EARMILK sat down with Chicago creative theMIND to discuss the deluxe version of his latest album, utilizing fragrance as a piece of merchandise, and how Geminis deserve much more love.
theMIND is a Chicago-based MC whose works span across countless features on your favorite albums in the hip-hop realm throughout the 2010s. His debut album Summer Camp in 2016 sparked a new chapter in the creative's career, showcasing a whimsical prowess for songwriting, and the range of his unique vibrato in his vocal performance. His sophomore LP Don’t Let It Go To Your Head would then build upon these strengths- but would later join the club of great albums whose rollouts were disrupted by the 2020 global pandemic.
Fast forward two years later, and theMIND is back with a deluxe version of Don’t Let It Go To Your Head, a fragrance line to drop alongside it, and a proper reintroduction to a concept album focusing on the nature of healing and being free. Following all the elements that theMIND wanted to push forward for the original version, the deluxe version acts as a proper rollout.
In a new setting that’s moved past the bulk of the pandemic, theMIND found a space to perform alongside other notable Chicago creatives such as the likes of Saba, Smino, and Eryn Allen Kane at Summerfest held just recently at the end of July. “It’s a shallow rainy day here in Chicago, you know I'm pretty good, I woke up pretty early and got to work on some projects so I was productive. Summerfest was good man, it felt so great being on stage with my friends." theMIND continued, “I was telling Sab [Chicago MC Saba] that If I wasn’t performing, I’d probably be in the crowd watching. It was this really good energy where it truly felt like Chicago was outside."
Summerfest marked one of the most notable live performances theMIND's performed since the start of the global pandemic. "I’ve done a bunch of spot dates and I did some stuff in LA, a college show in LA. I’ve done a bunch of stuff here in Chicago for a bunch of nonprofits, but this [Summerfest] is probably the biggest show I’ve done since the pandemic started". When it came to performing live again, the Chicago creative didn't mince words on how the process has been. "It’s weird!", he said, "to be completely honest with you. I think we’re all a little weird right now. I think I’ve developed some social anxiety the way a lot of people that I know have. It’s like this intro-extrovert thing where I can go around and do all this stuff and I kinda lose it now. I fall out of it as soon as I’m off stage."
"I don’t know how to interact with people the way that I use to and it makes me feel like I’m coming off a little weird but I think we’re all a little weird right now and that’s perfectly fine", he assured, "I missed being on stage so much that it feels being back at home if anything I wasn’t trapped in my house, I was trapped outside of it." The course of our conversation delved into the status of the music industry and its means of supporting artists and their well-being. "I think the entertainment industry as a whole where individuals, entertainers, or people who are on stage or behind the screen under some type of limelight- they're not looked at as human beings. They’re looked at as commodities or something to be consumed. It leaves this aspect of someone who’s not human at all and they interact with you the exact same way. I want these things from you, I want all this music, and as soon as it’s over it’s like 'I don’t like this."
Don't Let It Go To Your Head was theMIND's sophomore project that was released in late 2020. The timing of the album's release and the saturated political landscape of the U.S at the same time impacted the shaping of his new project. "I dropped it in November of 2020. This is right in the middle of the election, right after 'Stop the Count', Covid is in full swing and I feel like I dropped it at the wrong time, but I also felt like I didn’t get to include poems on that version and I didn’t complete that thought", he said in response to making the new project a deluxe version versus an EP. "I didn’t complete that thought and these were pieces I felt needed to be there and needed to complete that thought. I look at someone like SZA who drops a deluxe album 5 years later and I know that it’s still possible". "Because this music may be old to someone, [but] it’s brand new to someone to coming in and I like to think of my music as his open door policy where if you discover it, it’s brand new to you and I’m willing to have that brand new experience with anybody. I feel like I completed the thought", he said. "There were also other aspects that I didn’t get a chance to roll out that I wanted to drop with it. Never would’ve seen the light of the day for this project that came out two years ago".
Along with the deluxe version of Don't Let It Go To Your Head, theMIND is releasing a fragrance line in tandem that acts as an innovative means of merchandise. "Originally I was talking to a bunch of my friends: Mike Renald, Matt Joynt, and another one of our friends Matt Moore, and we wanted to come up with a way to get in front of the audience without really getting in front of them because of Covid. So we had this idea of coming up with a fragrance", he said. We wanted something to live with them the same way that the music did as well. I didn’t want to make a fragrance that just smelled good, I wanted to make it an expression of that moment", he stated.
"I wanted to get into that genre of merch, stuff that’s more of a self-expression rather than just 'hey I smell good. I want my art to expand outside of the space of just audio, I don’t think I drop many visuals but when I do it’s very intentional. I wanna make sure the thought comes across the exact way with the same intentionality that I put into it".
"I’m not putting out merch I wouldn’t wear myself, I’m not putting out a fragrance I wouldn’t put on myself", he proclaimed. "It’s a piece of expression I want people to feel free specifically". "I'm a foster kid from Philly, I never thought I could make a fragrance and If I could think it and I have the friends and the accessibilities to do it, I wanna do it", he stated proudly. "I like to say that it smells like the album. It really smells like childhood, it smells like nostalgia. Wet concrete after a block party. You opening a crisp bottle of cola, all of those different things, riding a bike in the night, it smells like that to me", he stated.
Throughout the cover art for the initial album and extended singles such as for "SUMMIT", a plastic bag can be seen as a motif. Upon first seeing the cover for the fragrance bottles, it was noticed that the cover is also inspired by the plastic bag. "It’s like a bodega or corner store", he said. "The bag represents the mask that we all wear when it comes to people getting to know us and how we ourselves are constantly selling ourselves to everybody we meet and us looking at this thing that’s supposed to be sold as well as the violence in the bag, not being able to breathe. Those things, there’s something behind them that constantly remind me of my childhood. I’ve walked around holding them eating honeybuns and all types of shit. It’s an homage to my childhood", he stated.
"Going off of the theme of the album art which was the plastic bag on the couple's heads which is the art of René Magritte, I just wanted to rope build a little bit. That painting from René always blew my mind and always stuck with me since I was a kid and the name of the painting was 'The Lovers' and I wondered why they had the bags over their faces like do they not love each other", he asked out loud.
"My interpretation from that [is that] we hide from each other constantly". "How much do you hide from your partner to suffocate? I wanted to attack that idea and go through how much I’ve suffocated myself, how much I’ve suffocated my relationships. It focuses heavily on myself and what I put through others and when you listen to the album, I’m an anti-hero throughout the entire thing", he stated. "I’ve suffocated myself to exist, I’ve struggled to understand myself and be honest and open with all my experiences and I felt like I was being naked for the first time in front of people because I felt so fantastical. The album is where I’m currently in my struggle, going through this is my shit and I’m gonna bag this shit up and hopefully, people can find themselves in some sort of understanding of their trauma and troubles throughout it as well", he proclaimed.
Segueing to a lighter topic, we talked about theMIND's inclusion of geminis on the album, to which he was thoroughly excited to talk about. "Man!", he exclaimed. "I’m friends with a lot of geminis. A lot of my favorite people are geminis. I, myself am a twin gemini. Geminis get such a bad wrap. I think they get it the worse out of all the zodiacs. We’re constantly looked at as two-faced or sneaky and I wanted to do away with that stigma."
"One beautiful thing that I noticed was that as geminis, we are the reflection of the people we are in front of". "We reflect the energy that we are given right back at you and when some people like to hide that they’re a gemini, I want to yell it and proclaim it really loud. I love the duality of being able to look at things from all sides."
"I had this fan at a Kari and Phoelix show that was like ‘oh I wanted to say hi to my favorite Gemini’ and I thought to myself ‘does no one know I’m a gemini?’, I’m gonna have to scream it a little louder", he exclaimed. "I promise you, most of your favorite artists are geminis".
The production on Dont Let It Go To Your Head plays with the soothing, neo-soulful style that theMIND is common to sing on. Despite having production chops on his resume, the album shares the spotlight with his producer colleagues. "Initially, the album was supposed to be a conjoint project with Da-P so this version is going to mention his name as much as it should be", he stated.
"I love the production side of music, my favorite thing will always be as hands-on as possible but I want to give as much credit as possible to those doing the groundwork. Renzell is one of my favorite people to work with, he’s my best friend so it’s only right that he also had pieces on the deluxe version of this album cause without him it doesn’t complete the thought. That’s why on ‘SUMMIT’, prodxvzn is credited as a co-artist", he assured. "These are artists in their own right so they need to be treated as such"
"SUMMIT" is the lead single off of the deluxe version of the project and in doing so, sets the tone to what the deluxe version adds to the mix. theMIND spoke on the inspiration behind the track. "I was watching this TED Talk and I can’t remember the name of this climber right now [it’s Alex Honnold], but he did this talk on free climbing. He was climbing without a rope and everyone was terrified for him. The skit at the beginning was him saying any ‘wrong movement will be the death of me’ and I think the parallels between that and life or whatever journey you find yourself in is this aspect that in any instance where if I made the wrong move, I would die."
"I’m trying my hardest to make the right choices and I don’t want to live with that", he proclaimed. "I’m striving to be a better person and the free soloing was spawned from this aspect of freeing myself from this confinement and If I do die, I’m just trying out here. Whatever happens happens, and enjoying more so on the journey of the mountain than the peaks. No one tells you how hard it was to climb that mountain, no one told you how beautiful it is. The third entendre was I didn’t write any of that, it was me free soloing in the booth and just freestyling all of it. No writing involved but it encompassed everything and it was the most free I’ve felt in a long time", he exhaled. "It was everything I wanted and sometimes you just overthink shit, but don’t let it go to your head".