Love for the game
“I’m like an anti-pimp,” says Michael Russell, 30. “I try to put love back into the situation.”
The rapper, who goes by “Metaphysical” on stage, was offering his thoughts on dating, but his philosophies on love and music are one and the same.
“I try to get into your minds and souls,” he says.
Russell, who goes by “Meta” for short, is a founding member of the local rap collective Element, which has been around since 1993. He is releasing his first commercial solo album, The Art Department, at the Burning Man festival later this month.
His music is a mix of every aspect of the local hip-hop scene. His rhyming style is straightforward and his lyric content is strong. His production, which he does himself, is funky.
On the 23-track disc that serves as a rough draft of the new album, there are a lot of dance tracks, plus a few inspiring, get-up, stand-up anthems. A few songs fit under the gangster rap category, and there are a couple of psychedelic tracks that should go over well at Burning Man.
All of which makes Russell, and his music, hard to pigeonhole. Less hard to label, he says, is the local rap scene.
“I feel like the Reno [hip-hop] scene is segregated,” he says.
In the local scene, hip-hop fans and rappers are usually characterized as either “true school” or “street rap,” Russell says.
True school is conscious, non-violent rap music that focuses on everyday concepts like love and life while rejecting mainstream hip-hop topics like the degradation of women and material success.
Street rap is pretty much anything else, including gangster rap, mainstream rap and “hyphy” rap, which is psychedelic and often doesn’t rhyme.
“Both of those sides can’t understand each other,” Russell says. “Both of those sides won’t accept each other.”
During a three-hour interview in his studio on the west side of downtown Reno, Russell points out an obvious but uncomfortable fact: True school is mostly performed by white performers, while “street rap” is mostly black rappers.
Dressed in a tank top, army shorts and Adidas sneakers, Russell is energetic and eager to explain his points—but just as eager to hear any counterarguments.
In his song “Meta in the Middle,” the part-Philippine, part-Mexican, part-Caucasian rapper calls out race and shouts-out dozens of rappers in town, of every race and style.
“I was born in the middle. I got no box to check,” he raps. “Free from brainwashing. Free from stereotypes.”
The Art Department features various local artists who, at times, make the album difficult to analyze, but the music isn’t meant to be analyzed, says Russell.
“You don’t want to make music that requires energy to listen to,” he says.
He’d rather have people dance. And when he performs, people do just that.
Ever since his band, Element, got picked up by Digital Underground—the same group that discovered Tupac Shakur—Russell has performed around the world.
“It was amazing,” he says. “I got to live the dream of being a platinum rap star. I’ve been on the same stage as 50 Cent, Outkast.”
By the end of the interview, Russell has only spent a few minutes talking about his own music.
“I don’t know what it is I’m trying to get across,” he says. “Maybe it’s love I want to get across. Not just my movement, but everyone’s.”