Here’s what I know about Mic Life: real name Michael Zunega, he started rapping at the age of 15, and his label NSC says he’s “the zombie futuristic creator of the NU Rap NRG” and so well known he’s “no longer in need of presentation.” That’s undoubtedly true in French speaking Canada but for those of who live South of Quebec he’s a little bit more of a mystery. Nevertheless his album intrigued me when I was at a HMV store in Montreal. At first glance you would think he’s rocking beaded dreadlocks, but on closer inspection he seems to have headphone jacks and RCA plugs coming straight out of his skull. He’s got tattoos on his neck I can’t make out, and “alien” contacts in his eyes to make him look more mysterious and/or menacing. He’s definitely something different from the average rap artist, let alone compared to the people in his own scene. I had to take a chance and find out what was so “explosive” about Mic Life, and for only $11.99 CDN that wasn’t an expensive proposition.
From what little else I can glean about Mic Life this is the third album in a series for him. The previous two installments were titled “Flammable” and “Corrosive,” so it’s clear “Explosive” was the next logical step. It’s certainly a good description of the beats found on the CD. Another good one would be “techno futuristic.” One gets the feeling that if the people of Zion in “The Matrix” were making rap albums, this is what it would sound like. The song titles themselves are somewhat deceptive – you might think “Hey Baby” would be a soft come on to a desirable female with a crooned hook. Well Mic Life is probably pitching woo, but it’s definitely not that soft. He’s got a raspy voice which is only made more raspy by electronic effects and repeats – imagine if Ke$ha was a macho Canadian rapper instead of a skinny white girl. Electronic fills and repeats are the order of the day here. “Digital L.O.V.E.” is even more rugged, and the driving backdrop of “Admirable” would be more familiar to fans of techno or industrial. Put simply Mic Life’s production is Nine Inch Nails meets Chemical Brothers.
I must honestly admit it’s a little hard for me to judge Mic Life as a lyricist. Unlike some French rap albums I’ve purchased, there’s no lyrics in the liner notes whatsoever, and not a single concession is made to the English reader or speaker. I’m not the primary audience for this album so I’m fine with that. The flipside is that Mic Life is clearly aiming for a progressive rap sound with his beats and rhymes, and not just “progressive” as in finding an underground twelve inch record from New York that was only played on five college radio stations and proclaiming it genius. For some this might be an odd comparison, but Mic Life reminds me of Kool Keith, in that he clearly doesn’t give a FUCK what you think. He’s got this futuristic up-tempo musical backdrop, filled with big heavy bass beats, the kind that could shake the shit out of your speakers whether in the car or the trunk – “Bienvenue Dans Notre Univers” being an ideal example. The song literally means “Welcome to Our Universe” if I’m translating right and the meaning fits: you’re in his world on this one. I wouldn’t say lyrics are an afterthought – his name is Mic Life after all – but the sound is everything.
“Explozif” is not an album that fits any of the comfortable conventions of hip-hop as you know it. Occasionally a song will remind you of another genre, as “Wine 4 Me” has an obvious reggae influence, and “Now You Know” has the ambient echoing space of a house or trance song, but direct analogies are few and far between. The artist that I’m most reminded of while listening to Mic Life is Heavyweight Dub Champion, a group who came up with their own name for their brand of hip-hop: dub hop. That suits Mic Life well. On that basis of comparison I’d say that language is secondary to the experience Mic Life gives you on “Explozif,” which is an enjoyably and noisily dub musical experience. It’s a solid hour of music you could rave to until the joy fantastic runs out.