In a time where crime in our capital is at an all-time high, the narrative we often see in the mainstream media is that black men are using violence to channel their pain.

This is only part of the story. There is a growing group of BAME men and women, using their experiences to inform their art. 

In our 10 part feature, we meet some of these artists. These artists are swimming against the tide, creating a lane for themselves.  They talk to us about the Cost of Artistry

2/10 Meet Michael Personne

I find it frustrating when reading profiles of artists how little attention is paid to discussion of their practice. I have found there is a tendency to encourage artists to pontificate on current affairs, sensationalising their experiences of craft and work. I frequently cringe at lengthy descriptions of what an artist is wearing, or how they are sitting.

With this feature, I want to give our readers an insight into those whose work I greatly admire the opportunity to have a serious discussion about poetry/rap, free from the usual angling of “page vs stage” or “new young star brings poetry out of the dusty library”.

We sat down with Michael Personne and asked him 

When did you discover you had a “talent” for music and creativity?

I’d say around the age of 15. I’d been writing bits and pieces for a while but it wasn’t until I heard a mixtape by an artist called Franklyn that I was inspired to put my lyrics to beats. I listened to the way he structured his lyrics, tried it myself and realised ‘hey I can actually do this!’ Thinking back to the stuff I wrote around that time, I now realise that I wasn’t very good haha! But, at the time I believed I was. And that belief pushed me to practice more until the point that I actually did become good. The fact that I wasn’t good at first doesn’t mean that the talent wasn’t there, it just needed to be nurtured over time.

What have you had to sacrifice to nurture your talent?

Although time, money and people pleasing are major ones, I’d say the biggest sacrifice has been my comfort zone. In order to grow as an artist, I’ve often had to write when I don’t feel like it, practice when I don’t feel like it, perform when I don’t feel like it etc. As enjoyable as (some of) these things are, there’s a point where they become inconveniences. But in order to nurture my talent, I’ve had to sacrifice the comfort that comes from doing things based of my feelings or mood. In practice, it’s challenging but the growth produced from it is more than worth it!

Who inspires your artistry?

My relationship with God is the first and foremost inspiration behind my artistry. This is because as much as I’m inspired by people, I’m also inspired by ‘things’ as in objects, sights, experiences etc. My relationship with God  forms the lens by which I view and interpret the world and therefore acts as the ultimate source of my inspiration. If we’re talking specifically about people, then I’d say Timothy Brindle for his lyrical content, JGivens for his quirkiness and Sean C Johnson for his relatability.

What is the biggest misconception people have about rappers?

I think the biggest misconception is that our entire artistry is driven and defined by an agenda to ‘blow up’. I think this misconception is related to the ‘Hey listen to my mixtape!’ stereotype that used to be prevalent. Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants their music to be heard by the masses. However, overnight success through a ‘banger’ is not the route that every rapper necessarily takes. For me, there’s something beautiful about an organic emergence that doesn’t necessarily come from one track that blew, but is built on a foundation of a whole catalogue of good music. In the words of one of my favourite rappers, ‘I wanna leave a legacy of classics, not a bunch of wack hits’ – Stephen The Levite

In an age where digital echo chambers are growing wider, what role do you think poetry can play in this?

The beautiful thing about the arts is that there are no rules. In a world where political correctness is restricting the diversity of viewpoints, the arts presents a place where you’re a bit more free to express your beliefs. Although you’re still not 100% free to express your views without the risk of backlash, the fact that art is open to interpretation means it’s easier to spread potentially controversial messages in a more covert fashion than it would be in a non-creative context. In addition to this, the admiration produced by good art can cause those who would otherwise be dismissive of your message to acknowledge and consider your viewpoint even if they disagree with it. In this way, poetry and the arts exist as a ‘safe space’ remaining somewhat un-colonized by the invading forces of political correctness.

Has a song ever humbled or frightened you?

Yes, a song entitled ‘Hell’ by Timothy Brindle had me rethinking my whole life haha! Here’s an excerpt from it:

You’ll experience permanent suffocation, Your eyes will melt and your lungs will suck your face in, It’s breathtaking, cause you’ll never breathe again, But bleed your phlegm and hear screams of evil men

Need I say more?

I was around 16 at the time of first hearing the track and started praying for forgiveness (for the 1000th time) immediately after I listened

Some rappers claim that a song is like a living creature: once it’s out there is not much you can do to ‘correct’ or ‘improve’ it, while others edit meticulously, not leaving much from the original, draft form. What’s your take on it?

Well, once it’s out in the public, there is nothing you can do. But prior to release, I’d say editing is one of the most important aspects of the writing process. Editing is the difference between an average song and a masterpiece. Not all songs/genres require a massive deal of editing but if the main focus of your artistry is on lyricism, as mine is, then editing is a must. It takes up a lot of time but is well worth it in my opinion.

How do you define success?

For me, success looks like completing that which I’ve been sent to do. It sounds cliché but to be more specific, I’ve been sent to pour out every talent that God has put inside of me, executing with excellence with the effect being that people are encouraged, inspired and edified.

Do you ever regret sharing your work publicly?

There’s an old song (I won’t reveal which one haha) that I regretted releasing due to doubts regarding its quality. Nowadays it doesn’t bother me too much.

And no I generally don’t trust the consumer. Many (including myself at times) don’t exercise the patience and analysis that is required to appreciate art in its entirety. In this world of instant communication, we’re constantly being bombarded with new things which makes it difficult to focus on digesting one thing at a time.

As an artist, you have to accept that nobody cares about your music as much as you do. It’s a humbling pill to swallow. The only thing we as artists can do is make good content and do our best to promote it with the hope that someone out there will take the time to listen and appreciate it.