"I'm not a rapper, I just rhyme a lot," Miggs spits on his astonishing first album, Son of a Gun. This is a humorously false statement. Not only is he a blazing rapper, he's a fearless rhymer ("I kick flows to make the speakers blow/Unbelievable/In fact, I'm gonna make like a nematode").
Recorded at the Savannah studio of Kedrick Mack, a.k.a. Knife of Dope Sandwich, and mixed by Freak Tha Monster (and Miggs, his brother) in New York, this hip hop album is a strong blast of fresh beats, intriguing lyrics, bizarrely alluring samples and some serious—and seriously local —musicianship.
Miggs (a.k.a. Miggs Son Daddy, a.k.a. Miggs the Artist) will celebrate its release with a Southern Pine Co. show and multi-artist event Friday, May 16.
He grew up as Max Lipson in Tarrytown, N.Y., on the eastern shore of the Hudson River. Both his parents were theater majors in college. Miggs—even Mom and Dad call him that now—liked to draw, and he loved to play baseball.
But he loved hip hop.
“By the time I was 12 or 13, my older brother and I would be in the back seat on road trips, literally freestyling,” he remembers. “Pointing out things and throwing words out. We had a couple of songs recorded by high school—no albums, no projects. Honestly, I didn’t even consider it an outlet or a craft.
“Like someone would do crossword puzzles, I would rap. It was a fun hobby.”
Eventually, as most people do, he found himself thinking about some sort of career path. He’d enjoyed teaching art to children through local programs, so the big prize became a degree in education, which he intended to pursue once he’d earned his BFA in illustration.
That decision led him to Savannah in 2006, and by the time he’d captured that elusive art degree, he was thinking about all kinds of other things.
He walked into Hang Fire one night and Dope Sandwich—including Knife and Basik Lee—was onstage. Miggs was knocked out to discover that Savannah, his new adopted hometown, had a thriving hip hop scene. He started soaking it up.
“Everyone around here is an artist of some sort,” he says. “They’re in a band, they’re in something. My best friend was in a band, and one night they performed at a house party. When they left, all the equipment was set up. I just kinda wandered up, and I was like ‘Anybody here play drums?’ Somebody hopped on, I grabbed the mic, and everybody came back in. Instant house party scenario. That immediately sparked me into thinking ‘I gotta be in a band.’”
In due course, he was absorbed into Word of Mouth, an unlikely “tribe” of young bohemian musicians and singers just coming together. Along with guitar, bass, drums and piano, the band included cello, theremin, synthesizer and trumpet (the latter played by Miggs, courtesy of his middle-class Westchester County School System upbringing).
Word of Mouth had two rappers, who alternated with the vocalists. The spacy mix was unique, even for Savannah.
“We weren’t just a band that got together and practiced music and said ‘See you next time,’” Miggs recalls. “We were living together. We were having big group—like 50 people—meditations. It went way deeper than the music.
“I was all for it. I never backed out because it fed me so much. It felt so good to be connected to that kind of energy. I think things just kind of worked the way that they were supposed to work out.”
That sort of positive attitude imbues everything Miggs thinks, says and does. It’s one of the reasons Son of a Gun, with its up-down-and-around dynamics, is more than just a carbon copy of his early heroes like Biggie Smalls and Wu-Tang Clan.
Word of Mouth members, including Melissa Hagerty, Jeff DeRosa, Matt Duplessie and others, made contributions to Son of a Gun (the band, Miggs insists, still exists, although it’s inactive at the moment, and some members have definitely moved on to other things).
“I didn’t intend for the album to have a certain sound; I just wanted it to sound authentic,” he explains. “I listened to a lot of hip hop growing up, but as a music fan you don’t necessarily relate to everything that the artist is saying. But you still enjoy what the artist is talking about, even if that’s not what you’re going through.
“I didn’t grow up in a rough neighborhood. I actually grew up pretty fortunate. I didn’t grow up struggling, but at the same time I grew up right down the street from it. A lot of my friends were in that situation, and the music that I listened to was about that situation. I enjoyed it because it was art.
“That means that when I go to make my music, I’m going to pick and choose what aspects of that artistry I enjoyed, but I’m not gonna tell tales of a life that I didn’t experience. My favorite artists are the ones talking about knowledge of self, and self-empowerment. And rising above any situation. Not just poverty, but rising above injustices of all sorts. That’s where I get my inspiration just to have a voice, just to talk about things. Because it’s happening around us—regardless of whether it’s directly affecting you or not.”
Miggs has something of a dual personality. He admits to being a dewy-eyed positive thinker, with “love and appreciation for the miracle of the universe,” but says he’s also a die-hard cynic.
It’s that dichotomy that fuels the best songs on Son of a Gun, including “Knowwhayeyemean,” “Illest Illustrator,” “Never Coming Down” and the thoughtful, album-closing “When I Grow Up.”
“At this very moment, in this generation, where we are with thinking and innovation, and all that we’re doing, is remarkable,” he says. “There’s so many things to be thankful for, and to be in awe of.
“And the cynic side of me is: Why are people wasting it? What are you doing with your life? What do you care about? What do you talk about with your friends? What do you watch on TV? Why are you wasting time when there’s so much great shit going on?”