Sir Michael Rocks has always been a little ahead of his time, a little more original than his peers, a little bit more creative. As a teenager, he started making music under the name Mikey Rocks as one half of groundbreaking duo The Cool Kids. Formed over the Internet and powered by a strong grassroots fanbase online, the group helped redefine the image of rap for the Internet era with an effortlessly cool throwback style and an iconic, laid-back fashion sense. Rechristening himself as Sir Michael Rocks in 2011, the restlessly creative artist, now based in Miami after time spent in Chicago and LA, has been pushing the boundaries of rap originality even further in recent years with a string of popular, critically acclaimed mixtapes. As he explores an increasingly far-ranging set of ideas and prepares his solo debut album, Banco, the lifelong impulse to explore and innovate remains at the forefront of what Rocks is trying to accomplish. "I basically want to give you that confidence to be original, to be who you are, to be yourself," he says of his music. And he's leading by example, through straightforward feel-good music, attention-grabbing style, and having a fully packaged aesthetic. His music focuses on bringing together diverse, contrasting ideas from a variety of philosophical influences and marrying them with abstract, almost childlike visual elements.
Born Antoine Reed, Rocks grew up as the youngest of three outside of Chicago, where he developed a lifelong interest in the outdoors. Nature looms as an influence in his music, and Rocks aims to infuse the creativity, strength, and beauty he finds in settings like the beach, the deep sea, or the woods into the world of rap. Fittingly, over the last few years, he's sold off all his old diamond-studded jewelry in favor of handmade wooden pieces that offer personal significance and power. A defining style icon for the contemporary era, Rocks has moved toward a simpler look in other areas as well, embracing a comfort-driven look that fans will be eager to adopt.
But even if Rocks is driven in many ways toward a simpler aesthetic, the ideas internalized in his recent music are increasingly evolved. He's worked to incorporate the theoretical underpinnings of alchemy-the idea of an exchange, that nothing can be made without giving something up-into his music, noting that people can make anything they want if they're willing to do so. A lifelong love of video games and anime has nurtured other values as well: hard work, respect for others, and, above all, a refusal to let his surroundings temper his innate sense of joy.
"Anime taught me stuff that my parents didn't teach me," Rocks quips, explaining that the moral undercurrent of such influences is present throughout the music he makes. The futuristic, fantastical impulse behind these worlds is keenly felt as well. Building on his diverse ideas and inspirations, Rocks has pursued a creative lifestyle with relentless focus and blazed a path for others to follow.
His upcoming album Banco, which takes its name from the Spanish financial institution Banco Popular (Popular Bank), is meant to evoke Rocks's wealth of creativity, ideas, passion, intellect, and style. Drawing on Rocks's clearly defined personal philosophies and background of trendsetting, it's a work aimed at inspiring its audience via unexpected directions. Mac Miller, Iamsu!, DJ Mustard, Twista, Too $hort, and Chuck Inglish, are among the diverse range of collaborators, and Rocks goes all over the place, too, whether he's bragging about his juicer or discussing the backstory of an antique candelabra. Banco incorporates not only a well-honed, off-the-cuff rap style and enthusiastic, lively bounce, it also draws on a fully rounded accompanying visual style. Recognizing the importance of offering his fans more than just music in the current, highly visual digital era, Rocks has worked hard to create a comprehensively developed artistic experience through his own Photoshop-driven collage work. The result is a fascinating left turn of an album that finds Rocks making the most experimental, energetic, and varied music of his career.