Or I'll just keep going over lyrics in my head 'til I know it. "
Besides work and a bladder-happy puppy at home, A.C.E.'s life is music. When he's not in the studio or on the bill, he's out supporting other artists.
After fighting his way into Indy's rap scene, Mic became as busy as A.C.E., performing solo and in groups. But just as things became intense, Mic stepped out of the light.
The biggest change came in 2007, when Mic suffered the loss of his mother.
"It was real tough, I was real close with her," Mic explains. "It really made me go into a whole new perspective. At the time I was so focused on music, doing shows three or four nights a week. When she was in the hospital, I would go see her a lot, but I didn't think it was as serious as it was. Here I am all about my music, my music, and I wake up and I'm losing my mom. I had to step back and say, 'What's going on?' This is deeper than music."
When Mic returned to writing, he felt he "had to express everything I was going though in the songs. That's where the idea of The Light came from."
Following the grieving process, he married local singer MVL and bought a house."I wasn't used to mowing the lawn and shit!" Mic jokes of the transition to adulthood. "Back in the day I'd be able to go out every night...Now I actually like my job."
During his sabbatical from the scene, Mic worked on his beat-making chops. The production on the record is as essential as the raps.
Rhymes were wood-shopped during the recording process. Admitting his first album was dense, Mic would spend days writing one verse, cramming everything he was thinking into each song. In his new work, the pace is more comfortable, and the listener has time to think about the wordplay.