It’s common knowledge that the cornerstone of great art is freedom of expression. An unimpeded autonomy to use any and every medium to flex one’s creative intuition. Yet even when that autonomy is perceivably impeded, the great artists of our time have defiantly traversed those hurdles, irrespective of rules and convention, unabashedly marching to the beat of their own drum. Basquiat figured it out. So did Byrne. Likewise, for singer/ songwriter/ rapper Yonas Michael, the agency to exercise the full, dynamic range of his artistry is paramount. With a love for music that was equally fostered by his maternal grandmother’s soulful vinyl collection and his father’s Ethiopian roots, Michael’s arrival at this space and time in music was all but predestined.
U-N-I was cultivated in the nascent independent music scene in 2006 with the likes of fellow Californians and future stars Kendrick Lamar and Miguel. After releasing two albums as the lauded rap duo whose unprecedented aesthetic and distinct lyrical style eventually earned them widespread recognition from a MTV Video Music Award and millions of Youtube view counts, the group disintegrated. While lamenting over going solo, Yonas reflected on the fact that even the most dynamic hip-hop duos eventually went their separate ways. Following the cues of Outkast and Black Star, Yonas Michael defected from U-N-I to access his individual artistry and pursue a less astringent musical menagerie.
The California-based Michael branched out on his own in 2011 when he released his debut solo album, Lost in Hollywood which employed a diverse and impressive range of musical styles from electro and rock to hip-hop and funk, and was a wondrous journey through the life and times of Yonas Michael romping amongst the bright lights of the big city, spawning singles “Punks” and “House Full Of Women.” A year later, he is prepared to push the envelope even further with his follow up sophomore album, Blvck Swan Theory. But first he will give fans an appetizer, The Mixtape: Before Blvck Swan Theory.
“The black swan theory basically represents a surprise to the observer, it’s something that is rationalized in hindsight and eventually changes everything. It’s like the Wright Brothers when they presented the concept of the airplane. I’m sure they were met with a lot of skepticism for their invention. But we couldn’t imagine life now without planes. With that as a metaphor, I’m taking my fans on another journey musically. I’m implementing elements that I grew up on into my own sound and cooking up something unprecedented in the process.”
Presented by esteemed mixtape DJ Mick Boogie, Before Blvck Swan Theory features eight of Yonas Michael’s most unique interpretations of tunes by the likes of Toro Y Moi, N.E.R.D., Brazilian Girls, and daytime disco trailblazers Poolside. The debut single “Oochie Wally” finds Yonas ardently waxing poetic for the sake of waxing poetic, over the instrumental for Poolside’s “Next to You.” Another notable rework comes in the form of his fervently passionate crooning of Ima Robot and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros front man Alexander Ebert’s 2011 single “Truth.” The tune “Stella Jane Michael” is both an ode to and the name of his unborn daughter due on Christmas day. “Great Western Forum” finds Yonas paying tribute to his Inglewood stomping grounds over French electro house maestro Kavinsky’s 2011 contribution to the Drive motion picture soundtrack, “Nightcall.”
It goes without saying that the cosmic-like musical journey of Yonas Michael’s maiden solo voyage over the past year has been nothing short of enigmatic. The Before Blvck Swan Theory mixtape will serve as a prelude to the opening of a new and astonishing chapter in the career of the remarkably anomalous artist who is also adding mastery of the guitar to his repertoire. At the same time, he is fully aware that his U-N-I history is an integral part of his ability to finally embrace his own dynamic artistry, traverse hurdles, and march to the beat of his own drum. “It definitely helped me progress as an artist and a human being. Thurz and I did a lot together. We built a name, a fan base, and a foundation. There were a lot of ups and downs, but it helped me grow as an artist. My whole perspective in life and music has really helped shape who I am as of now.”
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