Hot 97 personality Ebro once tweeted that an MC must be able to move the crowd, have the ability to not just rhyme but to play with words, show different rhyme patterns and cadences with his style and be able to tell a cohesive story. The fourth criteria is something the New Jersey MC, Mir Fontane, has studied since he became interested in making music.
From his first project He So Crazy to the recent release of his brand new album Who’s Watching The Kids 2, his ability to tell stories about his hometown of Camden is what has allowed him to catch ears as well as rock any crowd that’s in front of him. The art of storytelling is what got songs like “Steph Curry” Wanni Wag” &and “Space Jam” to all have over 100k plays on SoundCloud, to win a Philly Hip Hop Award in 2016 for Tri-State Artists of the Year, to gain attention from 300 Music Ent. and to acquire 10 million streams on Apple Music as an independent artist.
I recently got the chance to talk to Mir Fontane about his journey as a storyteller as he prepares to rock another crowd at the TLA this Thursday with assistance from fellow Camden MC Franky Hill.
The Key: I read that you started taking music seriously in your junior year at the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, even though you were into drawing first. What made you want to focus on music?
Mir Fontane: I know I wanted to do something that was personal and something that put me in a situation that I could physically interpret my art. I was already good with words, I was freeestyling and writing poetry and so transitioning from rap was pretty easy.
TK: You started off making mixtapes by freestyling over popular instrumentals. What were some of the beats that you rapped over in your younger years?
MF: I know I rapped over “Power” by Kanye West. I think MMG has a track called “Pandemonium” that I rapped over. “Trouble On My Mind” by Pusha T and Tyler the Creator, way back.
TK: You said that your mixtape Don’t Sleep contained the blueprints of your ability to tell stories, and that’s interesting because artists who I’ve met who know you praise your ability to tell a story. What was in that mixtape that allowed you to become the storyteller that you are today?
MF: I feel like that tape had a lot of early signs of what I’d be doing now more so it was just really rough. I was touching on a lot of the same subject but the quality wasn’t that good. I got better as a writer since then, but it pretty much it laid the foundation of how my albums should start to feel and sound. I knew that I wanted to keep that same theme of storytelling but I had to kind of separate myself from putting myself in a box and being a conscious rapper. I never wanted to be a conscious rapper, and I felt like this super lyrical dude who just told stories but never really reached the masses that I know I can because I can make any type of song and make it sound good without forcing a message.
I knew I had to get to that middle ground before my name got any bigger, so I started to experiment a little more to see how I can still be true to myself and still give them those trap beats bangers while still sliding a message underneath. “Down by the River” and “Bodega” are just years of experimenting with different sounds. How much is it too much of a lyrical story? Do we need a little more drums in the background to keep your attention? Sample or no sample? It gets deeper than just making music it was more so how I can play with the heart strings and emotions of the people that was listening to the music and I felt like that’s what they were coming back for. It was kind of like a movie every time that I dropped an album.
TK: That’s interesting because I read that you want to be known for having a cinematic approach when making music, and I think you’ve done a good job on that whether using samples of Martin on the He So Crazy mixtape or creating your own skits on albums like WWTK, Camden and Macaroni Tony to making your albums feel like movies. What are some of your favorite hip hop stories, whether it be songs or albums, that you grew up listening to that influenced your ability to tell stories?
MF: Lloyd Banks’ “Southside Story” from the Hunger for More album, Biggie Smalls’ “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” “Niggas Bleed,” and “Warning” of course. What else? J. Cole’s “The Good Son,” and Juelz Santana’s “Dope Boy Fresh.”
TK: I read that you said that the first WWTK was the album that got you recognition and also lead to get signed by 300 Ent. How was the experience of working on that project and to finally get acknowledged for your work?
MF: I feel like I had a chip on my shoulder when I made the first Who’s Watching The Kids because I had just came from putting a whole lot of time, effort and brain power into the He So Crazy mixtape and it didn’t get the recognition that I thought it was going to get. I thought I was going to be the next Chance the Rapper soon as that dropped like “There’s nobody doing this, they’re going to see how young I am and be like ‘where the fuck did this kid come from? Because this is genius and we goin be out of here’.” So when it didn’t happen that way and I wasn’t getting half of the numbers that I was getting now, it was getting frustrating.
So when I went into Who’s Watching The Kids I din’t have that same structure and actually if you really look at it doesn’t have the same structure as any of my other albums. All the others are shaped by some type of intro and wrapped up in some type of story, Who’s Watching The Kids is just a bunch of songs put together. I was like, fuck it, and [decided not to] spend so much time and effort into it if people don’t even respect concept albums, so whatever happens happens. I didn’t expect any of them to blow up crazy because I thought the other ones were going to blow up crazy and I got my heart broken, Shockingly the one that I really didn’t think would be the one ended up being the one and that put a whole lot of things in motion, which is how the label situation came about. So building up to the second one, I kind of wanted to revisit that version of myself but at the same show growth.
TK: You said that your second album was like a love/hate relationship that you have for your city. So I want to focus more on the love and ask what do you love most about Camden?
MF: My city is very prideful. We don’t have much to be proud of, so when my city gets a hold of something that they can call their own, they actually hold on to it. But the thing is, once that thing becomes something that’s loved, it also becomes a target. So you become a spokesperson for your city, but at the same time you become a target of envy, folks will want to do something to you just to have their name attached to you for the rest of their life. That’s the ultimate love / hate right there. People will do something just to be like “that’s the nigga that did such and such to Mir Fontane,” and that will be there all the time.
TK: Congrats on recently dropping Who’s Watching The Kids 2. I remember when I attended your listening session you said that this was the longest project that you worked on. What made you put more time into this album than all of your other projects?
MF: It was more so coming across a lot of roadblocks whenever I thought the album was ready to go. Whether it be trying to get out of the label situation or trying to get beats cleared, it always felt like a play on my emotions. I was planning on dropping at a certain time because the way I am with my music I make my fans wait. I’m not the type of artist to drop shit every month, I take my time, but when it doesn’t drop, it makes me look like I’m a liar to my fans. I can’t explain every single detail that was going on behind the scenes, so they get left in the dark. It gets frustrating sitting on songs while you’re still creating new songs, which messes with my head because I’m thinking to add the new songs to the album and the more I do that the album will never come out. I’ll just keep making songs that I think are better and switch them with old songs that are on the album, then you gotta wait a couple weeks to put it on Apple Music. It was just a lot going through my head as to why it was taking too long to put out music and at the time I was an independent artist, I knew I couldn’t disappear like that.
TK: WWTK2 has three features on it, one of being 2019 XXl Freshmen DaBaby. How did you link up with him to get him on “Hide The Money?”
MF: My road manager Veli threw a show and had DaBaby headlining in Philly. We pulled up to the show and after that we went straight to a studio in Palmyra, NJ and then we just made the track. We didn’t write nothing, just vibing and went about our business after that.
TK: The other two features are artist who you’ve worked with in the early stages of your career, Kam DeLa and Shawn Smith, back when he was Young Savage. How do you view their growth as artist?
MF: I was working with Kam either 2013 or 2014 and he’s always been the same guy. He’s ridiculous when it comes to the piano, he’ll literally make an entire beat with the snare, claps and all of that and then when he puts his hand in the air all of that will stop. There’s certain people who have a gift and an ear for music and Kam has always been one of those people, plus he’s gotta crazy sound as a producer.
As far as Shawn Smith I think he’s grown completely as an artist from his early days as Young Savage who was on YouTube heavy freestyling over different beats who has now grown into an artist who’s established his own sound. I wanna say that he’s definitely one of the top lyricists that I know myself. His wordplay is ridiculous, he definitely has a mind for putting words together and I have a huge respect for people who can do that. So shouts out to both of them.
TK: Another moment that stuck out to me at your listening session was when you said that 2013 Mir would ask 2019 Mir why are you singing so much, and that’s interesting to me because there are rappers like you who are can spit but the melodies overshadow the lyrics. What made you decide to sing and take more of a melodic approach with your music?
MF: I always had people tell me that I had a voice for melodic stuff, like for voice overs, movies, commercials and all other stuff. Even when I just talk I kind of have a melody to certain words that I say. When I went to Creative Arts, my girlfriend at the time was vocalist and I would sneak into her room during lunch and hear the person who watched over her during lunch was a vocal teacher and I was just messing around getting lessons from the vocal teacher. I wasn’t even thinking about music at the time, but it was something I thought to learn since I was surrounded by all these people who have these skills and could teach me 24/7.
At the time, I was rapping and coming from Camden I wanted to be super lyrical and dark heartbreaking type stuff. I didn’t want to be classified an R&B singer, so I avoided singing on my shit, but it came to a point that I had to utilize any power that I had to get out of the city, I was the only nigga drawing his cover art, I could rap and sing too but why am I not singing if I know that could give me an edge from the niggas down the street? So I started experimenting with it to see how it sound but around the time where I wasn’t with an engineer who knew how to do a lot. It was just my raw raw vocals over it, he didn’t know about pitch correction or any of that but as I started doing it more I pretty much changed my voice, I know what I can do with my voice now and to tell you the truth I started singing because I got tired of rapping and I thought it sounded better.
I didn’t want to bar people to death, because clearly people don’t care about bars no more. What caught my ear all the time was when Drake broke out singing in the middle of his rap, in the middle of his verse that’s the part people remember and I always wonder why. I’m a student of the game and I figure out why shit happens, people who don’t even speak English can understand a melody. Songs like “Down By The River” and “Bodega” become familiar to people because of the melodies and the cadences.
TK: That’s real. You got a show coming up at the TLA and have seen clips on Instagram of the die hard energetic Mir Fontane fans who always come through to your shows. Out of all the shows that you’ve done, what show can you remember that made you realize how big your fan base has gotten?
MF: 2017 or 2018 we had a show called the More Macaroni Show and we pulled out the inflatable little floaty jawn. We were about to do “Down By The River,” we drop that shit, all the lights go out and the crowd is going crazy. We put the raft in the middle of the crowd and I hopped inside it, now I’m not crowd surfing I’m literally sitting inside this inflatable raft that’s being held up by all these fans at this packed out concert. It was the last song and once the beat dropped and I was moving around I was thinking “Yo this is big!” I’m looking back at the stage I see my mom, my DJ and everyone looking back at me, that was the moment I was like “Yo we built all of this from the ground up and now we sitting on top of the song that got us here.”
Mir Fontaine plays the TLA tonight with Franky Hill; tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
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