Mickey Factz' mind works the way most artistic geniuses work: unconventionally, emotionally, and powerfully. Guided by a profound understanding for art, culture and social awareness, Factz established a place for himself in the hip hop world with the release of his 2008 mixtape, The Leak, Vol. 2: The Inspiration. In response to the hip hop he was hearing at the time, The Inspiration featured impressive guest appearances by artists like Lauryn Hill, Smoke DZA, Travie McCoy and Drake, and boasted production work by figures like 9th Wonder and Precize. Not surprisingly, XXL magazine included Factz in their "Freshmen Class of '09'" that year.
Today Factz releases Mickey MauSe, a 17-song soundtrack set to Deadmau5 and Dangermouse samples that includes visual treatment for nine of the songs. Clearly not the most conventional undertaking for a hip hop artist, the entire project emotively chronicles the life of a fictional graffiti artist named Mickey MauSe, who lives in the height of the 80's amidst the drugs, sex, music and art that tragically exploited many lives. Never one to shy away from the envelope-pushing and the avante garde, we spoke with Factz about this massive labor of love and what compelled him to do it.
EARMILK: What was the thinking behind the Mickey MauSe project? Why the 80s? Why not the 70s or 60s? Or even the 90s?
Mickey Factz: I'm going to be very frank: I did the first track that I recorded and it wasn't even for this project. It was called "Mickey MauSe" because I sampled Deadmau5. I went to my A&R, Steve-O, and he said, "Okay, this is cool. But so what? Nobody cares." I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "There's no subject; what you should do is create a character who is alive around the [Jean-Michel] Basquiat, [Andy]Warhol period of time and is a graffiti artist during that time." And for me from there, it was pretty easy conceptually but it was still a very hard task to grapple with because it was a lot of material to cover. But I created the character out of nothing, I produced everything on the project. I sampled Dangermouse and Deadmau5 and I created this whole story and character out of nothing.
EM: How much of YOU is in Mickey MauSe? Where does he stop and you begin?
MF: The story is mostly based on my life with the exception of HIV/AIDS. I just created a character in a different time frame. But people think I've changed my name, that I grew my hair out, that I'm some other person; I was just playing a part in the short film documentary and I had to become the character. I wore the same clothes and let my hair grow and confused my mother and my friends but becoming the character Mickey MauSe was an exceptional change in my life. I really became the person and when people hear the project, they're going to understand the congruent nature of Mickey Factz and Mickey MauSe.
EM: The visual treatment is particularly compelling. How did you come up with some of those concepts?
MF: I want people to see me, when I shot the video. I wanted people to have a clear understanding of who Mickey MauSe was: he was kicked out of his parents home and was homeless and living in Union Square Park in NYC. And the next couple of videos I've shot, the next couple of short screenings will be even more artistic. They will be pushing the envelope even more. As someone who has no help from the label side, I really did this on my own. "Dreams of Money" for instance, it picks up from Mickey MauSe sleeping on the bench and having a dream of words and a Mickey MauSe head bouncing over the words and in the background you see Scrooge Mcduck screaming at money so these are the things that I want to convey. With "Taking Pictures of Girls Naked", a lot of people automatically think taking pictures of women in a very inhumane way. But I want to explore the way the 80s did photography. I bought a Polaroid, I took pictures and I rented a projector. I really want to convey this type of artistry for hip hop, I think this is necessary for media in our genre.
EM: What is the chronology of this project? Is it going to be primarily captured by video and song?
MF: The only songs that will not have visuals are "Chalk", "The Factory" and "The Memoirs of ______". Everything else has a visual to it and every single visual is going to be better than last, I can guarantee that. To be honest, I tried to do every song, I wanted to do "Chalk" but it was out of my budget. I can tell you the concept for it: the concept for "Chalk" was going to be about cocaine; I don't do any drugs, I'm drug free. But I wanted to grate cheese, white cheese, and put it in a maze and have a white mouse go to the cheese in a big maze and then after the mouse eats the cheese, he leaves and crawls on women. And then the mouse passes out, which is the third situation; so it encompasses every section of the song because the changes three times: first, it would be discovering coke, second is indulge in women and last is him passing out, laying unconscious. "The Factory" was going to be a typography video. But I'm still undecided. And what made "Chalk" difficult would be in regards to finding women, finding cameras, finding women who would be naked and allow a mouse to crawl over them. The idea of the rest of these videos is they're as good as the chalk one but that was one of the dream videos I wanted to do.
The thing about it is, I'm not rapping in any video, I'm not rapping. For instance, I can tell you this story: for "Hulk Hulgan & Crack", I showed up in Gary, Indiana and they had set up this whole factory-like setting for me. They were like, "Okay, the first scene is you rapping to the camera." And I say, "Wait, I can't," and they said, "What do you mean?" So I tell them that Mickey MauSe doesnt rap, he's a graffiti artist. And I say I'll perform like this, I'll put duct tape over my mouth and then I'll rap. So we did creative things for each video and each will be more exceptional than the the last. The first was Union Square, the second will be typography, "Hulk Hogan" will be a cocaine addict. "Heart" we got a fake heart, I rip it out of the chest and the whole visual is moving backwards. Each idea is thought out very carefully.
EM: What types of things did you want to bring to awareness with the Mickey MauSe project?
MF: I wanted to really convey the art that is being overlooked and under-appreciated but is equally talented as its peers. That's why I chose a character that grows up around Basquiat, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Fab Five Freddy: these can be compared to Kid Cudi, B.O.B, Drake. Mickey MauSe never got the acclaim because we never heard of him. I want people who are artists who have dreams, to fall in love with the project, because they feel they aren't as talented as others to be the best that they can be.
EM: So the inspiration or motivation for this project is to inspire those who are good at what they are doing, but may not get a lot of recognition for it, to keep doing what they're doing?
MF: Yes, I guess the take away is just worry about what you're doing and do what you're doing to the best of your abilities. I also wanted the project to shed light on choices that people make and living with these choices, no matter good or bad.
EM: What do you think about style versus substance? What would you say to someone who says this project or your work has style but no substance? How do you ensure it has both?
MF: I'm more of a expressive kind of guy and in my life and my career, we tended to add to style to the substance. We definitely feel style captures the eye but substance is what captures the ear. And I feel and I think that it is not only captures the ear but the mind and the heart. The imagery is this guy who sees a woman who is attractive walking down the street. She catches his eye but if she doesn't have substance, maybe they will just be friends. A guy wants style and substance, something that touches his eye ear mind and heart, so for me I wanted there to be equal distribution. Sometimes people forget how much is tacked into a project because they're blinded by the stylistic approach I take. Some call me a "hipster rapper" because of the way I dress but I literally always talk about social issues since 2007-2008. I've always talk about a myriad of topics relating to society.
EM: Obviously you seem very creative and very inquisitive. I don't think these project ideas come to just anyone. What were you like as a kid, growing up?
MF: I was a kid genius. I won science fairs, I was on the honor roll, I was top kid in my class almost skipped 2nd grade. I didn't have any girlfriends until I left high school but I was popular because of my lyrics. I was always creative and intellectual, always. I was one of those kids who had dreams about being an archaeologist and an astronaut. I think it was just an inspiration thing. It's funny that we're talking about this, I was inspired by dinosaurs and that's why I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was inspired by the solar system, that's why I wanted to be an astronaut. And now I'm in my 20's and that's why I want to explore Mickey MauSe.
EM: What inspires you?
MF: Love. Love inspires me. My mom inspires me. Art inspires me. And music. Life! I'm inspired by everything. I've touched on pretty much everything [in Mickey MauSe] because I feel like I'm human and I don't have a chain, and I've never had aspirations to drive the biggest car or buy the biggest chain but I did have aspirations to get artwork. I have aspirations to buy my mother a house. These are things I aspire to.
EM: You like comics a lot. What about them do you like? Are you able to integrate games or gaming into your music?
MF: My father is a drawer, he drew comics. He introduced me to Marvel Comics. I have a vast knowledge of Marvel Comics from the late 60s, I'm in love with "The Matrix". aside from "The Matrix", "Inception". I'm so happy I'm signed to Sony. I mean they give me all the exclusive video games, I feel I am little blessed. Just being able to see other things people create, use them in my lyrics, use a video game or "Matrix" lyric, use their work in all of my projects.
EM: Which are your favorite characters or games?
MF: Spiderman was like me. Spiderman, before he was Spiderman he was a dorky kid that no one paid attention to. After he got the powers, he was loved by everyone. But no one knew he was Spiderman. Yet his demeanor changed, he wasn't like other kids. Ninja Gaiden is my favorite game ever — the fact that you think he's a ninja and he use every ninja weapon imaginable — nun chucks, two swords, bows taffs, claws, it's an amazing game.
EM: Musically, what type of work resonates with you?
MF: Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar, rapper-wise. Musicians? M83. I love them. Cee Lo Green. Dangermouse and Deadmau5 of course. Cee Lo, Big Boi, Andre 3000 — you know the ones who are always eclectic.
EM: What are you listening to?
MF: Now that I'm finally done with Mickey MauSe, I finally want to get into the last M83 album, I only get a chance to listen to the last single they came out with. I was so busy with producing song and recording visuals. M83 will be in the Ipod. James Blake too, I'm itching for more James Blake.
EM: What's next for you? You don't seem like the type to take a break, even though you just finished this massive project…
MF: Well I'm always working on the album. And I would love to do a collaborative album with Anthony Gonzalez from M83, I would love to work with him. We've talked about doing a hip hop album. Or do something with Lupe Fiasco, people I'm really inspired by. I would push Lupe and he would push me to be better.