A church bell goes off somewhere in the distance. Soon another. Then two more before the beat drops and Mica Pierce’s new single begins.
As the 19-year-old rapper and R&B artist appears on screen in the “Cocky” video, he’s dressed in a dark baseball cap, wearing multiple chains around his neck, and standing in surroundings many of his fans would recognize. The video was shot mostly in Flint, his home since he was 13.
“The reason that I do music out of Flint is because it made me who I am today. I’m always going to come back and give to my community,” says Pierce, aka “Kilo Paris, the Waviest Alive.”
Giving back and coming back to Flint seems to be a common theme among artists involved with the city’s underground music scene, largely dominated by rap and gospel. Even the local water crisis has led to a more hardcore edge among the performers, influencing their song lyrics.
“That’s coming out in their music,” says Flint gospel rapper Joe Brown. “How they feel, they’re bringing it to light, even through their videos. You wonder why people are rapping and talking. There’s so much passion and aggression. They’re (saying) ‘I’m still living this.’”
Bringing awareness to the community is part of why the music is so important. It’s a city with a lot to say, and the independent artists – those not signed to major distributors and who gain following through social media, YouTube and, often, digital song releases – tell Flint’s stories everywhere from community charity events and churches to places like Club 69 and gentlemen’s clubs.
Many of the act are especially dedicated to excelling at their craft, which is a blessing and a curse, says Nicholas Hill, a Flint gospel artist.
“Everybody wants to be the best at what they do, but wanting to be the best sometimes blinds us to how we can be better when we help each other,” Hill says.
Artists largely agree that the underground music scene lacks unity, which might play a role in why local talents form their own labels and production companies, as Pierce and Brown have. Pierce owns Golden Child Productions, Golden Child LLC, and Golden One, his publishing company. Brown’s label is The Blessings Are Real.
Still, Pierce says having his own dedicated, local team elevates him as a person.
“The more energy, the more good vibes you have around you, the more good music you’re going to make,” he says.
Pierce, Brown and Hill all make a lot of music, which can be found on platforms like Spotify, iTunes, and SoundCloud. Their social media pages list upcoming shows and serve as outlets for new music releases, showcasing their hard work.
But one thing that could really improve their music and the underground scene, in general, is a wider support network, which Brown thinks would generate greater buzz. The artists all do.
“I think it’s like a life blood,” Hill says. “It’s the shock that will cause the underground music scene to blow up. I think that’s what it needs. I think that mindset will literally change…it won’t become just underground, it will be more of a groundswelling, as opposed to underground.”
Lead photo: The Blessings Are Real.studio with Pastor Brown and J’Mez Johnson. Photo courtesy of J. Brown