Michael Da Vinci’s Debut ‘Roses’ Blooms with Broad Taste for Experimental Hip-Hop

 Evan Dale // Feb 2, 2021 

When it comes to hip-hop, Tennessee has always been a force, but a renaissance in recent years from Chattanooga to Nashville has redefined not only what the always influential state of the state is coming to sound like, but what those experimental sounds are meaning for the larger state of Southern hip-hop and for hip-hop’s global future at large. Whatever that indefinable spice is that makes middle Tennessee such a staple of creativity, it’s in the effortlessly poetic draw of Isaiah Rashad; it’s in the collaborative web of Nashville’s emerging underground artists; and it’s in the dynamic debut from a rangy rapper that has been part of this renaissance from the very beginning: Michael Da Vinci.


It’s poetic justice in and of itself that a long-awaited debut from an artist with a moniker like his would be a monumental marker in the Tennessee hip-hop renaissance. And that’s exactly what Roses is. Another architect in the same Chattanooga circle that birthed the careers of Isaiah Rashad, Bbymutha, Shooey Russel, and YGTUT (together, they’re ‘The House’), Michael Da Vinci’s contributions to the reinvention of small-market hip-hop have been omnipotent for a half-decade. As his city’s work came to fruition hand-in-hand with a mirroring come-up for Nashville – Tennessee’s capital city just a two-hour drive North – a compelling tale more than his own, but of the sounds, styles, and stories of middle Tennessee as a whole is really what comes into focus from start to finish of the EP – it’s Tennessee done differently with a broader vocabulary for spoken words and for auditory nuance than any Southern hub has really gone after before.


And yet, in all the ways that Roses is a microcosm of the cultural happenings of Tennessee’s modern chapter of hip-hop history, it’s also so very much an exploration of its protagonist’s own unique sound. Michael Da Vinci’s aesthetic breathes of a dynamic mixture between the past, the present, and the future of Tennessee hip-hop, where screwed edits and Southern draws expelling daunting lyrical gymnastics intersect with bravado and punchlines at no end. And yet, the entirety of Roses also brims a lot of unexpected newness in tow. A fervent poet, but never without his wit and personality capable of shining through the Southern bass, Da Vinci’s music transcends the street cypher to the house party to the online era where artists like him with raw skills and experimental nuance in balance are bringing eyes and ears to the grey areas between hip-hop’s expected establishments.


Dive in and be immersed in that gray area of hip-hop invention. Straight away, it’s clear that Roses is going to be different for Da Vinci, for The House, and for Chattanooga. From its psychedelic cover artwork to its opening Intro, the project takes a sledgehammer to any expectations. Removed from the meditative flow and oft hard-hitting aesthetic he brings to releases like last year’s single, Roid Rage with Nashville rapper, OGTHAGAWD, Da Vinci instead enters a realm of trippy, melodic soundscapes still brimming with bars, but founded on the precipice of something more experimental and ultimately broad strokes. And from that experimental, spacey ambience from where Roses has its roots, he’s able to meander between the bookending reaches of his creativity through the rest of its 20-minute run-time. Tracks like Not All Roses Is Red are hyper-lyrical exhibitions that hold true to his Southern draw and hard-hitting lines, while a track like Chatt Rats builds up the bass for the party, and NeverLand pulls him completely from his comfort zone for a melodically infused trip down psychedelia lane. Seemingly, Roses was about mastering the breadth of his craft, before putting it all on display in a long-legged, unpredictable, yet ultimately harmonious debut.


And so much of the reason that Roses succeeds in being exactly that is his collaborative producer, the acclaimed and established Lege Kale. ‘…when I came to make Roses, I didn’t know what I had in store, but I knew that Chattanooga sound is different…,” the Columbus creative told Earmilk when speaking on the project’s inception. It’s that outside vision – that otherworldly understanding of a sound other than his own – that, at the end of the day, really allowed that sound to flourish. With a talent like Lege behind the project’s whole, there was suddenly room for Da Vinci to explore more than his established knack for quickfire Tennessee rap, and in those spaces, as noted in the same interview, the process “taught [him] that stepping into an uncomfortable situation can be the most rewarding… when [they] walked into {Roses’ creation}, it wasn’t to reach a particular sound or for sales. [They] just wanted to make the best shit [they] can create and the talent will speak for itself.”


And speak it did. Roses is keymark in its space for not only Michael Da Vinci, but for the entire creative rebirth that Chattanooga and Nashville’s hip-hop undergrounds are currently experiencing. Another wide-ranging, phenomenally experimental project that doesn’t adhere to the Southern tradition, but doesn’t remove itself from it either, Roses breathes of the raw independence and willingness to do things differently that has been making middle Tenessee central grounds for hip-hop invention for years at the hands of Da Vinci and his compatriots.