Philadelphia rapper Mike Voss has been open and candid about his story in the music industry, sharing his journey and the elements that go into creating his sound. He’s been consistently releasing incredible albums for the past few years now, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him throughout 2021 on his 3-part project, The Highwaylist. While the albums were meant to showcase the sides of his multi-faceted style, his newest release, Ain’t Nobody’s Hero, combines the 3 projects and takes those sounds even further to give his most vulnerable performance yet. Mike sat down with me to discuss the album a little bit further, giving fans a deeper look into what went into developing Ain’t Nobody’s Hero.
Welcome back, Voss! I’m super excited to dig into this project. I’ve gotten to deep dive into quite a few albums of yours but in my opinion, this one in particular shows so much growth and quite a few different sides to your sound. What is the main premise behind this newest album, Ain’t Nobody’s Hero? How did you come up with the concept?
Mike Voss: “I actually came up with the title before I started writing any songs. Diddy has a line in “All About the Benjamins” where he says, “ain’t nobody’s hero but I wanna be heard”. I always loved that. A lot of folks put artists on pedestals like we’re supposed to be role models, but we’re just human beings using our gifts to get our stories heard.
I wanted to create a body of work that encompassed every aspect of my personality: good, bad and ugly.”
I commend you for that. Being able to acknowledge all of those sides and then showcasing it to the public requires a lot of courage and self awareness. It’s tricky but I think you’re sharing an important message. With that being said, on social media, you’ve claimed that this is your best project yet, and honestly, I don’t entirely disagree. What do you think makes this so special in comparison to some of your earlier works besides that honesty?
Voss: I think it’s a combination of things. I’m a project artist; I know the industry wants everyone to pump out singles for Tik Tok, but I’ve always played to my strength of putting a cohesive collection together. The sequencing, features, beat selection, songwriting…I level up with each project I do.
Duvak’s production is so diverse, but it still has his distinctive sound on it. There’s a dark cloud over a lot of this because I was in a dark place writing most of it, but it still has moments of light to balance it out. I genuinely believe every project I drop is better than the last.”
I definitely agree that you’re a project artist because of how maticulous you are with piecing each song together, but I don’t think that takes away from your ability to put out some pretty fire singles. But for me, personally, those are usually your more upbeat tracks, which we do still see balanced out with those more introspective verses for sure. And as you mentioned, your entire project was produced by one producer, New Jersey native, Duvak. What are some of the benefits of solely utilizing one producer and what are some obstacles that present themselves in doing so? How did you decide to have Duvak produce the whole album versus others that you’ve worked with in the past?
Voss: “I knew Duvak as a singer first from a show we did, then he DMed me on IG and sent me beats, late 2020 I think. I was fuckin with his work right away so when he offered to do a project for me I was with it. He would come to my crib to make beats on the spot according to what sounds I was feeling that day. That confirmed to me he was the right guy for this album. It’s all been beneficial with him; he’s professional, he’s innovative, and most importantly, he’s a real one. There were honestly no obstacles.”
Finding a dynamic like that where it seems more like a partnership makes such a difference. I’ve experienced a lot of situations where there is a disconnect, and it’s almost as though the beat and the artist are at odds. When using your feelings and emotions to guide your sound, where there any songs that were out of your element?
Voss: “Probably the last one “1,000 Sinners”. I never did a song quite like that before. It’s melodic and spaced out, not really written like a rap song. “Neverland” is kinda like that too, real wavy melodic laid back delivery. I had a vocoder on my voice in both of those too. Shoutout to Mavericc who engineered the album, adding vocals to both those songs too.”
I love that you ventured outside of your comfort zone. And we always have to shoutout Mav, everything he touches is gold! Similarly, the cover artwork for this project seems to take a pretty different approach in comparison to past albums, where they’re a lot simpler. What made you take this direction and what’s the symbolism behind the imagery?
Voss: “I specifically wanted this amazing artist Joshua Adair to do the cover. His style meshed with my vision perfectly. The face in the middle could be me, it could be you, it could represent anyone. That angel and demon represent the human conscience and its tug of war between good and evil.
I had my graphic designer Mike Pipitone aka Architekt black out the background with the mineral wash effect and put my logo up top. I’m in love with that cover. Might have to put it on some shirts…”
I mean, that cover has so many layers to it. It would be so dope on some merch. You took a lot of different approaches this time around, and there’s one song that stands out in particular. Track number 6, “May 30th/Ice In My Veins” takes on a pretty serious subject matter, including your role as a white rapper in the Hip-Hop industry and the impacts of police brutality in the last few years. Can you go into more detail on the significance of May 30th?
Voss: “I was a part of the first protest in Philly after George Floyd’s murder on May 30th, 2020. It took me a couple years to write that verse. After that whole experience at the protest, I had a feeling I would write something about it in the future, but I needed time to process it all. Also, I feel artists sometimes capitalize on tragedies with gimmicky songs, and that’s never been my style.
It’s just an honest verse from the perspective of a white man who owes a huge part of his existence to Black culture. Honestly, any white person that benefits from or partakes in Black culture who wasn’t at any protests during that time doesn’t deserve to be a part of it anymore. Period.”
I completely agree with that, especially that sometimes songs with these subject matters feel forced or disingenuine. Can you explain the transition that occurs in the middle of the track a bit more as well as the one that takes place in track 15, “Way It Is/ Clarity”? I always appreciate a strong change in tracks that still flows effortlessly.
Voss: “When I wrote May 30th over that first beat, I knew I wasn’t gonna write a hook because it’s not meant to be a “hit song” just honest words from an honest place. But I didn’t want to just end it after my verse. I wanted to give the second half of the track to a Black voice, someone who’s experienced things I’ll never be able to fully understand. I thought of Vodka right away. He’s a Philly legend, we’ve been friends for over a decade. He taught me a lot about the craft and life in general.
I knew I wanted the second half to be a soul sample with no drums to highlight Vodka’s lyricism and give the song an interesting contrast, and Duvak nailed it. I love that loop and I love that verse. I get chills every time I listen to it.
But after I heard what Vodka did, I knew I needed to have MY moment over a soul sample too lol. I was thinking of having a feature on the second verse of “Way It Is” but then it hit me to have another switch into a soul sample and just go crazy over it myself. I think I sent Duvak a song to sample and he wound up picking a different one on his own that was better lol. That “Clarity” verse is one of my favorites I’ve ever written.”
I definitely think you should explore that avenue more, it was really cool to hear. “How Could You (Duvak’s Lament)” was another pleasant surprise to stumble across when listening to the album! Very much a hidden gem. Can you explain why you chose to include this on the project? I really loved how it broke things up.
Voss: “I was originally gonna have Duvak sing a hook on the album or something, but then I figured, why not give him his own track? The kid is a great singer and songwriter as well as producer, so I knew he’d kill it, and he did. “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is one of my favorite albums, and I remember Drake gave PartyNextDoor an entire track on there (I think he did that for a couple artists on different albums). I always liked that, as long as it still fits into the project. Duvak’s lyrics on that joint fit into the album perfectly; it’s dark, honest and raw.”
What a special way to highlight his craft. And man, it paid off. You two make a dope team and you guys created an awesome project. After crowning Ain’t Nobody’s Hero as your best album yet, what can fans expect from you in the future in terms of developmental growth as an artist?
Voss: “More evolution. More great writing. More bangers. More melodies. More of me doing whatever I want. I appreciate everyone who’s along for the ride.”
If you want to check out more of Voss’s albums, you can read up some more about the artist here. Make sure to connect with him on socials to follow his journey.