The foundation of Kansas city rapper and hip-hip artist Miles Megaciph' s music resides in the meaning of his name: Mental Energies Gather And Circulate In Positive Harmony. Drawing on his experiences as a Marine in Okinawa, Japan, his subsequent battles with PTSD, and his current involvement with Veterans For Peace, Megaciph's music is equally visceral, honest and hopeful. His recently released fourth album, Codeswitching, is a continuation of his hard-hitting and socially conscious perspectives on the world. We are fortunate to share an interview about his creative process, influences and other topics with the artist himself.
Describe your artistic journey as a hip-hop artist. Were you always into creating music? Who were some of your earliest inspirations?
Well, that is a really good question. It takes me to thoughts from my childhood all the way through my adult years to right now. I'll begin with, "were you always into creating music?" And simply say no, I was not. I used to draw a lot and read comic books as a pre teen and even until I was out of high school I had a pristine collection of X-Men and some of the early graphic novels. I got into writing poetry first and I used to beat on the tables in school and my class mates told me my beats "sounded African" I liked hearing that so I kept it up. When I moved to Marietta, GA at 15 I began rapping at lunch time ciphers at my high school and one of my homies had a four track recorder and a casio so we used to make simple tracks and rap about imaginary gangster lifestyles. I didn't become a woke artist until I was disillusioned in the Marine Corps about the true horrors of war and man's inhumanity. My first rap album was Knowledge is King by Kool Moe Dee, and it came to me as as gift from my first best friend Somthouk Lim (I hope he reads this, and finds me) whom I thank for opening my eyes to what became my life for the next 15 years. I got into Chuck D and Public Enemy, I was listening to NWA, especially Ice Cube and Eazy E, but I also was into the whole Native Tongues movement as well as that heavy bottom bass sound which was popular where I was at 16 years old living in a suburb of Atlanta. And now to really address the main point of your question, my journey as a hip hop artist seems otherworldly because I really cannot say where it began. The first time I heard a break beat was in my mother's womb while she was going to house parties in Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx in the summer of 1974.
My first mentor was a writer by the name of IQ, who was from a neighboring city to the base we were stationed on, and he was serving in the same unit as me and another emcee from NJ named Double Dozier. It's 1993 now and my name is Ciph which stands for Crushin' Individuals Playing Hard. IQ taught me how to format my raps and attack the beat from the diaphragm with breath control taken into account while writing fluid lines. I owe IQ a lot. My first time in a professional recording studio came 9 years later when I was working with DJ Kemit of Arrested Development but the project fell through because I was chasing a girl who broke my heart before we broke up. After many years of self abusive behavior and getting locked up for minor offenses I just woke up one day and decided to start doing Tai-Chi. After 18 months of learning from a book I found a teacher and studied in her school for two more years. It was during this time that I reimagined myself and Ciph became Megaciph: Mental Energies Gather And Circulate In Positive Harmony. I put out my first solo album in 2006 and titled it Graduate Program, went on to get my own graduate degree and another album self published in 2011, titled Migration of the Souled Kind. Along comes my first child in 2012 and my first mixtape, the first of four Now and Later mixtapes, in 2013 followed my third solo album in 2014 titled CIVILiAM. The next year my second son is born in 2015 and just this past September 2017 I released my fourth solo album titled Codeswitching, a short hard hitting beat driven album packed with gems and treasures.
Delve into your creative process. How do you make time to create and experiment?
I do my best writing at night and when the writing bug really hits me I get into manic states where I'll stay up all night and into the next day while writing a new song. When I have a song concept these days I first get a piece of music that matches the feeling I'm going for and then I let the music tell me the direction of the story; whether it's going to be lighthearted or dark and heavy. My rhymes are very often sort of a steady stream of consciousness or a developed idea well crafted to get across an idea, or a feeling. I write intentional music. I want it to evoke emotion and strike listeners in a very primal place. When I am actually crafting each line of my rap I am envisioning myself on stage performing and seeing, hearing and feeling how the crowd is getting my message. I'll admit I use my phone to write. For the past few years now I haven't used a pen and pad to write. I also use my voice recorder whenever little rhyme patterns or song concepts pop into my head, then I go back and revisit them later. Since I'm one of those people that really only sleeps about 4 hours a night I've got plenty of time to play around with word patterns and I'm even dabbling with production lately, looking to begin sharing some tracks with the public maybe next year as a full length album, likely titled Late Bloomer with my face sticking out from the middle of a field of Kansas sunflowers. I honestly don't think I find the time but that the time finds me and when it takes a hold it won't let go until the message I'm being given has been received and properly translated for our human ears and brains.
As a former marine whose music often describes in visceral detail the horrors you witnessed during tours in Okinawa and Cuba, how has your art been a mode of healing for you?
I mentioned I am a manic writer who doesn't sleep much and that's because I still have hauntingly real dreams about all sorts of war games and combat scenarios we used to run through the triple canopy jungles of Okinawa. Through writing I am able to work through all my memories and experiences and come to conclusions or at least reasons why these things happened, and why I had to witness them. On the 12 day whirlwind of writing that resulted in my third solo album CIVILiAM I really discovered I was suffering from PTSD. Every word on that album CIVILiAM was written within a 12 day period in the winter of 2014, after a lot of all-nighters and days in which two or three songs were written. Before I had it recorded I had reached out to Veterans For Peace to ask if they would accept it as a donation and this album really became the vehicle that moved me into the life of an organizer and educator against the military industrial complex. I've always written freedom songs about social justice and human rights, and they make me feel good, so I keep on writing them. I write what makes me feel good inside when I'm reciting it back to myself and in this way writing has been a huge source of healing for me. I also do not put racism, sexism, misogyny or an affinity for militarism into my music, in these ways it becomes something very different to what people are accustomed to; this vibration is intentionally set to elevate the heart and mind frequency of this listener.
How do you record your music? What do you enjoy about this process?
I record a rough draft to take home and marinate with for a few days to a week then I go back and lay down the final recordings. What I do is usually lay down a chorus or hook first and then place them throughout the song (the engineer does that). Then I go over the each verse with the lead vocal, and we run it back again usually twice, once for stack tracks and once for adlibs. I'm pretty reliable with studio time and take it very seriously; so I don't go into the booth without my lyrics 100% or very close to completely memorized. I run through each layer only once and put down what I hear in my head and try to only listen back if I feel I messed up or my engineer feels I should. Then when the whole song is layered and done I listen and if I like the first time I hear it we move on to the next song. I will confess I recorded the entirety of Codeswitching in a two hour session. And my previous album CIVILiAM was recorded in 12 hours over the course of two 6 hour sessions, at this point I could have done that in about half the time. Right now I'm working with MAB of Industry Soundz in Blue Springs, MO. He has an incredible ear for hip-hop and his skills on the board are up there with anyone I've ever been in the lab with, we have a great chemistry and I am so happy to have had this opportunity to work with him. I enjoy the recording process because when you mess up you can go back and clean it up to make it perfect or whatever perfect is for that particular song. I used to hate the recording process and even convinced myself I wasn't good at it. But over time I've learned that perfection is always present in the work that we put our hearts into and beauty hides in the most imperfect places so I record it the best I can in that time and allow that to be the final. My ideal situation would be realized as a touring artist when I'm creating new material on the road and performing it for months before recording; I'd like that to happen on one of my next few albums.
What projects are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
I really am blessed to be in a place in my life right now where I have no shortage of projects and people to work on them with, I am being pushed to do more and discover more about myself than I was 10 or 12 years ago. I'm currently working on a four song release around the Manhattan project and the cold war workers, the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuchi Du Takara which we just released a video for in January is one of the records on this project. This past September 2017, also in collaboration with James Data, I released CodeSwitching and I'm still shooting videos for that album and pushing singles to DJs. I am planning a Peace Tour for Spring 2019 with two other veterans/artists and that is very exciting work that we've just begun to work on. There is a lot more I could share but I am going to keep it quiet for now and wait until the right time to share with eager ears. I'll just say that I already have more collaborations in the pipelines for summer and fall 2018 releases, and the concepts clear as day for my next three solo albums. My wife and I are preparing for me to get out on the road as a touring artist. If the opportunity arises I am willing to play 100+ gigs a year. Music can be a powerful catalyst for social change and it's the right time for a radical shift in the national conversations, my music speaks to that shift. These are exciting times.
What inspires you about hip-hop and rap in Kansas City?
I love the scene here in KC because it's truly in the heart of it all; some cats have a really west or east coast flavor and feel to them but still get embraced by the local community and that is beautiful to see. I've always gotten love at every show I've played here, and folks in KC buy albums!! I love that about KC, there is a very real respect for supporting independent artists and local businesses. I am also very impressed by the number of spots to go to for live rap shows. One of my personal favorites is First Fridays in the crossroads arts district, I like it so much I bought a bunch of gear last fall and went and set up shop on 18th in the heart of the party and performed for three hours. Negroe Scoe joined me for a bit and I shared Megaciph flow and lyrical patterns with KC ... I'll be doing it again in May, June and July, location TBD.
Miles Megaciph's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness By Michelle Alexander
2. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies By Jared M. Diamond
3. 12 Years a Slave By Solomon Northup
4. The Power of Now By Eckhart Tolle
5. The Secret By Rhonda Byrne