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‘Stuck in two generations’: Zarin Micheal calls on rap’s past to make great music now

Solo freestyle: Zarin Micheal

Zarin Micheal’s pedagogical approach to learning the art of hip-hop has made him one of the most lyrically skilled rappers in the area.
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Zarin Micheal’s pedagogical approach to learning the art of hip-hop has made him one of the most lyrically skilled rappers in the area.

Zarin Micheal (@zarinmicheal): The Workhorse

Age: 18

Home: Kansas City

Hip-hop legend KRS-One said “hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement. Hip and Hop is intelligent movement.”

The thinking is that true hip-hop has to have a level of self-awareness or consciousness. At 18, local artist Zarin Micheal (born Zarin Jerrells; Micheal is his middle name) is young, but he still tries to infuse as much of his music as possible with an awareness of hip-hop’s roots, a type of old-school consciousness not often seen with today’s rappers.

“I’m an artist stuck in two generations,” Micheal says. “I listen to older records, and I value knowing how to rap well but at the same time, kids today, they don’t always want to listen to that all the time.”

Musically, Micheal loves to study. His mother introduced him to Jay Z when he was a child (“I can rap just about all of his albums word for word,” he says). He recently read in a GQ profile that Kendrick Lamar used to study Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP,” so he began to study the tape as well.

It is this pedagogical approach that has made Micheal one of the most lyrically skilled rappers in the area. In “Autographs,” a single released earlier this year with KC rapper Gee Watts, Micheal empties a ferocious opening verse that goes bar-for-bar with the veteran Watts.

Micheal’s “F--- You” EP released earlier this year (featuring production from KC producer Alexander Preston) is a five-track onslaught of grinding, brick-hard beats and lyrical aggression. Outside the booth Micheal appears quiet and pensive; inside it, he raps like a madman angry at the world, to wondrous effect.

Micheal is working on a followup EP that he says will show more flexibility. The project’s first single, “I Might,” is a party record showcasing Micheal’s first time veer into pop-rap. So far the returns have been good: “I Might” is the biggest single of his career to date with more than 40,000 plays on SoundCloud. Couple that with Micheal’s recent opening performance for major recording artists Lil Uzi at Uptown Theater, and all signs seem to point up for the young MC.

“KC is approaching a level, like, if you look at how Atlanta or Chicago or old New York started. We’re bubbling like that,” he says. “I think our time is coming. Our time is here.”

Pay attention. The kid knows his stuff.

Essential tracks: “Blackface,” “I Might,” “Autographs”

Aaron Randle: 816-234-4060, @aaronronel

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