The Blind Pig, located at 208 S. First St. in downtown Ann Arbor, is hosting a dual CD release party Saturday for two southeast Michigan emcees, who will be performing their new albums in their entirety. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. and cover is $7 for ages 21 and up and $10 for ages 18-20.
Ann Arbor born and raised rapper Mike Brinkman, aka Mike Burner, will be releasing his debut hip-hop album “Swam Sayin” (as in, “that’s what I’m saying”), and Detroit born Nickie Price, aka Nickie P. and Sick Nick, will be releasing her sophomore album “The Triumphant Rise and Tragic Existence of Sick Nick.”
Brinkman, 30, a current resident of Ypsilanti, said he has been rapping since he was 16 and around 2004, when he started to take his music a bit more seriously, his long-time friend and beat maker, Cameron Thomas suggested he go by the name “Mike Burner” (as in mic burner).
“I also just like to burn things in general, whether it’s holistic, medical or just a campfire. It has multiple meanings,” Brinkman said.
Price, 27, whose family moved to Brighton when she was a baby, will be celebrating her 28th birthday Jan. 26 along with the release of her new album.
When asked how she came up with the moniker Sick Nick, Price said she had no idea.
“They just started calling me that one day. I think a drunk friend, something like that, just said, ‘That was sick. That was sick Nick. That’s Sick Nick,’ and it just kind of stuck,” Price said.
Both Brinkman and Price are members of a local “family” of musical artists, who have banded together and call themselves Alibi Crew. While the crew’s members are mainly solo artists, they regularly collaborate on projects and perform local shows together.
Brinkman said his album was recorded and mixed by Alibi Crew cofounder Steffen Gelletly, who also owns Vox Box Recording Studio in Ypsilanti’s historic district where the album was recorded.
Gelletly said Vox Box has only officially been around for about a year and a half, but that he’s “always” had some sort of recording studio and has been recording hip-hop music since about 1996.
Gelletly said he and friend Teddy Morrow, aka Teddy MC, founded Alibi Crew around 2008 to bring their love of the hip-hop and drum and bass genres together with like-minded artists, and that Vox Box gives him the tools and creative freedom to work with quality musicians of his choosing such as Price and Brinkman.
Gelletly said there is no official process for becoming a member of Alibi Crew.
“I can’t say there is a certain recipe or anything like that … I meet you, I get to know you, Teddy meets you, gets to know you, and if you kind of fit in with this family that we’ve kind of been building,” Gelletly said. “I mean it’s so strongly based on personality and friendliness. Everyone gets along pretty well; everyone is really easy going and the egos are in check, so there’s lots of talent and minimal ego and that’s kind of what I’m looking for. I’m always looking to expand, but you know at the same time I’m not taking résumés or anything like that.”
Brinkman, who became a member October 2012, said, “[Alibi Crew is] a collaborative of emcees and deejays in the pursuit of making good music.”
Gelletly is featured on the title track of Brinkman’s album under the moniker DIY (Do it Yourself), which Gelletly uses when he’s emceeing, producing hip-hop music or deejaying drum and bass.
When asked what other name he might go by—considering he produces, promotes, emcees and deejays—Gelletly said he wasn’t sure.
“I guess I’m a man of many hats. A jerk of all trades. Don’t quote that. All right if you really have to. A jack-off of all trades,” Gelletly said jokingly.
Even though Price became an Alibi Crew member in early spring 2012, only one track, “Se7en,” from her new album was recorded at Vox Box; the remainder of the album was mixed and recorded, oddly enough by Gelletly’s cousin Dave Hytinen, at Evolution Helmet recording studio.
Price said her mother sang in the church choir, and while her father wasn’t around much, he came from a doo-wop background and has been in blues and rock bands most of his life.
“Pretty much if he’s not talking about cars, he’s talking about his favorite blues riffs,” she said.
However, Price said it was through her brothers that she developed a love for other music genres.
“My brother David was in a punk rock group; my brother Kevin was in a hip-hop group and the hip-hop group really sparked me. Both of them were influencing me, but he [Kevin] was really good about pulling me in his room in the middle of the night and being like, ‘Listen to this new Wu-Tang’ or ‘Listen to this new Eminem track,’” she said.
At 14, Price started writing hip-hop lyrics, which was a big switch from her formal training.
“I was kind of quiet about it. I think I was a little shy. I wasn’t sure if it was something I should be doing or if I wanted to even be doing,” Price said. “I was trained completely differently, so it was going from being taught how to sing Broadway and Italian opera to really start getting this spark for rap and hip-hop. It was kind of a huge transition.”
In 2002, at 17, Price joined her brother Kevin’s hip-hop group the Seven Chakraz (7C).
“It was a whole new world. I was brand new to it and I was scared completely shitless to be honest, but it was amazing,” she said. “It was definitely diverse. We didn’t really have too many issues … but there were always some tangles within our crew. It was me with a bunch of grown-ass men pretty much and I was just a kid at the time so it was very interesting, but they taught me a lot so I’m grateful for every moment that I was able to work with them.”
Price said there have been a number of occasions where people have formed preconceptions about her abilities as an emcee just from her appearance.
“And then when I got on [stage], I visibly watched this guy’s face just kind of flush over and his jaw just kind of dropped and I see him tapping this dude and he’s pointing at me. Almost like I could tell what he was saying, ‘For real? That’s her though, right?’ I wanted to be real, real shitty to him when he came up to me afterwards. I really did, but I’m really not the type. So he came over and was like, ‘Girl, I had no idea,’ and blah, blah, blah,” she said.
While Price has been honing her rap skills for about half of her life now, she is also a talented singer. Very few rappers can say that.
“My voice it seems like it’s right and normal to me, but of course it does to me … it sounds very natural, it sounds just like Nickie P., it sounds like little white, suburban Nickie P.,” she said. “But anybody who has never heard me or met me, or anything like that, hearing it for the first time there’s a lot of conclusions that you can jump to.”
Price said it took her a little over a year to complete this project and when asked about the new album’s title, “The Triumphant Rise and Tragic Existence of Sick Nick,” she said Sick Nick became like an alter ego for her to express her darker, raunchier side.
“[This album] kind of explains a little bit more in detail: It’s a little bit deeper, it’s a little bit darker in some senses, it’s also really upbeat and light in other senses. It’s kind of the wave I’ve been riding the past couple of years,” she said.
When further describing the album, Price said, “[A] pain in my ass. Definitely tough, a little rough, some ill-def kind of shit, but it’s still just another one of my babies. I’m very proud of it. But mostly a pain my ass.”
Price said all of the beats for the project were created by Adam Weiss, aka A-Bomb, and while she chose to only offer 10 tracks on the new album, not a moment was wasted.
“Breakthrough” has a funky beat with what sounds like some Curtis Mayfield horns going on; “Trouble,” is a bit reminiscent of Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” without the rock guitar, and features a hard hitting beat with Price ripping a staccato rhyme; “Anything” sounds like Salt-N-Pepa back in the day (and no, it’s not because she mentions them in the chorus); and in “Box,” Price sounds like she confidently shrugged off some things from her past that were weighing on her mind.
Her track, “It’s All Downhill” has a snappy bass tempo with a bit of Quentin Tarantino-esque cowboy guitar work going on, and she gives a shout out to Michigan, aka the mitten state, when she wrote, “Raised her in the mitten true, and no she don’t bleed maize and blue/She bleeds a color thicker than those running on the flag.”
From the same track, she proves her skills as a lyricist, “Gunning with a full clip/Pleased my vision won’t slip/The only thing that floods my mind is how I’m gonna run shit/Step in this carnival ride get rolled inside, enjoy the ride/The inner gears and belt drives, choice is yours to decide/On the other side is where normal resides/No use to run and hide, relax your mind/Because it’s all downhill/It’s all downhill from here baby, come down with me baby/’Cause it’s all downhill/Why you look so down, let me cure your frown.”
Brinkman, who is Caucasian and stands at a lanky 6-feet-6 inches, was sporting a beard, a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and a black hoodie with the Vox Box logo on the front.
Brinkman said he and Gelletly met in Ann Arbor around 2010 at the Elks Lodge during a show and started talking about music. After getting to know each other better, Brinkman told Gelletly he wanted to start recording his debut album.
“We’re lucky that we get along so good personally, but just the recording process itself; the creativity and all that stuff—it was sweet. It really made the album better,” he said.
Brinkman said he’s never attended Eastern Michigan University, but he has partied with some EMU students, and the Vox Box engineer who mastered his album is EMU student Alex Isotalo, aka Tripdubz.
Isotalo, 26, has been a member of Alibi Crew since 2012 and is an EMU senior with a double major in electronic media and film studies and linguistics.
Isotalo said working with Gelletly has brought numerous projects into his life, including Brinkman’s album.
“Mike Burner [Brinkman] is an incredibly eloquent lyricist and a profound writer, which really drives my motivation to work with him,” Isotalo said.
Isotalo said mastering is the last phase of processing and sonic decisions before distribution, but this album was a very organic experience.
“Steffen and I re-evaluated many aspects of the process and tried new techniques as things went along. My goal is always to maximize the quality and clarity of the sonic and verbal content. Overall, Mike appreciated the attention to detail,” Isotalo said.
Brinkman said he doesn’t catch much flak for being a white rapper because of a handful of white underground emcees who were already on the scene as he was coming up, although people still make the Eminem comparison because he’s white and sometimes has a nasally delivery.
He said when he was about to step on stage people would sometimes give him a look like, “What’s this tall, skinny white kid got to say?”
“And usually after that [my performance] their opinions would change a little bit. I came correct,” Brinkman said.
When asked why he got into show business, Brinkman said he’s always been the energetic class clown looking for attention.
“I always like to see people smile, so that grew over the years. But when I started listening to Del the Funky Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, Hieroglyphics—back when I was in high school—Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, I fell in love with hip-hop and the wordplay and the imagery and the different ways that you can tell a story. I always liked being up there sharing ideas with people, because I feel that sharing ideas in itself is kind of the core of growth in humanity,” Brinkman said.
Brinkman said his album was an introspective journey to the root of self-awareness.
“[The album’s about] the impact that we have on others, ourselves and our abilities to change the world by kind of changing ourselves,” he said.
Brinkman said his life has changed a lot since he had a son, who will be turning one in early February.
“It’s been great that I’ve still been able to kind of move forward with my music, and still be able to finish the project while raising the boy. But he’s been nothing but an inspiration. Makes me want to try a little harder,” Brinkman said.
Of the 17-track album, four tracks are skits that seem to be inside jokes many listeners won’t understand, but the remaining songs have a crisp, professional polish to them that will have hip-hop fans bopping their heads.
Brinkman said the highlights of making the album were working with Gelletly throughout the process and the recording sessions he had with Price, who is featured on his track, “Don’t Mind Much.”
“We collaborated on this great track and she was totally aboard,” Brinkman said. “It was probably two of the funnest recording sessions that I’ve had, on many different levels, as far as really being open and creative—just throwing it out there and laughing and having fun, which is really why I even try to do this.”
“Don’t Mind Much” has a ’70s feel to it with some Austin Powers horns popping in and out of the smooth groove, while Price’s silky voice just makes the track plain sexy.
“Recipe” carries a soft touch of techno with a backdrop of something reminiscent of a James Bond theme song, while Brinkman’s voice purposely distorted during the chorus offers a nice contrast to the normal laid back feel of his voice.
“Without A Sermon” is like a ’90s beat by Dr. Dre with B-Real of Cypress Hill spitting nasally, in-your-face lyrics: “Happy wakes because I’m killing them with kindness/Decapitate the hate leaving nothing but its eyelids/Just a plate of gelatin/The remnants of a skeleton/A resemblance to an elephant sitting on a pelican/I’m still family like a long lost relative/The menu says always fresh ‘cause I keep it genuine/With my own medicine without a pill or sedative/And I remain celibate to mind humping veterans.”
Brinkman said hard copy and digital versions of his album will be available for $10 on www.Bandcamp.com, as well as local Ann Arbor stores such as Encore Records, PJ’s Used Records and Underground Sounds.
Price said hard copies of her album should be available for $10 at Encore Records, Underground Sounds and Vault of Midnight, and she is still looking into avenues for digital downloads.
Both artists said hard copies of their albums will be available for purchase at the Jan. 26 show.