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Interview: Michael Christmas Talks Indie Hip Hop

Boston born and bred MC Michael Christmas (aka Michael Lindsey) has been making a lot of noise since the February 2014 release of his debut mixtape Is This Art? (via TuneCore). From blog love via staples like The Fader, Complex and XXL to sharing the stage with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Action Bronson, things have been moving fast for the curly-haird self-deprecating rhymer. With deep-cut references to the Dave Chapelle Show and Arrested Development and a never-ending search for tacos, Is This Art? dabbles in light-hearted humor as Christmas faces the realities of being ‘broke and young’ while sharing slices of his story growing up in the neighborhood of Roxbury.

Additional 2015 singles like “A.D.H.D.” and “F**k Wit Me” (via TuneCore) have proven that Michael Christmas shows no signs of letting up this year. He’s working on a new project and took some time to chat with us about his rhyming style, finding his lane and repping a city not known for its hip hop stars:

First off, congrats on the success of 2014 and Is This Art? Tell us a bit about how you jumped into hip hop as a middle school-er.

Michael Christmas: I started in 7th grade through my after-school program. They had a “club” where you could learn to make beats and write raps. I recorded my first song there and immediately fell in love with rapping. I think that’s why I did so bad in school, I’d just write when I was supposed to be doing work.

You’re an artist who can flow and write without taking himself too seriously. Why do you think self-deprecation and a sense of humor have earned you fans the way it has?

I think it’s because we all go through these things and feel these things. It makes you feel like you’re not alone when someone brings up a problem that you’ve been through. That’s why stand-up comedians get so much love, they bring a lighter side to everyday struggles that you can relate to.

What kind of indie marketing and promotional efforts went into making the release of Is This Art? successful?

Honestly we just knew we needed to make a great project. We released two videos for it and a lot of hints using Instagram pictures of me over great art pieces, and then we dropped it. It was a fun roll-out and it did really well for my first tape.

What business or marketing lessons did you learn along the way?

I think the best marketing lesson I’ve learned is to just be authentic and eventually you’ll gain the kind of following you deserve. A lot of young artists will market themselves in a very specific way to build a fan base as quick as possible, but end up losing their identity early on by doing so. We’ve just put out quality content that represents me being me and a pretty cool fan base has followed.

With the exception of MCs like Guru, Edo G & Mr LIF, Boston isn’t exactly known for churning out big names. How did growing up in Roxbury impact both your writing and career growth & development?

One thing I didn’t realize my music had until I moved west was an East Coast influence. I talk about buses, trains, cornerstores and things that they don’t have as much on the West Coast and don’t talk about.
Everyone knew my dad in Roxbury, too, so they’d always ask if I was his son or stop me and go, “You look just like your father.” So I always felt safe I guess. It was fun! More than anything being from Boston and getting out made me realize how much people want to see Boston win. Everywhere I go I meet people from there that are glad to see it’s moving forward.

What advice do you have for young MCs and producers trying to break in smaller markets like Boston?

Right now is a time in Boston where the younger artists are very motivated and excited. There’s a real energy at home. So my advice is to find other artists that are serious in the city, (and also good and motivated), and keep building relationships. That’s always been the issue: no unity – but I think we can do that now. This summer especially.

You’re a good example of an artist keeping it DIY and moving quickly. What kind of role has TuneCore played in developing a greater fan base?

TuneCore has been great because it’s allowed us to get my music to listeners who might not be all over blogs, Soundcloud, YouTube, etc., all without the help of a label. We’ve approached everything with an independent mindset and TuneCore gives us that reach we might have needed to sign a deal to have gotten otherwise.

It’s obviously been a pretty big year for you. How have you adjusted personally, going from releasing your first mixtape to touring nationally and receiving love from major music outlets?

I haven’t really adjusted at all – I’m just so happy to be doing all these crazy things and working on this next project so I don’t need to adjust (laughs). Always on my toes. Life is like an adventure/prime-time sitcom.