Mike Floss Balances Hip-Hop’s Social Spirit & Creative Force of Community Movement with ‘Contraband’
Evan Dale // April 26, 2022
An indominable spirit has underlined the verse of Mike Floss since he first began making music – or at least publicly releasing it – nearly a decade ago. The Nashville rapper is a way paving giant of a local hip-hop and neo-soul scene that has explosively – and via the utmost unique of trend-slashing sounds – been emerging from the underground with particularly fervent force in recent years. For a city, in a state, that has a long, tumultuous history of racial inequity and civil movement in subsequence; for a city culturally typecast as a politically-right, country music stronghold; that rise of its current, decidedly Black creative renaissance mirrors – continues – a push for civil liberty that has found footing and dug foundation in the city since its modern history really began. Back to the construction of Fort Negley – not far East from Vanderbilt and Music Row, not far South from the hyper-gentrified hub now known coolly as The Gulch –formerly enslaved peoples constructed – and went oft-unpaid for – a Union Fort to fend off the chance of a return to the Tennessee capital by the Confederacy. It’s also where Mike Floss chose to meet and speak with Jewly Height of WNXP Nashville for an eye-opening conversation on his new project.
In the same fight, from the same place, Mike Floss – and Nashville’s Black community at large – has always been, and continues to be, a powerful catalyst of racial, civil, and socio-political movement. His Contraband – titled in reflection of the description given to freed and escaped slaves – is more than an EP. It’s even more than a contribution to his position as part of the Civil Rights Corps, with whom he also spoke on the project. It is ultimately a contribution to a Civil Rights movement, still very much alive because socially constructed walls and inequalities still remain very much in place. From his own point of view – and surely also from the point of view of many of those listening – the continuation of just such problems persist today most forthright in the systematic racism of policing and the prison-industrial complex. Much of the project orbits Floss’s own experiences with police, as well as samples, stories, and rhymes pulled from those around him in the community.
Through the current Nashville creative renaissance – a movement that has very much made it one of the most influential musical and artistic cities if the last few years – many artists along with Mike Floss have sourced the roots of Nashville’s strong history of social justice in their work. Take Bordeaux rapper Reaux Marquez with his fiery 2019 single and video, Pass Go. Take Terrance Simpson or his brother Clarence for their incalculable contribution in gallery spaces to exhibit work by the scores of artists visual, musical, fashionable, or otherwise making a change far beyond Nashville’s reach. Take just about any current Nashville artist – and their interwoven collaborative web with one another – and see nods not only to the city’s past as a Union base and a civil rights movement capital, but inroads, too, to where that path has led – continues to lead – in our modern moment.
In just such a socio-creative intersection, Contraband exists as a thesis on how art plays its own very important role in the fight. And not only for its thematic delineation; not only for its utilization of samples pulled from Nashville Metro City Council meetings, where local figureheads like Jamel Campbell-Gooch – who we spoke with in 2020 for a conversation on the city’s socio-creative community leaders after a devastating tornado – poetically berate the council members for trying to push through more police funding; but also for the very fact that the album is simultaneously musically a hard-hitting exhibition of what a decade helping to bring to life and steer a citywide paroxysm of musical uniqueness brings to hip-hop. In short, take all of that which is specifically Nashville and all that which is specifically in spirit of a fight for civil liberty from the project, and it’s still a collection of fast-paced, hard-hitting heaters. But perhaps – and in fact for certain – that sentence is a contradiction, because to take Nashville’s creative spirit or the social spirit of the fight for racial and social justice and equality out of hip-hop, is too erase hip-hop in whole. From its roots, the lane itself is an exploration of decidedly Black creative and social impact in a blooming tether. Mike Floss, with Contraband, simply pursues his creative spectrum with more social fervor than most.
At six songs spanning just a little more than 15 minutes, Contraband is another Mike Floss EP that shines his lyricism and flow in a masterful light of which few artists outside of Nashville could muster in the modern game. Look back to his 2021 Oasis, and hear another collection bleeding with refined artistry, poeticism, and fire in tandem. Hear, too, an ever-present adherence for his socially attune mind map. But with Contraband, that latter is focused in on and expanded to the point where one would expect a member of the Civil Rights Corps and a pointedly socially conscious rapper with a decade of experience building a creative scene to be. Ultimately, Contraband is a phenomenally balanced, intertwined exploration of socio-creative Black force, by way of an artist humbly curating more of an influence than he or his Nashville compatriots likely are yet to realize.
‘As a black artist I draw from my wrongful arrests in the South and the experiences of my Black Nashville community with MNPD. It’s my responsibility to infuse these ideologies into my work, while maintaining a high taste level because I ain’t fina make or listen to no boring rap…. This EP is a local good and export, specifically created to support and import change in real time.’