The music and film of hip-hop artist Prince Mick takes you on an extraordinary journey: his own. The journey begins on the streets of the west side of Chicago, where Prince Mick once lived the violent life of a gangbanger. His song and video “Imma Beast” captures that life with a raw, gritty style, and a brutal honesty (a visual statement about the world that once defined him appears 14 seconds into the video: his own neck, pock-marked with a bullet wound).
But Prince Mick as he wants you to know him today is a changed man – or at least he’s trying to be one. With the help of his mother, he’s left his criminal past behind and now uses his art to express his spiritual values. As he told me in the following interview, “The essence of my story is my spiritual journey. I believe in God. But I am not perfect. I fight demons.”
His spiritual side with his street past explains why an examination of street life like “Imma Beast,” and the raunchy “Miss a Nigga” live alongside an urgent spiritual bulletin like “War Stories,” and his contemplative video essay “Heaven or Hell” on his YouTube channel.
I met the 22-year-old Prince Mick on Global 14, the social community founded by music mogul Jermaine Dupri. After we swapped a few messages, he sent me his music, which I featured on my blog. Our interview, which we conducted over the telephone between breaks in his schedule attending junior college near Chicago, contrasts sharply with my recent profile of Indiana-based hip-hop artist Symon G. Seyz. Whereas Symon G. Seyz views himself as a J. Cole protégé playing for a middle-class audience, Prince Mick says he sings for the streets. “The streets mean the neighborhoods I grew up in and the places where I made my mark,” he says – the kinds of places he depicts in songs like “City Streets,” which is a documentary-style tour of his old west-side neighborhood.
“I’m not a happy-go-lucky rapper,” he says. “I’m telling stories. I’m telling you real life. God does not just reach out to people who are good but also to the thugs, murderers, prostitutes, and the lost.”
Thugs. Murderers. The lost. They’re still part of Prince Mick’s world: but as his audience now, not his peers.
Learn more about Prince Mick’s spiritual journey through our interview:
Tell me about yourself. How would you describe yourself in one sentence? A filmmaker? Musician?
I consider myself as a songwriter and storyteller. I started off as a storyteller with a camera, and I do so now through film and music.
The essence of my story is my spiritual journey. I believe in God. But I am not perfect. I fight demons.
I celebrate life, too, which you see coming through in my secular music.
Where did you grow up? How did those experiences influence your art?
I grew up in the west side of Chicago. I was raised to believe in God, and so I had a spiritual side for my entire life. But I also grew up in a thug’s life. I remember when I was about 4 years old. We were living in the projects, a lot us playing in the park. The thugs started firing shots from the top of the roof. The kids started scattering, but I didn’t know what was going on. My aunt screamed, “Baby, run!” I said, “Aren’t those fireworks?” “She said, “Those aren’t fireworks.”
That experience exposed me early on to a violent lifestyle. I eventually joined a gang and became a top dog. I got kicked out of school. I became a stick-up kid and was harming a lot of people.
Because my parents lived apart (my parents separated when I was young), I would visit my mom in the suburbs and be exposed to a better way of life. But life was good in Chicago, or so I thought.
My thug’s life led to me being was shot in the neck at age 16. The bullet came from the right side and out the left side. Blood was spurting out my neck and my mouth.
When I got shot, I thought, “Why me God?”
I felt God responding, “What do you mean ‘Why You?’
My life flashed before my eyes like a judgment. The experience of being shot woke me up. I was not changed into a perfect man, but I woke up.
I tried to stop gangbanging after my awakening. I just wanted to raise a family and do the right thing according to the law. I figured, How can you follow God if you can’t follow the earth’s laws?
But the first time I tried to quit, I felt love and power from people who wanted me to stay in the gang. So the thug’s life was part of me. But having the police chasing after me and knowing some day I’d get caught was putting pressure on me to act on my conviction to change.
Another incident made me wake up, too.
One night I was with some friends just driving around, with me as a passenger. The plan was to drive to a party eventually. But we got wasted. The driver sped and hit a pole on the west side of Chicago. The car split in half. My elbow was shattered. The person in the passenger’s side broke both legs. The guy next to me lost his memory. The guy next to him broke his ribs.
So the time had come to make a real change. With my mom’s help, I separated myself from the thug’s life to a more peaceful place. I became a dad. I got my GED. Now I have an internship. I have surrounded myself with great people.
Everything I’ve been through – shootings, stabbings, and getting kicked out of school – I put all that in my music.
The first video I ever made, “Imma Beast,” comes from a time in my life that I’ve put behind me. Yeah, you see a bullet wound in my neck in that video, which is a part of my past that I carry with me. I’ve moved on to a more positive place since “Imma Beast,” but the song is part of my journey.
Let’s talk about what you’re working on right now. What are a couple of projects you’re most proud of?
I’m working on a video series, “Heaven or Hell,” in which I ask a simple question to people and film their answers: are you going to heaven or hell?
Where did the idea for the “Heaven or Hell” video come from? Did any of the answers surprise you?
I simply wanted to see the look on people’s face when I ask the question, Are you going to heaven or hell?
People are always debating whether God is real or arguing the finer points of scripture. So I decided to start my own conversation: Where do you think you’re going? Hell or heaven?
Some of the answers have surprised me. Some people don’t want to be asked that question because they don’t want to be judged. But I have to get people to see God in some way or some how.
Tell me about your video “City Streets.” You caught some interesting scenes. Did you shoot that video in places where you grew up?
Oh, yeah, those are places where I grew up. In one of the scenes, a guy flashes money in my face. He’s one of the home boys on the block where I shot the video. You also see my brother, Coach Cannon. Early in the song, I mention my best friend Greg: “Rest in peace white Greg/U still my best friend/I’m salty as hell u got caught up in that jam.” He died when I least expected it. I was going to shoot a video featuring our block, and I found out he got shot to death. It felt like his death killed my spirit at the time, but I’m staying strong.
It was interesting how you alternate a male and a female voice rapping in “City Streets.” What led up to that decision?
In my head, I heard the harmony and a voice changing. I heard a nice young woman’s voice. So I asked a girl I know named Miss Chrissy – she was hot. She did some dope rhymes for me. She listened to the beat. If you can listen to the beat, if you are a good artist, you will know what to do. She added flavor. Good girl.
Tell me about the making of “War Stories.” It’s very raw and compelling, especially the people showing off their bullet wounds. I like the line, “If you survive the bullet, that’s God, not luck.” How did you convince people to participate in your video?
The song came from the heart. People participated because I made it for them. I wanted them to see themselves through a conversation with me. That’s why they show their bullet wounds. Every person has a war story. Each bullet wound is their story.
I’m not a happy-go-lucky rapper. I’m telling stories. I’m telling you real life. God does not just reach out to people who are good but also to the thugs, murderers, prostitutes, and the lost. I can talk to the most devious person right now and say something about God and make a difference in their life.
Who is your audience?
My audience is the streets and my family. The streets are my people. The streets mean the neighborhoods I grew up in and the places where I made my mark. The streets mean people who have been through things with me. The streets are everywhere. They got streets in Hawaii. I want the streets first. I got to get their attention.
What are the major themes of your work?
God is real. There is no life without God. No one on this earth is perfect. We have to lift up and call to God, Hallelujiah. That’s the message.
My message is also this: stop what you are doing and put God first. I know Jesus died and came back to life because I did, too.
I heard the voice of the living God and saw the light. No one can take that from me.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Part of me wants to be remembered as one of the greatest MCs. But part of me doesn’t want to be remembered. I want people to remember what I said about God.
I want the world to see me as a better person. But I want people to see that I’m not a hypocrite. After all the people I harmed and things I took from people, God still spoke to me.
Follow Prince Mick on Twitter @princemick1.