“A Black man in the White House, the answer is clear / There isn’t a doubt that it’s possible,” raps Myka 9. But far from the cackle of mixtape rappers jumping on the Obama dream, the Freestyle Fellowship icon Myka 9 is digging up a verse he coined a couple of decades ago.
“Jesse can do it/His delivery’s smooth and fluid,” he continues, before laughing and repeating the chorus of his ’88 ode to Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid: “Go Jesse, go Jesse, go!/Go Jesse, go Jesse, go!” Recorded with West Coast figures DJ Antron and Madrok, it’s just one of a litany of curious collaborations he’s accrued through a lifetime in rhyme. So on the eve of the release of his latest solo set, “1969,” Myka flips back through a hip-hop history book that includes chapters on freestyling at the Good Life Cafe as well as penning punch lines for NWA’s posse.
Can you remember your first steps into rhyming?
After rapping at the back of the school bus to entertain the other kids, I remember one of my first recordings in ’83 was making a demo over jazz records.
What sort of jazz records were you rhyming over?
I can’t quite remember the name, but it was some trio, and I did a song called “Jump with the Jazz” over it. Then in ’84, ’85, that’s when LL Cool J was dropping and you could rap on his instrumentals. But I’d rap over anything: Kraftwerk, Jonzun Crew, we even tried to rap over polka!
Back then you were known as Microphone Mike, right?
I think one of my first handles was M MC, but yeah, it was mainly Microphone Mike. That was my ’80s b-boy name—like a rhyme slinger with a big Kangol instead of a cowboy hat! I thought I was like Billy the Kid or Jesse James: (adopts TV announcer’s voice) “Microphone Mike sends trembles into the hearts of the primal MCs of the ’80s, from the East Coast to the West Coast!
So how did you come to ghostwrite for the NWA and the Posse album?
I was hanging out with this guy Sean [Thomas], and his brother Xavier had a group called Rappinstine. They said they had an opportunity to do a record with a brother named Dr. Dre and they gave me fifty dollars to write each song! The most known one was called “Scream.”
I only got fifty dollars, but they gave me the “M. Troy”—my real name—in parenthesis on the credits on the original NWA compilation, so I got to contribute to that. And through the years, I’ve always known of Dr. Dre and he’s always known of me, and that association has always helped me out. It’s the same with Eazy-E, RIP, he was always playing me stuff by artists he was working on to get my opinion, like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
What did you think of Bone Thugs?
I thought they were dope, especially as they were running down similar lines to us; they had their own style, but people would attribute what they’re getting from us, because that style wasn’t around then. Some people would say that the Jaz and Jay-Z’s “The Originators” was flipping the styles and then the Fellowship came out, but we were flipping styles before that came out.
It sounds like the L.A. hip-hop scene was very integrated at that time?
Yeah, I don’t recall these guys (NWA) being more into the gang-bangin’ than the music. When I would go to the Roadium Swap Meet, it seemed to me they were more into music and getting high and making money than they were actually out on the turf bangin’ and jumpin’ on fools.
So the swap meets were a big meeting place?
That one was, at the time, down in Compton, and ours was down in Crenshaw. You’d go there and get your clothes and records. At the Crenshaw one there was a brother named Duane Earl—he had a lot of different rap names like Earl the Poet, Cool D—and he was one of the first guys to take me to New York, offered opportunities to me on different levels.
At that time were you offered other ghostwriting work, or was the focus on your own career?
My crew at the time, called MC Aces, was recording via a guy named Kip Harris who owned a Target record outlet at one of these swap meets, and he’d pay for a studio. Aceyalone and I also recorded with a guy named Puerto Rock, and I also started writing for this guy RBX—then Reality Born X—and this is the same RBX from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic fame—Snoop Dogg’s cousin. Back then Snoop was rhyming, but he wasn’t recording. He’d call us on the three-way; sometimes we’d go to Long Beach and hang out with them.
So at what point did the Good Life Cafe come into play?
Good Life was late-’80s. It was the first open mic I’d heard of that allowed people to rap. It was about as big as a small bar, with a small stage, maybe fit a hundred people. The first week, maybe five people were there. But by the end of the month, it was thirty, forty people. And by the end of two months, it was so big they had to put the speakers outside.
What was your most memorable night there?
Probably before Freestyle Fellowship when I got a single record deal with Arista Records—I did a remix for a girl named Carmen Carter, ended up rapping on it, and the label liked the song (“Always”) so much they decided to put us on a nationwide tour. So before I left I performed that song at the Good Life and everyone was really congratulatory towards me.
Also, there was some cats—I forget their name—and they were kinda weird: a heavy metal band who painted their faces white, like the opposite of Kiss—the Black Kiss—and they would come and rock and roll, but real slow. They stood out!
You mentioned rapping over LL Cool J instrumentals earlier. Was he a big influence?
Yeah, I even had fantasies to battle him! I remember one time I met him because he was hanging out with one of my homegirls, and I was the kind of dude that would be like kamikaze, you know, just start rhyming, no warning or nothing. So we’re in a home environment, a living room, and they’re like, “Yo, yo, this is L.” And I was drinking this juice and an ice cube got caught in my throat! I was about to say something and I chucked up this ice cube! He was like, “You rhyme?” I was like, “Yeah, I rhyme.” He was like, “Yeah, that happens a lot! I can tell a lot of people are MCs because they want to battle me, but they get choked up!”
Did you have a prewritten LL dis rhyme then?
Nah, I would have just started freestyling, coming with it. People would be like, “Why is this man yelling at this man?” But LL knows what’s up; real MCs know what’s up.